Reading the ‘Ballad of Ballards Lane’.

This post is a response to a reading of blog post today, which speculates why Ballards Lane doesn’t have a successful range of smaller shops. I agree with the author that there is a strong sociological element to the success of some shops over others, and of course also a broader economic explanation for which strategies work, and which others don’t, however I would argue that it’s a broader issue still: to do with how urban centres and sub-centres work together in a mesh of inherently spatial interdependencies of economic, communal and social activity. The notion of a ‘dynamic commercial ecology’ resonates in particular with our own research findings as it implies a temporal aspect to how places are shaped over time by accumulation of routine movements to and through them. The Adaptable Suburbs study of twenty outer London suburban centres and their hinterlands indicates that those which have weathered change benefit from having a diversity of activities, which stem, we suggest, from them having a variety of people travelling through and to them – engendered by spatial connectivity of the street network at a variety of scales. The business directories of four of the cases over 150 years, indicate how the ecology of such places is bound up in this way, with many instances of path dependency, where for example what was in the past a doctor’s surgery is nowadays a holistic health centre.

I’ve had a peek at the maps of Ballards Lane on the Edina Digimap historic maps archive. The map for 1890s Finchley shows an intensification of town centre-like activities around the intersection of Ballards Lane with what is now Finchley High Road, but the remainder of the road suffered in the past (I conjecture) in a similar way to how it does today, from trying to be both a link between places (a high road) as well as a place in its own right. The centre itself still retains some of its character today, but the High Road – now an A road, is relatively wide and poorly connected along its length. Although I haven’t got a space syntax analysis of it to hand, I suspect it has an imbalance of city-wide accessibility coupled to local lack of connectivity, with long stretches of the road connecting onwards, but not locally. Without sufficient mixing of different sorts of movement to and through the area, local businesses will struggle to survive over time, although organisations that draw people from farther afield (such as offices, garages and etc as well as restaurants and communal activities) seem to be surviving. From what I recall from my last visit to the area, unsympathetic street design that inhibits pedestrian traffic across and around the area doesn’t help matters either.


County Series 1:2500, 2nd Revision. County of Middlesex, published 1913. © Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2013). All rights reserved 1913. Downloaded from 3/2/13.

Author: (sub)urbanite

Professor of Urban Form and Society and Director of the Space Syntax Lab, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Online in a personal capacity.

4 thoughts on “Reading the ‘Ballad of Ballards Lane’.”

    1. That’s an interesting question. Of course Borehamwood existed well before the 1950s as the ‘British Hollywood’ but it’s certainly true to say that nowadays it has even closer ties to London than ever before.

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