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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Western Road, Brighton: A Case of Self-Destruct?

The other day I walked the length of Western Road, Brighton, from the Clock Tower to Palmeira Square and beyond onto Church Road. I wasn't in a hurry but I realised I never stopped to browse a shop window. Now for me this is odd: I was brought up on window shopping.

 Here's my explanation: You can't get near the shop windows. You have to walk in the middle of the pavement because outside the shops there is an endless procession of sandwich boards and other obstructions. Outside Argos, they even had an industrial pallet stacked with catalogues for you to take away.If you tried to walk along near the shop windows, you would be forever dodging or falling over.

 If a few shops put out sandwich boards, they benefit from the publicity. But if all do, then you just have pavement obstructions. In the same way, if a few people stand up at a concert they get to see better. If everyone stands up, no one can see.

 The pavements along Western Road have been widened on the road side in recent years. Close your eyes to their general squalor - chewing gum and grease stained - and you can almost imagine a boulevard. But when they were widened,the Council did not organise the relocation of "street furniture"towards the new kerbs. So you have Post Boxes and Waste Bins in the middle of the pavement rather than to the kerb-side.

The real walking decision - given you can't walk close to the shop windows - is between trying to stay in the middle or instead heading out to the kerb. Either way, what could have been a pleasant stroll turns into the navigation of an obstacle course. It must be a nightmare for a blind person or anyone in a wheelchair.

 Councils abhor a vacuum, so they have added new street furniture to the widened pavements including licensing a double whammy of sandwich boards on the kerb side. They make money from the sandwich boards (and from the shops and cafes who are allowed to spill their wares onto the pavement). It all looks to me very bad for business. You are so preoccupied navigating the jungle of the pavement that you don't have mental space to think about shopping.

 The initiative is unlikely to come from the Council but what Western Road needs is a No Sandwich Board Pact, with just a few cafes and greengrocers allowed to spill out, attractively, and vary the use of space. All the street furniture in the middle of the pavement needs to be moved to the kerb side - and probably half of it removed. You would then notice that there are actually a few trees along the way which would benefit from some TLC. You would be half way towards a boulevard.

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