Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Parliament Square

Gosh, it's all about Parliament Square at the moment. The protesters have been kicked out, and according to Colin Barrow, Westminster's soon-to-be-ex leader, it's great that everything's back to normal:

"For too long local people and tourists have been unable to fully enjoy the square. This is a tragedy and the sooner this historic site can be enjoyed by the public the better."

And Boris chimed in:

"I think it was high time that a world heritage site was properly protected from what was basically vandalism, and it had become an eyesore... you can't have the continual desecration of a world heritage site."

"Historic, world heritage site": this poetic language conjures up images of medieval castles, moats, tranquility, children buying wooden swords and plastic helmets lovingly made in a Chinese sweatshop. In short, exactly what the Gothic-revival architects had in mind.

And now the area has its own bike hire docking station.  Councillors overruled their own officials, who had suggested that the blue bikes would be harmful to the "character and appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square conservation area and to the setting of the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey world heritage site."

Hang on. Am I missing something? Heritage? Character? Setting? Enjoyed by the public? Is this the same place described by the Hansard Society in its report "A Place for People" as "a national disgrace"  in which  "the public appears only to be tolerated?" The report goes on, "what should be one of the world’s greatest civic spaces is a noisy, polluted, inaccessible place, seething with traffic and pedestrians and pockmarked by fortress-like security."

Goodness. You'd never have thought it. And it's nothing new.

"Parliament Square has never really been an open, accessible, public space. Its size and
shape has altered over the years but the prioritisation of traffic over people has been a
constant theme..."
In the 1930s, the police opposed taking down the railings around the square, suggesting that an "open square would only be useful for vagrants and, ‘in my view, the removal of
these railings would attract a most undesirable, unclean person to this spot’. In addition,
he feared children might treat the square as a playground."

Bloody hell!

"As the Square was largely used as a crossing point some police officers were concerned that when guiding traffic, it would become difficult to manage pedestrians crossing at new points if access was more open. Others expressed fears about the prospect of large numbers of people being able to
congregate outside Parliament, thereby causing a nuisance."

Ah, but that was the 1930s. Attitudes are much more enlightened today. It's not all about guiding traffic's about traffic flow. Boris Johnson rejected the redevelopment of Parliament Square because of "the potential impact on traffic." Thank goodness we have a Mayor whose commitment to a World Heritage site is such that he continues to let visitors enjoy it in the comfort of a car. The last thing we want is our precious heritage being taken over by a large number of undesirable, unclean pedestrians, smelly cyclists and children. They'd probably bring tents and folding chairs and stuff, and then we'd be back to where we started with those protesters. This kind of thing is exactly what would happen if the World Squares project went ahead and pedestrianized the south side of the square and brought traffic restrictions on Abingdon Street, which our dear Mayor has fought against. Thank God for St Boris, for saving this England, this green and pleasant land!

[All stand for the National Anthem]

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