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A taste of continental living in Stratford

Many of us when we travel are as enchanted by the everyday as by the special tourist sights. Go to Paris or any major French city, for example, and you can enjoy the site of adults strolling and children playing in well designed squares and parks. The buildings that surround them may be undistinguished, but they make up a whole, a complete cityscape. Apartment dwellers in particular make their lives, of necessity, in the streets.

So how nice, how Continental, to see this scene in London today.

This is not in some gentrified area of west London, but the East Village at Stratford, the area that housed the athletes during the Olympics. There was much criticism of the undistinguished nature of the repetitive blocks of flats, each dressed slightly differently by a surprisingly distinguished roster of architects. A few work really well and the rest are so-so. But what really makes the place is the intelligent use of public space, the squares and playgrounds and seating.

Although this is so near to the Olympic Park, nobody has made the mistake of thinking people can go there for their leisure. Instead it is happening, literally, on their doorsteps. There are retail frontages that still need to be filled, and the place will be even livelier once this has been done, but the combination of great public space, decent architecture and fabulous transport links, makes this somewhere to celebrate.

The park is looking pretty good too, with planting maturing, although many of the concourses and walkways still feel over-scaled. And why no low’level footbridge across Carpenter’s Lock? I was almost tempted to teeter across on the sluice gate. But if you want a sobering vision of what leisure means to the British, compare the numbers in the park to those in Westfield. The latterly, sadly, wins hands down.

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