Croydon facelift? Please don’t botch it up.


By - Wednesday 24th February, 2016

Ian Lavis takes a look at the woulds, shoulds, could-have-beens and future hopes for the Croydonian urban environment


Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Imagine a Croydon in which you get a real buzz walking around the streets, checking out the cool buildings, dramatic skyline and inspiring public spaces.

No, I haven’t drunk too much Cronx beer. I’m just a Croydonian with big hopes for what Croydon could be if the planners and developers don’t botch it.

A few years ago the Guardian wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about Croydon becoming the next Barcelona. Er, right. But hang on, why can’t Croydon at least be a place that the rest of London, if not the UK, sneakily admires?

Croydon doesn’t have a Gaudi, the sun or the Med, but we do have talented local architects and artists who could create an inspiring urban environment given the chance and the backing.

There’s massive investment, huge redevelopment, a digital business explosion

As we know, Croydon is getting a facelift. There’s massive investment, huge redevelopment, a digital business explosion, a new Boxpark, and Westfield on the way, and I believe there seems to be a more positive vibe about the place. But is all this going to wow us? Will the Croydon of the future be a genuinely inspiring and visually stimulating place to live and work? Planners and developers have got it badly wrong in the past. Surely they can’t balls it up again?

Coming out of East Croydon station you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer scale of the building works. There’s something beautiful about the giant cranes in the changing light, but what’s Croydon going to be like when the cranes and big developers have gone?

Saffron Tower has a certain something. It’s tall and it’s got some purple bits on the sides. They are making an effort with a few trees and a patch of water, but it’s not exactly inspiring. As for the rest of the developments around East Croydon station, down Wellesley Road and beyond, they are big, bland and kind of merge into one mass of concrete and glass. I doubt there will be any international prizes handed out for design.

It’s very Croydon (or “so f*cking Croydon” as Bowie famously once said)

Boxpark could be interesting with its food and entertainments space made out of shipping containers. Its futuristic marketing images and videos (which of course bear no resemblance to reality) look nice at least. The planned Westfield shopping centre looks like a very big, very swish version of the Whitgift. It’s very Croydon (or “so f*cking Croydon” as Bowie famously once said) that the centre piece of the town’s redevelopment will be a bigger shopping centre.

Then there’s the “beach” at Ruskin Square which last summer wasn’t much more than a windswept patch of concrete with a few plants, deckchairs and food vans. The new look for Fairfield Halls will be a few trees outside of it by the look of things. Hmmm, I’m clutching at straws already.

I want to get inspired by more than just newer, blander buildings

All is not lost. There is a ray of hope coming from small independents and local residents. The pop-up saffron farm, Croydon Saffron Central, where crocuses were harvested bang in the centre of town was a brief but shining example of how to transform an urban space into something inspiring and uniquely Croydon. There’s also some interesting street art going up around the centre which might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a bit of creativity from local people in a rising tide of mediocrity.

The real interest in the urban environment when you walk around Croydon at the moment is not the new build, it’s the old school stuff like the 50p building, Lunar House, the town hall, the greenery of Park Hill and the colour and drama of Surrey Street Market.

I’m excited about Croydon’s future… I think. But I want it to be a place that I get inspired by, not just a place with newer, blander buildings and unimaginative public spaces. Croydon’s citizens are long overdue an urban environment to be proud of.

Ian Lavis

Ian Lavis

I'm not even a proper Croydoner. I moved here 16 years ago. Then I abandoned it for Marseille but something drew me back here last year. Maybe it was the banter. I write and edit online and print communications, I teach English to non-native speakers, and I drink lots of tea. I have a thing for Croydon, Marseille, Arsenal, architecture and bears.

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