By Emilia Smeds, University of Westminster
Last week, the EX-TRA project reached a major milestone as the Commonplace online citizen engagement platforms launched in London, Munich (Germany) and Bologna (Italy) will be closed for comment. Through these websites, citizens were able to respond to surveys regarding their use, perceptions, and experiences of experimental street redesigns in their local neighbourhood. In line with Commonplace’s philosophy of guaranteeing transparency in public participation, the websites will remain available for the public to view for another two years.
The University of Westminster team has completed its first round of analysis for the data collected from citizens. This blog post presents findings on the ‘parklets’ in the South Woodford and Wanstead neighbourhoods within the London Borough of Redbridge, to give readers an idea of the type of analysis we have conducted for each city. Citizens’ responses can be viewed on the Redbridge Commonplace platform.
South Woodford mobility hub (left) and Wanstead mobility hub (right)
Parklets are kerbside seating areas converted from former car parking spaces. The parklets were also promoted as ‘Mobility Hubs’ by the local municipality. A mobility hub combines common elements of a parklet including seating, plants and cycle parking, with mobility options such as reserved parking space for an electric vehicle car club vehicle, or a public EV charging point.
Who responded to the surveys?
SW = South Woodford. WA = Wanstead.
We analysed data from a total of 180 individual respondents, 84 for the SW Hub and 96 for the WA Hub.
The majority of respondents live locally to the Hubs in South Woodford, Wanstead, or Woodford (SW 90%, WA 86%), are aged between 45-64 years old (SW 60%, 51% SW), and most often access George Lane/Wanstead High Street on foot (SW 78%, WA 63%). 12% of SW respondents and 17% of WA respondents typically drive, whereas 7% and 8% cycle, respectively.
Two-thirds (67%) of SW respondents had used or visited the Hub at least once, in the sense of having spent some time there, with the remaining one-third (33%) had never used or visited the SE, i.e. not spent any time there but only potentially passed by. More ‘non-users’ of the Hub responded to the WA survey, making up 65% of total respondents, whereas people who had a history of using the Hub was 35%.
What was the local sentiment towards the Mobility Hubs?
The survey asked respondents how they felt about the Mobility Hub on a scale from 1–Unhappy to 5–Happy (represented by smiley faces). There was a marked difference in sentiment towards the SW and WA Mobility Hubs.
For SW, the mean score was 4.31, corresponding to a sentiment somewhere in between ‘Satisfied’ and ‘Happy’. For WA, the mean score was 2.47, corresponding to a sentiment in between ‘Dissatisfied’ and ‘Neutral’.
Interestingly, respondents who had never used the Hub were significantly more unhappy or dissatisfied (SW 32, WA 80%) compared to Hub users (SW 0%, WA 9%).
Only 1% of SW respondents wanted the Hub to be removed, whereas 38% of WA respondents wanted it to be removed and 17% wanted it to be relocated. On the other hand, one-third of WA respondents (32%) wanted Mobility Hubs to be tested in other locations within the Borough, rising to 57% of SW respondents.
How were the Mobility Hubs used?
Both Hubs were primarily used for public space and social activities, rather than transport/mobility activities. A caveat for the Wanstead figures is that they are based on only 33 respondents for this survey question, as a result of the high proportion of total respondents (65%) who had never used the Hub; thus, actual use may be underreported in this data and the findings cannot be considered conclusive.
The most commonly reported use types were using the Hubs to drink/eat something, sitting down to relax and rest, and meeting friends and family. Spending time or playing with children was less common (6% of respondents, for both locations), as was using the Hub as a place to meet with local community groups (0-4%).
While many respondents walk and cycle to/past the Hubs, other transport/mobility activities were less commonly reported in our data. 20-30% of respondents reported using the bike parking stands, and 3-6% reported using the Hubs to wait for public transport services. One WA respondent (none for SW) reported using the Hub to access an electric car club vehicle, after having parked their bicycle at the stands.
‘What matters’: how did people value different dimensions of the Mobility Hubs?
The surveys contained many questions with an open text format, i.e. respondents could freely write what they wanted. We analysed this data by categorising the values expressed (opinions, judgments, thoughts) in the text responses into 10 dimensions, spanning the high street’s dual function as a channel for movement/mobility and as a public space for community life. We were then able to compare how many comments were made in relation to the different dimensions – we use this as an indicator of what issues matter to SW and WA respondents.
For both Hubs, the most valued dimensions (either positively or negatively) were related to the public life function of the street: the impact on the streetscape of George Lane and Wanstead High Street (‘look’ and ‘image’), the perceived opportunities provided for so-called ‘stationary activities’ like sitting down and drinking coffee, and the quality of social and civic interaction supported by the Hubs.
The contrasting perspectives of SW and WA respondents overall can be summarised as: The Hub as... a social space for drinking coffee (SW) vs. superfluous seating ‘in the road’ (WA)
SW and WA respondents expressed similar values but with a difference in the directionality of positive and negative values on the same dimensions: favourable evaluations were stronger for South Woodford, while unfavourable evaluations were stronger for Wanstead.
The SW Hub was perceived to ‘brighten up’ and make the high street more attractive through additional greenery and colour and by providing a seating area for socialising and drinking coffee purchased from the Tipi Coffee Co café. Many SW respondents perceived that the Hub would support local businesses, while some expressed the inverse. While many SW respondents felt that the Hub was less inclusive as it appeared to be exclusive to Tipi Coffee customers, this lack of clarity regarding the public space status of the Hub was barely mentioned by WA respondents.
For the WA Hub, the positive values were the same as above. However, many WA respondents perceived the parklet seating as superfluous because it was located ‘in the road’ close to noise and air pollution from passing traffic. Thus, it was deemed less pleasant to use than alternative existing seating at café frontages, on the pavement and at the adjacent park. The removal of car parking spaces and the impact of this on local businesses was valued much more negatively for the WA Hub, compared to the SW Hub.
There is a great richness of different perspectives that we are not able to cover in this brief summary, particularly regarding the social value of the Hubs for the local community – we hope you continue to follow our research outputs here via the EX-TRA website.