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Demanding Quality in our Public Realm by Sophia de Sousa

Posted on 26 January 2022

Written by:

Sophia de Sousa

Today I was looking through photos on my phone and came across this image.

I honestly can’t remember where I took it, but I do remember that I was so appalled that I stopped, pulled out my phone and had to take a photo of it.  

In what world is this an acceptable job of patching a hole in a street? Just look at those rough, splodgy edges that half cover a utility access plate. To me it shows indifference, even contempt, for the place, the people who inhabit it, the employer of the company commissioned to carry out the work and the public bodies (and our taxes) that pay for this service. It’s lazy, sloppy and just not good enough.

Poor quality repairs to pavements and streets is one of my absolute pet peeves. It seems to me that it has become entirely acceptable to just whack a pile of tar into a hole, no matter what the surfacing around it is, and that the tar need not be either well prepared or laid with any real care.

Yet the maintenance and care of our public realm plays a vital role in shaping our  sense of place and belonging, affecting  how we feel and move about in that space and how we use it on a daily  basis.

One of my favourite examples of this is this image from my local high street. 

My high street is generally one of the better ones, with wide, tree-lined pavements, plenty of places to sit, a parade of well cared for and well used shops, and a village green that flanks it. It generally boasts a high quality public realm. And yet, just look at how this has been patched. What a mess!

In the past couple of years I have seen various utility companies systematically tear up the streets and pavements of my neighbourhood and then make sloppy repairs like these, which scar and degrade our public realm.

Isn’t it time we held someone accountable and demanded that this change? The materiality of our public realm matters. It affects the durability, maintenance, look and feel of a streetscape.

So I ask myself what we can collectively do to tackle this. What needs to change and who can help make the difference?

To the people who design and commission the public realm, I say design with respect for our environment, build in ease of maintenance and repair, and choose sustainable materials that are easily sourced and used.

To the utility companies that tear up our streets and pavements, I say take greater responsibility for the damage that you do, and create strategies to minimise damage and optimise repairs. 

To local and highways authorities, I ask that you be both more demanding and more accountable for the quality of maintenance and repairs. 

To those who carry out the repairs, do your job with care and with pride. Strive for the highest quality.

To all of us in communities where our streetscapes and public realms are being scarred by this slipshod approach to repairs, let’s all stand up and demand higher quality and more care and respect for our environment. 

Place matters. Let’s strive for and demand the highest quality possible in our public realm.