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24 Sep 2018

The battle to build London's own Highline - a 'green artery' for Camden and King's Cross

The battle to build London's own Highline - a 'green artery' for Camden and King's Cross

More than half of London's households live 'too far' from the nearest green space, according to the London Assembly's environment committee; by the Mayor of London's estimate, that's anything more than 440yd away.

In an attempt to remedy this plight in north London, Adam Richards has proposed an ambitious project to create a new 'green artery', making use of an existing derelict railway line currently left to ruin.

The Highline will link Camden and King's Cross in a new linear public park, rivalling the famous New York High Line, a 'park in the sky' (well, 26ft above ground).

For every '1 spent on public green space, Londoners enjoy at least '27 in value

If Richards, 30, has his way, it will be yet another feather in the regenerated cap of King's Cross and the surrounding area, which has metamorphosed in recent years into a hub of both leisure and industry, with Google offices, quirky shops, and a hubbub of street food markets and restaurants.

A ten-minute stroll along 1,300 yards of disused railway track might not sound like the most appealing way to while away an afternoon, but it could soon become a tourist destination in its own right.'

The Camden Highline project is poised to transform the 'dead space' of the former North London Line (a railway abandoned for the past 30 years, it was built in the 1850s to connect north'London to the docks in the east of the city).

'The ambition is to link Camden Market, a huge tourist destination, with the recently redeveloped King's Cross area,' Richards explains in the shadow of the old industrial thoroughfare near Camden Road. 'We hope it will breathe life back into a neglected piece of infrastructure.'

According to Richards, greenery is currently piteously scarce in the area. 'There are 10,000 people who currently live beyond the Mayor's maximum recommended 440yd distance to green space, who would be within a few minutes' walk of the Camden Highline,' he says.

The western end of the proposed route (first conceived by UCL geographer Oliver O'Brien, who explored several similar projects across London) begins on the north side of the North'London Line above Kentish Town Road. Then it travels eastwards, to the north of Camden Road station, over several intact railway bridges, over Camley Street. It culminates on York Way, which leads into King's Cross.

The culture of philanthropy doesn't exist on the same scale in the UK as in the US

As well as better air quality, thanks to the addition of much-needed plants, what other benefits will the Highline bring? 'I think one of the many reasons that these 'rail-to-trail' projects capture the imagination is because they can be all things to all people,' Richards says. 'The Highline can simultaneously be an amenity for nearby residents, a transport link for pedestrians, and a tourist destination. As London becomes more populated, and as rising property values mean that' fewer people have access to gardens, parks are becoming ever more'appreciated.

'Importantly, the Camden Highline will be free to use, whereas other ways of spending time with friends and family in London are often not.' For Richards, there's no doubt that it's a more sustainable and infinitely more fruitful prospect than maintaining the line in its present state. 'Parks are incredible value for money,' he says. A report by Vivid Economics found that for every '1 spent on public green space, Londoners enjoy at least '27 in value.

That's not to say that the Camden Highline hasn't come up against challenges. The feasibility work is complete, and now he is seeking permission to build it and fundraising for construction costs. Studio Weave and Architecture 00 recently won the contest to carry out the'design of the'trail. A crowdfunding campaign last year was supported by Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. He described it as 'a great example of a local community taking an idea and garnering support in order to make it a reality'.

But despite being backed by him and more than 300 others, Richards admits that funding has been a problem. 'One of the differences between the Camden Highline and the one in New York is the different funding landscape. The culture of philanthropy doesn't exist on the same scale in the UK as in the US.'

One cannot help but be reminded of the fate of the well-intentioned but ultimately doomed Garden Bridge across the Thames. But while raising the hard cash has been a challenge, the Camden Highline makes seemingly sturdy financial sense, and has had no trouble in garnering mass'theoretical support.

During Open House London this weekend, which offers the chance to peer behind the closed doors of many amazing properties in the capital, Richards will be giving tours of the High Line. They are already fully booked ('I'll be walking more than a marathon over the course of the weekend, which still isn't enough!' he says), but in future he'll lead more tours for Londoners eager to stroll through the rooftops.


Source: The Telegraph

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