What prospects for this playful addition to my neighbourhood?

Wood Street fountains 1Back in Walthamstow after some time away, we discover that today the Council has opened a refurbished square in our local shopping street. As you can see from the photo, it includes a row of fountains.

It looks to me like these fountains have been designed to be played in. The water nozzles are recessed to ground level, with their own drainage pools. What’s more, the jets are programmed. One second they are off, then they start up gently, then they get a bit higher until they reach almost to head height.

Wood Street fountains 2After a chilly few days, the sun has come out over east London. Sure enough, local children are on hand to take advantage of the sunshine and play around in the water. One boy waits for medium-high jets to hurdle over. Who knows, perhaps he’s picturing himself in the (rather more grand) Olympic Park a few miles down the road. Another boy zig-zags through the whole line while they are on full power. A young girl on her micro-scooter enjoys whizzing through a puddle, dodging the splashes.

Wood Street squareWe’ve only lived in this part of town for a couple of months, so we don’t know what the square used to be like. Google Street View shows a sad raised grassy bed with some trees. The Council’s own consultation leaflet [pdf link] describes this as a ‘green area used as a dog toilet.’

I’m interested to see how the new ‘Wood Street Plaza’ (as the Council bills it) fares. The manager of the nearby Post Office is not optimistic. He suspects that kids will mess up the fountains soon enough – perhaps with soap suds, as happened at a nearby scheme some years ago.

I hope not. It is easy to be cynical, as shown by some of the comments in my local paper before the scheme was even finished. But the Council and its design team deserve credit for recognising that a good water feature can lift everyone’s spirits, and for taking the brave step of trying to introduce some playfulness into a public space that previously had very little going for it.

The truth is, the fountains are the square’s saving grace. If they survive, I can foresee the space becoming Walthamstow’s beachfront. It is almost like a bit of the magic of Somerset House has rubbed off on a humble corner of E17.

I’ll keep an eye on Wood Street Plaza, and keep you posted on its prospects. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about the design?

9 responses to “What prospects for this playful addition to my neighbourhood?

  1. I agree – good for the council for introducing a bit of play outside a playground. You can imagine children making up their own games, cycling their bikes through the water, and it’s a good for people watching esp as it’s in a shopping area. I’ve seen people crying with laughter watching others get caught out by a sudden fountain jet. (In a friendly way…) Moving water is also good for masking the sound of traffic – the cascading water in Sheffield outside the train station was designed, I believe, to drown out the sound of the main road.

    Keep us posted. I hope it’ll last…

  2. Don’t worry about people putting detergent into the fountains… this happens to public fountains often, and local authorities have an antidote which stops the bubbles.

    I think these jets look like a lot of fun… we need more things like this in cities!

  3. Nadia, John – thanks for the positive comments, and John – pleased to hear your vote of confidence. I checked again today at around 12:30 on a lovely sunny afternoon. Saw at least 15 children aged from 2 to 12 or so, plus a staffie & owner. The staffie was having a great time trying to bite the jets. I’ve uploaded the above images, and one more (including the dog) to my flickr site.

  4. Back in the mid-Eighties I spent a long summer working in a Puerto Rican ghetto in Philadelphia. The saving grace were the water hydrants – on very hot days, the children would turn them on to let water spill over the streets and play for hours in the puddles and streams. It meant that none of the houses had water but no-one minded.

    So I do agree with your comments. In fact I get cross when I see fountains behind bars to prevent access. Blackpool Pleasure beach has a great set of fountains and I rather like the water wall in Cardiff too.

  5. I have photos of similar ground based public fountains in Baltimore, USA, that have a sign which says the city welcomes children to play in the fountains.

  6. Juliet, Neil – thanks for the comments. Maybe we need a new campaign for public, playable fountains (snappy name and acronym anyone?)
    I’ve added a few more photos to my flickr site – taken by my brother, who also lives nearby.

  7. Update: my local paper, the Waltham Forest Guardian, has run a critical news story, having found some nay-sayers. Lots of negative online comment too. Ho hum. Most of it is local political knockabout, but it is good to see that ‘Robert’ at least shares my views (posted as comments 19 and 20 – oops). For the first time in my life, I wrote a letter to the paper along the same lines as my comment – will see in a couple of days if it was published. [Update: apparently it was!]

  8. Have a look at the fountains in the newly-refurbished square in Reggio Emilia: children love to play in it; adults cycle through it ..
    Piazza Martiri 7 Luglio

  9. I’ve just commented on your follow-up but having read this secondly (sigh) I think it’s awful that children are stopped from playing in fountains in public places. I have a fabulous photo of me aged 12 (taken 30 odd years ago) standing in the fountain in Trafalgar square. I have a second one taken 2 years ago when I tried to get my feet wet in the same place whilst hiding my actions from a policeman. I’m sure that are legitimate reasons and I hope someone will tell me it’s not a whole risk management issue but some more sane reason. I think you should campaign for public paddling in the huge fountain at the entrance of the Walthamstow council building …….

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