Above: Looking NW across the new Aldgate Square.
Until 2016 you would not have found ‘Aldgate Square’ on a map of the City. Now it is a place of calm and tranquillity. If you happen to know the busy streets around Aldgate, you are probably reading this and saying to yourself ‘Tranquility is hardly the word to be used about the noisy streets at Aldgate.’ Well, things have changed for the better. You may remember the traffic-filled one-way system around the street called Aldgate and the parallel street called St Botolph Street. The City planners realised that if part of the one-way system was removed the traffic flow would hardly be affected and almost an acre of space could be laid out as a garden, along with a useful cafe, with plenty of seating for pedestrians during the warmer months of the year. This new open space was officially opened on 4 July 2018, being given the name ‘Aldgate Square’.
If you are a motorist, you probably feel that more roads should be built. However, experience shows that more roads only lead to more traffic. In London, the authorities have been removing a few roads in recent years and the results have been remarkable. The obvious example is the conversion of the road between the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square to a pedestrian zone in the City of Westminster. In the City of London, the creation of Aldgate Square has had a similar effect.
It was all part of what the City planners called the ‘Aldgate Project’. This has involved the redesign of Mansell Street, along with changing traffic flows in Aldgate, Aldgate High Street and St Botolph Street with the consequent alterations to traffic access to Duke’s Place, the southern end of Houndsditch and the southern end of Middlesex Street. From the pedestrian’s point of view, the traffic is certainly no worse. The new layout has provided an additional open space and many pedestrians would argue that the situation has been considerably improved.
The new open space leads to the question of what to do about traffic in the City of London and Central London in general. We certainly need cars for many users and small vans are essential for people like maintenance workers who need a van full of spare parts and tools. In addition, articulated lorries are essential to keep food stores and other shops supplied with goods. It would seem that planners are now starting to realise that there has to be a balance between the needs of the pedestrian and the needs of motorised transport. In the 1960s we may well have favoured the motorised vehicles but it is now seen to be a failure. It is probably time to look at alternative plans and the Aldgate Project is one example of the ‘new thinking’.
The view in the top picture looks NW towards the southern end of Houndsditch. It looks across the newly laid out Aldgate Square from near the street called Aldgate. In the left is the red-brick Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School, whose air quality for the children has probably been considerably improved. On the right of the view is part of the old churchyard surrounding St Botolph, Aldgate. The oval of grass was once part of the busy one-way system. Near the centre of the view, what looks like a Bedouin tent is the new Kahaila Cafe, built from glass and Corten steel. The whole design has transformed the area from the noisy traffic environment to the peace of an ornamental garden.