Candidate: Exmouth Market
Location: London, UK
Category: The Great Street Award
1. Coming back from a derelict street, Exmouth Market has been transformed into a vibrant and well-managed street through projects promoted by its owners and Islington Council by encouraging people-friendly land-uses at grade and mixed-use buildings through judicious use of planning policy
2. Home to a programme of community events, Exmouth Market, its freehold owners and its local business owners have embraced the shared surface space and created active frontages outside their restaurants with sidewalk seating and concerts
3. With the shared street space, pedestrianisation is favoured over vehicular traffic, providing vitality throughout the day and night, with a natural range of activities – with the increasing nature of outdoor activity on the street, there is a need to continually reassess the quality of materials used in pavement for improved streetscape
4. Interestingly, No new buildings have been built on Exmouth Market for some time. However, local buildings have been reused with different uses over the last 200 years, most notably former industrial buildings are re-used increasingly for retail, residential and office use
5. Exmouth Market has been successful in achieving an enviable balance of higher quality improvements and investments attracting higher social-economic groups on one hand while retaining its attraction and active support for other less fortunate groups – it seems to be a place for all social groups and ages
A mix of market forces and specific projects promoted by Islington Council has seen Exmouth Market transformed from the dereliction the street suffered in the 1980s to vibrant well managed street that can be seen today. Fortunately, the street is not over managed by the Council, which has sought to provide an enhanced non-intrusive public realm that has helped local people and passers-by to enjoy the place as they wish. The streetscape could be improved and Islington Council aspires to enhance the public realm through a Design Strategy that will seek to phase in subtle improvements for the area over the next 10 years. The street gives the impression that a strong community exists, supported by a number of residents living above the shops. Generally, activities seem to be of a spontaneous nature and not overly coordinated or administrated.
The evident success of the street has been generated by a steady increase of businesses – especially restaurants and cafes – locating on the street since the 1990s. Islington Council has assisted this process by encouraging people friendly land uses at ground floor with mixed use residential and offices above through through judicious use of planning policy. The Council implemented part-pedestrianisation of the street in the 1990s and has worked with freeholders in providing an overall vision including a Street Trading Strategy for managing this and the other two street markets managed by the Council. The Strategy includes a vision to create a dynamic street trading and market experience that is diverse and vibrant, adding value to the economic, social and cultural fabric of Islington. Exmouth Market seems to be a place which has been allowed to develop organically, while the Council is helping as a partner, providing support to individual businesses and the market traders.
The street has a unique and distinctive sense of place, identity and cultural resonance, draws on its history of spas and the Italian community and a market which is over 120 years ago. Exmouth Market is an early example of the shared surface approach in this country, creating a pleasant experience for walking around, shopping and people watching. It has managed to attract and retain a number of excellent businesses with a strong reputation. Most notably: Moro Restaurant is the Observer newspaper’s Best London Restaurant; Cafe Kick started in Exmouth Market some 15 years ago and now has opened another branch in Shoreditch; Medcalf Bar is also growing in reputation for its combination of Bar, Restaurant and Art Gallery/Event space.
Local businesses organise an annual street festival held in September and part of the London Design Festival. There is a programme of community events that happen in the Exmouth Market Centre in the Holy Redeemer Church on the street. Exmouth Market has embraced ‘pavement dining’ as few other places in London, greatly helped by the shared surface environment and the dedication of the local businesses. This environment is encouraged through small informal concerts taking place in front of the record shop/cafe Brill.
The street and the wider area have a rich history, which started when a spa was discovered in the area in the 17th century. The area went on to become a centre for London’s Italian community in the 19th century, with a flourishing market on the street. The street now reflects the rich history of the area with a functioning market and an Italian style basilica church and Italian businesses. The triangle space at the southern end of the market has a human scale with a daily market taking place under a canopy of London Plane trees, giving the street a green buffer and activity space before it spills out into the wider metropolitan thoroughfare of Rosebery Avenue.
Spa Fields Gardens, directly to the south of Exmouth Market, has recently been regenerated. The gardens in the early noughties had become a place for anti-social behaviour, especially with young people. A range of community engagement programmes were used by the Council led partnership to reconcile user conflicts and ensure that the park will survive in use following its enhancement. Improvements include shelters designed and built by teenagers, dispersed (rather than fenced) play facilities, outdoor dining areas for licensed use, a completely new planting structure, and a restored central building to house Islington’s Ranger Service and transform park safety.
No new buildings have been built on Exmouth Market for some time. However, local buildings have been reused with different uses over the last 200 years. Most notably former industrial buildings are re-used increasingly for retail, residential and office use.
Exmouth Market has been successful in achieving an enviable balance of higher quality improvements and investments attracting higher social-economic groups on one hand while retaining its attraction and active support for other less fortunate groups – it seems to be a place for all social groups and ages. The area has an excellent community mix of residents, workers, clued-up tourists and those visiting the local shops, cafes and services. The street feels very safe at most times of the day, although when the shops are closed it can be less welcoming, mainly because of the metal shutters – creating an impression rather than a reality of edginess. The residential population helps to keep it busy at all times.
Intentionally, the street has limited car parking and encourages walking and cycling through a shared surface along the street. The street has an excellent range of shops and services.
The street is well connected to the surrounding streets. To the north is Rosebery Avenue, with numerous bus routes. To the south is Spa Fields Gardens, which can be accessed from two points on the east and west ends of Exmouth Market.