A place with meaning: Milner Square Gardens, London

Places with meaning: Taking down fences was the right move for a small, under-used community space in London’s Islington. Senior consultant, Tom McCreesh, explains why.

Islington’s Milner Square in Barnsbury is a project close to my heart. I had strolled along its terraced housing many times before, but the park in the middle definitely looked like it had seen better days. Broken fences hung precariously, and the worn-out play equipment was accessed by a muddy path.

I always thought that Milner Square Gardens could – and should – be offering the community so much more. Islington has the lowest ratio of open space to built-up areas of any London borough. When we started work, our priority was to reinvigorate and open up the park, making it feel safe and inviting again.

The park had been heavily sub-divided, with fencing carving out three separate spaces for different play ages. For us, removing this fencing was a necessity. The park had become a magnet for antisocial behaviour and it could only help to open it all back up, improve visibility through and make it more accessible.

Local people did have concerns about the garden area not being separated from the play spaces. We were sure that careful zoning and designing paths for passive separation would do the job just as well, at the same time as creating a lovely unified space.

There was a lot of debate and consultation and as the project developed, I felt an even greater sense of responsibility to get it right. Garden squares just like this one are dotted all over London, vital outdoor space on people’s doorsteps. But they have to feel safe and welcoming. Then they can deliver for the local community, as a source of pleasure and a place where it is easy to meet and get to know your neighbour.

As soon as the fences came down, it was clear this had been the right move. It was exactly what Milner Square needed. Now, walking past the completed gardens on a sunny day feels hugely satisfying. You can see children playing, people sitting in the new garden area, everyone embracing and using the place – just as it deserves. 

Tom McCreesh, Senior Consultant, LDA Design

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