An ode to those tucked-away streets of the world that seem to have their own poetry and swagger. Our design editor writes about the thoroughfares that have the capacity to touch the heart and soul.
Discovering a favourite street in any city is always the tipping point from being just a visitor to feeling at home. It’s that moment when you realise you could live here. A quick survey allows you to plot where you’d get your coffee, your newspaper, your grocery shopping, your last orders. Here’s where you’d while away hours on a sunny Saturday morning, restock your wardrobe, lock up your bike and host friends for dinner. This feels like a good jogging route and that little balcony on the third floor clearly hides the ideal one-bed apartment to call home.
The perfect street is never a grand boulevard or main shopping drag. It’s always one you stumble across on your way elsewhere. It’s a city secret, though not impenetrable or hostile to visitors who happen across it. In its essence it’s daily life happening, happily, haphazardly. It’s impossible to construct the perfect street. Likewise it cannot be over-planned. Its success is due to years of layered living – in the buildings, the businesses and the community that inhabit it. That said, it’s a careful composition that needs monitoring, preserving and vetting and this is a role played by the community. It’s a tightrope to navigate though. The most charming of streets have been destroyed by over-cautious, draconian residents, averse to newcomers, allergic to new businesses that might change the status quo, incapable of seeing evolution as a necessary means to survival. It’s not about throwing open the doors to a strip joint. It’s about understanding the wants and needs of your neighbours and not kicking up a fuss when late-licensing laws are introduced in the family-run downstairs drinking hole.
The secret to the perfect street comes with social capital. It’s populated by a healthy mix of generations, residents and businesses. The key is trust. The newspaper kiosk will look after large deliveries so you don’t have to go to the depot to pick them up on Saturday. The locksmith will let the electrician into your apartment when you’re at work. The florist orders extra freesias when they’re in season because she knows you have six birthdays to attend that week. Tables are found at restaurants when they’re “full”, ingredients are borrowed from neighbours and your “no gherkin, extra bacon” order is known by heart at the local burger joint. There’s no formal neighbourhood watch because there’s no need. Everyone looks out for everyone else anyway.
Buildings are between three and six storeys high. Blocks are 10 buildings long. Pavements vary in width, four and a half metres at their widest, two and a half at their narrowest. Regulations are in place to avoid eyesores but common sense prevails. And we like life at all times of day. This includes cars.
There’s a jigsaw of periods and styles, from Georgian townhouses to modern studios. Façades are renovated but not clinically manicured. The rusts and russets of time are left to tell a story.
The street hums with activity. The people who populate it are the right side of nosey but rarely interfere unless help is sought. Neighbourly trust is the glue that binds this community together.