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selling & planning rye lane 1

Fig. 1 Rye Lane: Contemporary street life spilling out from onestorey shop buildings collaged with historic buildings one layer back (Image sources: Nicolas Palominos, 2011; Author, 2011; University of Greenwich, 1880-1963).

sellling & planning rye lane

How cultural permutations of street-level trade can shape the urban plan Adriana Valdez Young

Front & Back Cover: Details of advertisements for calling cards on Rye Lane (Author, 2012).


abstract Rye Lane is an intensely independent and multi-cultural .8 km high street in Peckham, South London. Traders hail from a spectrum of Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean and European countries. Of the 199 shops that sit along Rye Lane, 65% are independent and 30% are subdivided to host more than one business. Accommodating between two to eight different mini-shops and services, these 31 subdivided spaces perform as 21st century department stores for the global city, meeting the specialised and rapidly shifting shopping and cultural needs of diverse local populations. My design intervention and proposed policy guidelines focus on what urban planners and designers can learn from the economic and spatial strategies of these subdivisions, which are currently undervalued in existing planning and policy frameworks.  I designed two mobile games and one guided tour that challenge urban planners and other spatial practitioners to experience the complex cultural economies of Rye Lane. The games invite players to sample scenarios of starting a new business, raising a young family and reenvisioning the future of the street. Players gain insights into the unique resources of Rye Lane – in particular, learning from its subdivided shops – which they can apply towards developing more nuanced conceptions of the street and policies to support it. The goal of the games is to foster productive feedback loops between street-level practices and city-making policies. 

contents A Street of Two Realtors 6 Planning the Street 12 Selling the Street 20 Design Research Case Studies 37 Play Before You Plan 38 Planning Guidelines 44 Conclusion 49 Endnotes 51 Bibliography 53 Acknowledgments 57 Appendix: Arrivalocity game book Shopomama game book Pech City guide book Play before Plan trailer (viewable at


a street of two realtors Introduction

‘We work with everyone: Latin Americans, Jamaicans, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Pakistanis, Afghans,’ lists Mark, a Jamaican British lettings agent who has worked on Rye Lane for the past six years (Mark, 2012).1 At this independent lettings office are three other agents, each from a different African and Caribbean background. Taped to the front window are clear plastic sleeves displaying A4 print-outs of flats for rent. Inside, a row of women awaits appointments on a sulking sofa as agents rumble through chaotic desktops of file folders and ringing cell phones. Services here are in demand – agents can work with the tightest budgets and most limited credentials. Mark explained how he finds places for new immigrants, asylum seekers, and others lacking proof of income by leveraging his longstanding relationships with landlords. He can find a single person a room for as low as £75 a week. He sees Rye Lane as a street of ongoing potential, where people from all over the world build new economic opportunities from very little and no one waits for a hand out. As I leave the office, two uniformed school children make a brief appearance in the hallway before one agent instructs them to get back to their homework. Two blocks south of Mark’s office is a posh London lettings franchise. Rows of framed photos feature the fireplaces, hardwood floors and charming gardens of nearby terraced houses. It is a quiet morning and no clients are here. Several well-suited agents are seated at slick work stations attending to their computer screens. I take a seat in a leather swivel chair and speak briefly to a young British agent named Fig. 2 (Top) Map of London Boroughs, Southwark is highlighted and the location of Peckham starred. (Bottom) Map of major London landmarks (St. Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London and the Shard at London Bridge) and the local landmark - The Peckham Library (Alsop & Stormer, completed in 2000) at the intersection of Peckham High Street and the northern end of Rye Lane. Rail lines bisect Rye Lane south of the library. (Author, 2012 based on London Map, Edina 1996).

Darius (Darius, 2012). He tells me his clients are mostly young families purchasing homes in Peckham South (Fig. 16). When I ask about their impressions of the area, he relays the story of a panicked couple, who shortly after arriving to Peckham Rye Station called to cancel their viewing. Rye Lane’s dense lineup of street vendors, halal butchers, hair dressers, and mobile phone kiosks appeared as ‘Beirut’ to the couple looking at a four-bedroom ‘period home’ for £700,000. When I exit the office, I reach for a glossy property catalogue, which the receptionist sharply informs me is for clients only.

Rye Lane is a global destination street in a global destination city. Appealing to extreme spectrums of lifestyle aspirations - from refugees leaving war-torn Afghanistan to north Londoners fleeing small flats this tightly packed .8km high street in the neighborhood of Peckham is perceived as promising for some and derelict to others. Evolving at an intersection of emergent cultural economies, an edgy arts scene, intense socioeconomic deprivation, a rising new immigrant population, and a wave of historic home renovation, Peckham appears in the press as a caricature of London’s 21st century societal malaise. In 2000, Peckham’s reputation as a high-crime area was amplified by the global media coverage of the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor, who was attacked on his short walk home from the Peckham Library to the North Peckham Estate (Kenzari, 2011). Nearly a decade later when the Arts section of The New York Times reviewed the rooftop bar and sculpture installations curated by Peckham’s Hannah Barry Gallery, the area was irreverently noted as London’s ‘highest concentration of knife crime, hairdressers and gospel churches’ (Pfeiffer, 2009). More recently, The Economist selected the ‘run-down’ Rye Lane to report on the proliferation of casinos on the UK’s recession-hit high streets. From one of the eight betting shops on Rye Lane, the author observes despairing Nigerian immigrants feeding £20 bills into roulette machines and then casts the entire neighborhood off as dim and disenfranchised: ‘where the economic prospects are thin and where there are lots of migrants’ (2012).


PPS4 [2009]

‘Planning for Town centre uses’


High Street Report [2010] Mary Portas High Street Report [2012]


Markets & Street Trading Strategy [2009-2011]


Peckham Nunhead Area Action Plan [2011]

The media portrayal of Peckham is one of lowbrow economies, listless immigrants, and heinous crimes. A more politically correct stigma resonates in the perspectives of local councillors, planners and resident committees who also view Rye Lane within a lens of lack. In an interview with a local Labour councillor, she shared her constituents’ concerns about Rye Lane as ‘untidy’ and lacking places like Marks & Spencer and Cafe Nero found on other London high streets: ‘There are no chains and it’s difficult to keep the street crisp’ (Gwyneth, 2012). On an online forum for the neighborhood district of East Dulwich - a

Rye Lane

AJ Philips Charrette [2012]

Fig. 3 Mapping of London’s retail areas within the Central Activities Zone - case study high streets labeled (Gort Scott and UCL 2010). ‘Make super-BIDs!’ Fig. 4. List of current city and national high street planning ‘Create a cultural quarter.’ schemes and recommendations ‘Build areviewed food halle.’ in this study. ‘De-clutter the street.’ ‘Remove pre-fab shops in front of historic buildings.’

largely middle class residential area bordering Peckham to the south, residents express their desire to


reveal Rye Lane’s Victorian and Edwardian architecture one layer back beyond the rows of one-storey modern shopfronts and to reduce the sights and smells of the African grocers’ ‘frightening fish’ (East Dulwich, 2012). By restoring the former architectural character of the street, residents hope to transform the neighborhood’s identity: ‘Rye Lane is now a designated conservation area. Hopefully, we should see the real Peckham in the future’ (ibid). These aspirations to sanitise the present and revere the past have influenced the neighborhood strategy for the next 15 years of development - the Peckham Nunhead Area Action Plan (AAP) (Southwark, 2012). This ambitious planning effort focuses on upgrading 11 key sites on and around Rye Lane as anchors to support a ‘healthy, safe and prosperous community’ (ibid, 9). It includes the £11 million restoration of the Victorian Peckham Rye Station and its former forecourt, requiring the removal of several buildings from the 1940s hosting grocers and takeaway shops that obstruct the view of the station. Development guidelines express how ‘heritage will be celebrated’ to drive renovation, priorities which seem to match the desires of families purchasing period homes, rather than those renting rooms by the week (ibid, 27). Business defies the plan. Rye Lane eludes the expectations and norms of the archetypal ‘British’ high street of caffs, off-licenses, Tesco Expresses, pubs, Prets and other conventional one-business-pershop typologies (Portas, 2011). On this tightly packed stretch of street vendors, shops, and indoor markets, individuals regularly out-design the spatial parameters of the built environment. Of the 199 shops surveyed along Rye Lane, 65% are independent and nearly one-third of these are subdivided Fig. 5 Before and Before Above: Peckham Rye Station and original forecourt (University of Greenwich 1867). Below: Rendering for the restored station and forecourt by Pie Architects produced at the AJ and Philips charrette (Ben Blossom, 2012).

to host more than one business (Fig. 18) (LSE Urban Publics, 2012). In this dense remix of multiple business offers under one roof, traders slice through glass storefronts to accommodate service windows that integrate with the landscape of street markets. They construct false walls to partition a single shop unit into a grocer, a hair salon, an eye lash bar, and a mobile phone kiosk (Fig. 21). They build plywood and plexiglass cabins that sit within shop interiors to house more intimate trades such as money

transfers, travel agencies, and custom jewelry. They add display appendages to their storefronts, layering doors and windows with shelves for DVDs, hats and popcorn. Through these multi-scalar mutations, shopkeepers engage with the street on a trial and error basis, building diversity, flexibility and resilience into their business models. The current planning scheme explicitly sets out to relocate street vendors off Rye Lane, limit subdivisions, and encourage the addition of chain retailers by developing large retail spaces – contradicting not only the reality of Rye Lane, but also the protectionist policies and ‘support your local’ sentiment championing independent retail across the UK (see Southwark, 2012: 34-35; NEF, 2004; PPS4, 2009; All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group, 2006). Over the past six months, I have been part of the Urban Publics research group at LSE Cities, exploring the street-level cultural economies of Rye Lane by surveying shops, interviewing traders, photographing trade-scapes, and mapping our findings. I have built an independent trajectory from this research to investigate how the business, social and spatial strategies of subdivided shops can be appraised as innovative micro-economic incubators critical to the success of the street. To counteract the whitewashing of Rye Lane with generic planning paradigms, I will explore how the flexible business configurations and improvised spatial dynamics of subdivided shops can be better valued and scaled up to influence planning strategies for Rye Lane, as well as for high streets facing similar demographic demands, economic duress, and cultural misperception. Planning begins with looking. To begin to challenge the course of current planning interventions, I experimented with creating accessible and rewarding formats for urban planners, architects and other spatial practitioners to see Rye Lane’s cultural and economic complexities. I began by investigating current high street planning schemes at the neighborhood, city and national levels that impact Peckham, identifying gaps between positive business practices on the street and proposed policies (Fig. 4). Next, I

Fig. 6 The Golden Mile Rye Lane earned the nickname the “Golden Mile’ in the late 19th century, as a popular shopping street. The street continues to be particularly packed with women shoppers frequenting the many beauty and clothing businesses. Above: Video still of sidewalk sale at Julia Knows Beauty on Rye Lane (Author, 2012). Below: Film still of ladies celebrating Alexandra Day in 1913 outside of the train station on Rye Lane (British Film Institute, 2012).


expanded on the ethnographic research I conducted as part of Urban Publics group by conducting additional interviews with street traders and architects involved in redesigning Rye Lane. Then I referenced participatory urban design research and advocacy precedents set by designers and community groups with similar agendas of reshaping perceptions and planning measures affecting multicultural business areas. Based on this research, I designed two location-based mobile games using the open source platform 7Scenes. I applied ethnographic, policy and design research to create game narratives that enable people unfamiliar with the street to quickly and directly engage with the social and cultural capital of street-level trade. The games invite outsiders to take on the role of recent immigrants to the UK who are building new careers and new families in Peckham. From this vantage point, players gain insights into the unique resources of Rye Lane – in particular, learning from its subdivided shops – which they can apply towards developing new conceptions of the street and policies to support it. Over the course of one month, I designed, tested and iterated game prototypes first with shop traders, and then with three outsiders to Peckham. Finally, I created a third 7Scenes narrative in the form of a guided tour of four of the identified AAP sites along Rye Lane. Participants can take this journey to view my recommendations for programming the sites based on scaling up the entrepreneurial qualities of subdivided businesses. In designing this participatory mobile and online platform, my goal was to create narrative based experiences for outsiders to form more nuanced, empathetic conceptions of Rye Lane than those encouraged by the mainstream press, resident forums, and the local plan. I conclude by proposing alternative planning and public participation strategies for multicultural urban high streets that are more democratic, decentralised, and receptive to local innovation. I argue that these crowdsourced research and design strategies have the potential to produce planning priorities better suited to a diverse spectrum of stakeholders of varying socioeconomic backgrounds and real estate aspirations.

1 day in Eindhoven

1 hr. 45 mins. on Rye Lane

Fig. 7 Left: Photo timeline of the Peckham lighting and urban design charrette sponsored by The Architect’s Journal and Philips (Ben Blossom, 2012). Right: Opening night of the exhibition of charrette outputs at the Architecture Foundation located in Bankside, South London (Alvaro Menedez Ucelay, 2012). Designs were not displayed for public viewing in Peckham.

1 night at the Architecture Foundation


planning the street The street of the global city is a real-time, open archive of change. Interplays of economy and identity articulate recombinant social, cultural and spatial possibilities within a compressed test strip of territory. In an investigation of diasporic communities in Paris, London and Berlin, Michel Laguerre defines the ‘global neighborhood’ as a locale that residents form out of ‘multi-sited’ practices – an ongoing ‘triple interaction with the mainstream urban system, diasporic sites, and the homeland’ (Laguerre 2008, p. 4). Rye Lane is a global street in the heart of the global neighborhood of Peckham, a district located in the central eastern area of the South London borough of Southwark (Fig. 2).2 Peckham Town Centre (Fig. 9) is the economic engine of the district with borders reverberating out from the T-shaped intersection of Rye Lane and Peckham High Street (KM Heritage and Tibbalds 2012, p. 7).3 Alongside the landmark districts of Kensington High Street and Canary Wharf, Peckham is designated in the London Plan as one of 35 major economic centres critical to the future growth of the City (Mayor of London, 2011). Falling within ‘Zone 2’ of the Transport for London network, Rye Lane is a central and connected area that has historically formed a major north-south transit corridor growing from its 19th century rail, tram and canal lines. Presently, sixteen bus lines network Peckham Town Centre to the rest of London (TfL, 2012). An overground rail station bisecting Rye Lane shuttles three million commuters each year to central transit hubs such as Victoria, London Bridge and King’s Cross Stations.4 Rye Lane also Fig. 8 Street Stop Above: Mayor Boris Johnson makes a post-riots visit to Rye Lane on August 16th, 2011 (London Evening Standard, 2011). Below: Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone makes an election day stop on Rye Lane on May 3rd, 2012 (Matt Writtle, 2012).

supports intense pedestrian and cycle traffic.5 In 2010, Rye Lane underwent £650,000 of infrastructural upgrades - sidewalks at the north end of the street were widened, and new road paving, cycle lanes and landscaping were added to its entirety (Southwark Council, 2010). Rye Lane’s local and global connectivity are also evident in the dozens of flags printed on calling card posters outside of mobile phone shops (see cover); the layered street soundscape of calls to prayer, reggae tracks and Bollywood hits; the translation of public service announcements at the library into multiple European, Asian and African languages; and the long lists of currencies available at money shops. In contrast to Peckham’s prevalence of Black British, Caribbean and African residents (Fig. 10), shop owners and workers on Rye

Lane hail from a more distributed spectrum of Asia, African, Caribbean and European nations – most prominently Pakistan, the UK, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and India (Fig. 17). Most commonly traded on this

Peckham Town Centre 13,400 employees 2,100 businesses

global street are clothing, food, beauty, money transfers, and mobile phones – core materials for sharping cultural practices, distributing earnings and building social capital (Figs. 11 & 18). From Golden Mile to Golden Arches Rye Lane emerged as a major high street after Peckham Rye Station opened in 1867 and nearby farmlands were bricked over with villas and terraced homes for a growing middle class (Beaseley, 1995). By the 1870s, Peckham became an independent town centre and major shopping area of South London, home to premiere departments stores, such as Jones & Higgins and Holdron’s, and earning the nickname, ‘The Golden Mile’ (ibid, p. 15). After World War II, areas to the north and east of Rye Lane that suffered bomb damage were filled with new housing estates - a mix of modernist tower blocks and low-rise houses and apartments (KM Heritage and Tibbalds, 2012). To the south and west of Rye Lane, preserved Georgian and Victorian terraced homes, interspersed with small open green spaces and light industry, have become a gentrification hotspot (ibid). An open plaza hosting the public library and health centre sit above its northern intersection with Peckham High Street. Below this cluster of

Rye Lane .8 Km length 199 storefronts 65% independent 30% multiple businesses Westfield Stratford City 175,000 sqm = 8.8 km of double-sided retail 10,000 employees 370 businesses

civic amenities, the top 150 meters of Rye Lane’s sidewalks are double wide, reducing vehicular traffic to one direction and accommodating heavy pedestrian traffic around large chain stores and independent subdivided shops that have taken root in the footprints of former 19th century department stores. Moving south towards the train station, four privately owned indoor markets, 15 street vendors, and rows of independent shops line both sides of Rye Lane (Fig .19).

Fig 9. Scaled maps of Peckham Town Centre and Westfied Stratford City Mall with comparative economic and spatial impact. (Author, 2012 based on data and maps from Gort Scott and UCL, 2010 and Westfield, 2009)

A charged market environment disseminates across Rye Lane, intensifying around high footfall areas near the train station, bus stops, outdoor street vendors, and in places where shops are open to the street


4% Mixed

n i, se an Asia ine ist Ch ak uth 4% , P So ian hi, Ind des 5%angla B

and the sidewalks are colonised by ad hoc displays to attract passersby. In a survey of 199 storefronts along Rye Lane, the LSE Urban Publics group found that 86% are retail, 10% are vacant and 4% have another non-commercial use such as a school or church. One third of the independent shops are

32% White British, Irish, Other

subdivided into multiple businesses - these 31 stores are partitioned (by owners or head leaseholders)

55% Black African, Caribbean, Other

to accommodate a total of 89 businesses: 70% have two businesses, 17% host three, 13% more than three (2012). Even chains are not immune to this spatial dynamic. For example, although the McDonald’s on Rye Lane occupies a stand-alone Art Deco building on its own block (Figs. 20 & 32), its interior and exterior are both officially and informally programed by other micro-enterprises. On either side of the

Fig. 10 Peckham | Ethnic Makeup

building are two permitted street vendors: one selling luggage along the ledge of the McDonald’s and another vendor on its northern side selling women’s dresses from a maze of clothing racks set up on

Food Services Misc. Services

the sidewalk.6 It also hosts two informal businesses: I have observed between one and three vendors


discretely selling DVDs for £2 on the first floor and tobacco packets for £5 on the second floor. Together,


Mobile Money


subdivided shops, outdoor stalls, and informal solicitors intensify the volume of trade, creating ubiquitous

27 38

Other Retail Beauty Food Retail Clothing

30 38 39

outdoor to indoor ‘streets.’ As part of a design charrette on Rye Lane, architect Kieran Gaffney estimated the density of occupancy levels as ‘two kilometres of shops squeezed into 780 metres’ (Olcayto 2012, p. 33). In an interview with architect Fran Balaam who also participated in the charrette, she defines the local spatial attitudes as ‘opportunistic’ (Balaam, 2012). She recalls walking on Rye Lane and spotting a

Fig. 11 Rye Lane | Trade Offers

structure that from a distance appeared as a storage cupboard. Upon approaching it, she realised it was

Fig. 10 Ethnic composition of Peckham Ward - total population 11,381 (ONS, 2001). Fig. 11 Predominant trade categories of Rye Lane shops (LSE Urban Publics, 2012) Fig. 12 Population of Southwark Council, showing rise of the black population as total population remains steady (ONS, 1981; ibid, 1991; ibid, 2001; Southwark Analytical Hub, 2008). Fig. 13 Population of Peckham Community Council, showing dramatic rise of foreign born population (Southwark Analytical Hub, 2008). Fig. 14 Population of the Lane Ward, showing rapid decline of White British population (ONS,1991; ONS, 2001).

a shop that had been rigged to the train bridge. She has observed how traders ‘seize any little space to create something out of it,’ a quality pervading both shop interiors and the in-between spaces of the street.


Out-Designing Deprivation Beginning in the 1970s, Peckham mirrored Southwark’s trend of white flight, spikes in immigration,


and economic decline (Fig. 12).7 Between 1971 and 2001, the number of foreign born residents of Peckham more than doubled from 17% to 42%, while the total population declined by 13,000 (Fig. 13) (ONS, 1971; ibid, 2001).8 In 2001, slightly over 60% of foreign born residents were born in Europe


and 22% in Africa – most notably, Peckham became home to the largest Nigerian community in the


UK, which comprises 7% of the population (BBC, 2005). Tethered to these dramatic demographic shifts, Peckham ranks as an acutely deprived area of London: sections of which rank in the 10% most deprived in the UK (Fig. 15) (Southwark, 2008). As part of an EU-backed effort to counter deprivation




Fig. 12 Southwark | Black Population 40,000

in the 1990s, Peckham received £290 million of civic and residential upgrades, including a new town square that features a community fitness centre and library, the renovation of 2,000 Council homes and a community safety programme (BBC, 2000; KM Heritage and Tibbalds 2012, p. 21). In the context of these neighborhood improvements, Peckham showed mild signs of recovery, rising from the third to


fifth most deprived neighborhood between 2004-2008 and also improving from the third highest crime area in London in 1997 to ninth in 2000 (Southwark, 2008). Crime rates in parts of Peckham currently rank as above average and high, as knife and gun related incidents continue despite civic investments

5,000 1971

(Metropolitan Police, 2012). Driven by ongoing immigration and natural growth, Peckham’s population is projected to double by 2029, placing increasing pressure on Rye Laneʼs commercial and civic services to meet the needs of a



Fig. 13 Peckham | Foreign Born Population



younger, increasingly diverse population (Southwark Analytic Hub, 2008).9 However as the UK faces a double recession, Rye Lane has showed remarkable resilience. The current vacancy rate on Rye Lane of 10% contrasts the UK average hovering at 16% (Portas 2011, p. 8). Rye Lane has also avoided the UK’s ‘clone town’ epidemic of big chains dominating high streets and stifling opportunities for small

76% White British

53% White British

Fig. 14 The Lane | White Flight


independents (Simms et al., 2005). In a recent London Development Agency commissioned study of high streets, Peckham Town Centre was the one of six case studies chosen to illustrate a physically narrow, socioeconomically deprived, and ‘local’ high street typology (Gort Scott and UCL, 2010). The study found that Peckham Town Centre’s 2,1000 businesses account for 13,400 jobs, significant in proportion to the approximately 20,000 residents of the Peckham Community Council (ibid, p. 83). In addition to its importance as a job source, the report found that Peckham residents regularly visit Rye Lane as a social space beyond necessary transactions. Two-thirds of those interviewed made three to four visits per week, of which one-third of these visits were for non-commercial purposes (ibid, p. 80). In comparison, Westfield Stratford City (self-proclaimed as the ‘largest urban shopping mall in Europe’) created 10,000 jobs to staff 370 shops, framing its £1.4 billion development as battling East London’s historic deprivation (Fig. 9) (Westfield, 2009). While Westfield brands itself as ‘the future of shopping’ anchoring the UK’s largest urban regeneration project, through the lens of pure employment data, the downtrodden Peckham stands on par with the rising retail star of the Olympic Legacy. In contrast to the usual suspects of large chain stores occupying Westfield, the Gort Scott and UCL report notes that the dearth of chains on less affluent high streets, such as Rye Lane, has left room for new independent retailers to ‘spring up to serve the new tastes of their now culturally rich communities’ (2010, p. 8). The All Party Parliamentary 10% Most deprived 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% Peckham Town Centre Peckham Community Council Peckham and Nunhead Action Area Peckham and Camberwell Parliamentary District Fig. 15 Southwark Index of Multiple Deprivation

Small Shops Group adds that independent shops are more conducive to self-employment and microentrepreneurship, in addition to facilitating social inclusion – in particular for immigrants, ethnic minorities, and the elderly (2006, p. 67). In this light, Rye Lane’s strong independent trade-scape performs as a social, economic and cultural one-stop open-air shopping mall to serve its local, global neighborhood.

High Plans Failure is in the eyes of the beholder. While deprivation and demographic shifts necessitate planning

am Peckh rt No h

interventions, there are critical gaps between what councillors, planners and a select group of residents

Peckham East

desire for Rye Lane and the culture of street-level trade. In a public consultation of the Peckham Nunhead Area Action Plan (AAP) in 2011 organized by Southwark Council, feedback from 20 attendees included requests for Rye Lane to increase the diversity of shops to include more chain stores, to reduce the smells of fish and fast food, and overall, to ‘tidy the area’ (Southwark 2011, p. 58). These comments are supported by the results of an online and print survey available via the Southwark Council website. A striking 89% of the 133 people surveyed ‘agreed’ with the entirety of the vision set out by the AAP

Core Action Area

m kha th o S u


Nunhead, Peckham Rye & Honor Oak

– 62% supporting the relocation of street markets off Rye Lane and 72% in favor of larger shop units with restrictions on subdivisions (Fig. 35) (ibid). In an interview with a local councillor about the AAP, she confirmed that meeting participants and survey respondents were likely neither street vendors nor the micro-entrepreneurs of Rye Lane (Gwyneth, 2012). She shared the difficulties of getting businesses to participate in the planning process, as meetings were held during business hours, and in fact, asked if I had insights into what businesses wanted from the plan. While the presence of businesses dominate the public realm of Rye Lane, they have been largely absent from the process of planning its future. Designers are both complicit and conflicted. To elaborate on the vision set forth by the AAP, The Architect’s Journal (AJ) and Philips recently co-sponsored a charrette to conceptualise urban design and lighting schemes for six AAP sites along Rye Lane (Olcayto, 2012). Working in partnership with Southwark Council, Philips and AJ convened architects from six London firms to engage in a two-day

Fig. 16 Above: Peckham and Nunhead Area Action Map showing core focus of planning and designer interventions and adjacent residential neighborhoods (Southwark Council, 2012) Fig. 15 Left: Map of Southwark Council ward and deprivation designations. Outlined: The Peckham Nunhead Area Action Plan (includes parts of five neighboring wards, and borders on more affluent areas of South Camberwell and East Dulwich); the Core Action Area (aligns with the borders of the Peckham Town Centre and is dominated by areas ranking at 20% most deprived); Peckham District (the parliamentary constituency of Peckham and Camberwell). (Author, 2012 based on Data Management and Analysis Group, 2008 and Southwark Council 2012)

research and design journey. For one day, designers trekked to Philips headquarters in Eindhoven to


tour the product testing labs, which include a simulation of a high

Gaps between national policies and existing street-level spaces

street. On day two in Peckham, the group spent less than two hours

also abound. The current national town centre planning policy offers

surveying the area before retreating to the library for the remainder of

elusive guidelines that lack resonance with the realities of Rye Lane.

the day to draft interventions. Designs presented to local councillors

In addition to supporting small-scale uses and limiting sprawl by

and planners included a hotel-spa-cinema complex at the current

locating larger retail shops within town centres, Planning Policy

site of the Peckhamplex (Fig. 46 and Pech City Locations #3 & 4), a

Statement 4 (PPS4) instructs town centres to ‘conserve and, where

new ‘cultural quarter’ behind the library and a Barcelona-referenced

appropriate, enhance the established character and diversity’ (2009,

food market in the parking lot of Morrison’s (Fig. 45 and Pech City

p.13, emphasis added). Loopholes for defining the ‘character’

Location #6). In this rapid ‘draw-by’ approach to the neighborhood,

and ‘diversity’ of the street and ‘appropriate’ circumstances to

specific references to Rye Lane’s existing culture of business

preserve them or not are left open. The Cameron-commissioned

activity were absent from the texture and scale of design schemes.

assessment of UK high streets by retail maven Mary Portas is more

However, participating architects critiqued the AAP’s guidelines

prescriptive, yet no less generic (Portas, 2011). She posits super-

for provoking generic and gentrifying designs. Architects from the

sized advise to create ‘Town Teams’ and ‘Super-BIDS’ (Business

Konishi Gaffney team cautioned that the AAP could lead to the loss

Improvement Districts) with governance powers rivaling those of

of the street’s particular ‘Peckhamness,’ recommending that ‘the

local authorities. She envisions a town management cohort of

specialist nature of the shops be supported’ (Olcayto 2012, p. 54).

business owners, residents and ‘town rangers’ who would ‘curate

Architect Ben Adams also challenged the underlying premise of the

the future’ and cultivate the street’s ‘brand’ by determining the

planning process: ‘The action plan fails to question the very need

mix of shops and purchasing properties to directly implement their

for a high street or what the high street may become. One outcome

vision. Like the AAP, both of these national planning tools seem

might be a gentrified Rye Lane with a predictable mix of ‘national’

irrespective of the practices of Rye Lane and other London high

stores, and yet the opportunity to celebrate a local identity would

streets resembling it. Rather than default to historic preservation,

have been lost’ (ibid, p. 61). Design is not entirely in the hands of the

generic global city images of art hotels and cultural quarters, and

designers. Working within the plan’s prescriptive preset, architects

corporate management approaches, there is a pressing need to

failed to propose alternatives to the Council’s vision.

create planning strategies for multicultural high streets that reflect an emergent global London. This planning approach requires a closer look at what is already working well on the street.


selling the street : Business in Plain Sight
 ‘You’re denying your eyes if you don’t see wealth,’ proclaims Kasen, a middle-age Jamaican British store owner and vegan chef, reflecting on the intense innovation and incomes generated on Rye Lane (Kasen, 2012). Kasen sells books, art, jewelry and other Rastafarian themed collectibles from his shop at the indoor Rye Lane Market (Fig. 19; Arrivalocity Location #3). Kasen’s store is one of 54 shops and stalls selling a range of offerings, from aquarium supplies to custom Yoruba dresses. Before going into retail, Kasen ran a vegan restaurant in nearby Brixton, but closed as the area became gentrified and rents spiked. I ask him how outsiders can better understand Rye Lane, and he breaks down what this street and others like it have to offer: ‘There’s different kinds of high streets. There’s Kensington and then there’s the black high street. We have brought wealth to cities all over the world, like Harlem in New York City’ (Kasen, 2012). He describes how black culture is behind the music, food, clothing, beauty and other industries that can transform everyday neighborhoods into global tourist destinations. Retracting from this romanticism, he sites the harsh legal and economic constraints driving this entrepreneurship: Fig. 17 Above: Countries of origin of shop owners and traders on Rye Lane. Top to bottom: Pakistan (22), UK (10), Afghanistan (8), Nigeria (5), India (4), Eritrea (3), Iraq (2), Iran (2), Jamaica (2) Sri Lanka (2), Ghana (1), Kashmir (1), Kenya (1), Nepal (1), Somalia (1), Tanzania (1), Uganda (1), Vietnam (1), Yemen (1) (LSE Urban Publics, 2012).

‘People can stay, but they can’t work. All these businesses are put up by necessity . . . We’re here, but we can’t make it through all the bureaucratic hurdles to get permission to work’ (ibid). Kasen refers to immigrants with temporary visas or asylum seekers who create their own economic opportunities beyond their stipulated work allowances (Refugee Council, 2011). Bypassing these limitations, Rye Lane offers conditions for people to create new additions to existing businesses or independent micro-enterprises that offer specialty services and goods to local immigrant communities.

Fig. 18 Right: Frequency of multiple business offers at 31 subdivided shops. The first trade type listed is the shop’s primary business. ‘Other’ includes the following retail offers: bargain, pharmacy, health, herbal medicine, children’s toys, charity shop, computers, optician, florist, convenience/offlicense, and newsagent (Author, 2012 based on data from LSE Urban Publics, 2012).

Over the past six months of field research, Rye Lane has presented itself as a street of ‘pay-as-you-go’ opportunities: from the lay-away systems set up by small shops to the daily rents for Council-run market stalls. On Rye Lane, a refugee from Afghanistan can set up a fruit and vegetable stand by renting an outdoor trading area for £10 a day - submitting only an address, a mobile number and £35 to acquire

3 Beauty, Other


Beauty, Mobile, Other

Food, Beauty, Clothes, Money, Mobile, Other


Beauty, Money

Clothes, Mobile, Money

1 Food, Beauty

1 Money, Other

Mobile, Money





Beauty, Money, Mobile





Clothes, Mobile

Clothes, Other

Beauty, Clothes

Beauty, Mobile

1 Food, Money

1 Food, Beauty, Mobile

2 Food, Mobile

2 Food, Other 21

a license (Southwark Council, 2009; Arrivalocity Location #10).10 It is a street where a young man from Pakistan can start out selling children’s clothing from an indoor market stall rented for £100 per week, and then gradually grow the businesses to two storefronts on Rye Lane (Fig. 28; Shopomama Location #4). It is a place where a woman from Nigeria can rent a chair for £75 a week at the ad-hoc salon at the back of a grocery store. Within this shop, her clients can find the foods they cooked and movies they watched in Lagos, while other stylists look after children and sort vegetables in between appointments (Figs. 21 & 23; Shopomama Location #7). These incremental retail spaces are socially immersive and economically opportune for many and alienating to others. Mark, the Jamaican-British estates agent, recalls the subdivision trend intensifying four-five years ago, coinciding with the onset of the economic recession. Beyond making good business sense, he views the division of these spaces as a primarily cultural phenomenon, replicating the market environments of immigrants’ origins: ‘It’s a way for them to create a home away from home’ (Mark, 2012). While market-style shops form the social and cultural infrastructure of this global neighborhood, Mark notes that longterm White British residents have left the area as they no longer feel at ease on the street: ‘It’s not a racial thing. It’s about lifestyle. They become strangers in a place they were once 2 businesses 3 businesses 4 businesses 5 businesses 7 businesses 8 businesses Interior Markets Street Markets Peckham Library Fig. 19 Map of indoor markets, outdoor vendors and subdivided shops on Rye Lane (Data LSE Urban Publics, 2012 and author’s own; Author’s Image, 2012 based on Edina Maps,1996).

familiar with’ (ibid). He describes how counter to the British tradition of going to the fishmonger to buy fish, immigrants will not hesitate to sell fish and phones: ‘It can appear chaotic, but it works’ (ibid). Although Mark sees mixed businesses as booming on Rye Lane, he warns that the street is over-run by haphazardly-presented discount goods, subdivided spaces inflating rents above fair market value, and limited client bases unable to sustain businesses in the long run.11

Yet the immediate benefits of subdivided businesses are undeniable. Leaseholders can diversify their


income streams, dividing the risks of running a business amongst multiple stakeholders, and also giving opportunities for newcomers to start micro-businesses with less overhead. While chain retailers have a determined protocol for merchandising products and interacting with customers, the owner or leaseholder


of an independent shop can curate an evolving mix of tenants, testing out new offers, and rotating goods and services seasonally and in flux with changing demands. The most prevalent business addition on Rye Lane is the mobile phone kiosk (Fig. 18), which can be installed as a separate booth or counter, or as minimally as a cardboard box atop a fish freezer and phone card posters taped up to the window (Fig. 29).


Several proprietors and managers of stand-alone shops on Rye Lane that I interviewed reported to receive regular offers from individuals looking to set up a mini mobile shop in their storefronts, offering rents between £50 to £200 per week (Fig. 28).



Post Poundland ‘That’s a million dollar question,’ mulled Ziyad, when I ask him how he knows what types of businesses are most successful on Rye Lane (Ziyad, 2012). It is early on a Sunday morning and business at this multifaceted grocery-mobile-beauty-entertainment shop is just warming up. Ladies in colourful Yoruba dresses inspect the produce on their way to church. A group of 20-somethings emerging from the club across the street stop in for post-partying snacks. Ziyad is a 16-year-old from Afghanistan who moved to London when he was 8. As we chat, the hair stylist from Lagos who rents a chair from Ziyad is pacing the sidewalk on the look out for clients. Ziyad’s two co-workers from India and Pakistan stand at the front of the open air storefront, leaning on a glass case displaying mobile phones that bleeds into the sidewalk. They switch languages to suit clients. Between Ziyad and his assistants, they speak English, Urdu, Pashtun, Punjabi, Hindi, Arabic, Korean, Dari, Tamil and some Yoruba. Although when I first met Ziyad, he proudly pointed to the shop and proclaimed ‘this is all mine,’ in fact, his older brother is the head leaseholder. Ziyad works part-time after school and on the weekends. He alternates between his brother’s two shops on Rye Lane: one is a tiny mobile phone kiosk that folds out from the wall of another shop and this newer venture, a former 99P shop that has gradually morphed in a mini-department store (Figs.

1 business 2 businesses 3 businesses 4 businesses 5 businesses 8 businesses Fig. 20 Satellite view of Rye Lane with locations of shops in Figs. 23-32 and proposed design interventions at AAP designated sites in Figs. 44-48 (Author, 2012 based on Google Maps, 2012).


22 & 24). In May 2012, the shop’s 1,600 square feet were occupied by 10 people working at eight compactly configured businesses. By comparison, the nearby Poundland on the opposite side of Rye Lane has seven people staffing a retail are of 5,000 square feet. Even more tightly packed is the cupboard-like mobile shop built for one. South of the mini-department store is his brother’s original business: a 15-square-foot mobile kiosk with an open-air service counter facing out to a bus stop. In contrast to the spacious Carphone Warehouse chain up the street, which has two employees selling mobiles from a 750-square-foot showroom (Arrivalocity location #1), Ziyad runs a full a service mobile shop from one stool, where an arsenal of phones, cases, cards and cords hang within arm’s reach.
 Family Money One block north of the micro-mobile shop is a business of approximately 40 square feet supporting a family of five. In 2005, Umesh decided to leave his job to open a franchise of an international money transfer business (Umesh, 2012). As a trained accountant from Uganda, Umesh first found work at a financial services company in East London after arriving to the UK in 2003. Two years later, a friend and business partner helped him with the market research to open the franchise, identifying Rye Lane and the booth at the back of an Internet cafe that he could rent for £800 a month as a promising start. The only things required of him to launch the franchise were a computer with an Internet connection and a landline. For six months, Umesh recalls walking up and down Rye Lane passing out flyers and building up his client base. As a mark of success, in 2010 the branch office installed a branded awning and billboard outside the shop that hosts his money booth. The retail area around the booth has morphed along with the changing demands of the local market (Figs. 23 & 25; Arrivalocity Location #8). The Internet cafe has given way to a mobile phone and PC repair shop. In the areas opposite and adjacent to the mobile phone counter, a short-lived grocer was replaced with a short-lived handbag business, which only recently has been taken over by a tailor. Global market shifts have also affected Umesh’s business, which has by necessity become a family enterprise. Umesh has three children in their 20’s, each with bachelor’s degrees in finance and accounting, and each unable to find work. His two daughters have been out of work for one year, and his son started working with Umesh full-time after losing his banking job in 2011. His wife works part-time at a pharmacy, and also helps with the business in the afternoons. Although the income is able sustain his family, Umesh laments how business has slowed during the recession. 

99P Grocery Mobile Money Beauty Salon/Products DVD/Music Clothing/Accessories Fig. 21 Floor plan of the mobile kiosk and evolving ‘cash & carry’ that Ziyad helps to manage (Author, 2012).

Small is Flexible
 Subdivided shops have nothing to hide. The business owners I interviewed operate within the legal stipulations of the flexible A1 retail lease, which allows for selling food products, setting up salons, and selling other product and services under a single lease (Planning Applications UK, 2012). For example, Arun, a Pakistani-Canadian business owner has used the flexibility of the A1 lease to experiment with business offerings at his two locations on Rye Lane (Figs. 30 & 31). In 1999, he purchased a storefront that previously housed a video arcade to open a fish store, periodically carrying fresh produce and groceries based on the season and then in 2011, installing a glass counter to sell mobile phones and calling cards. In 2004, he bought a neighboring storefront to open a beauty supply business. In 2012, he decided that the beauty supply sector was over saturated and he put this 2nd property on the market. After selling off the remainder of his stock, he cleared space for independent stylists and beauticians to rent chairs and tables by the week. This temporary salon covered his overhead costs as he awaited a property buyer. Arun is now planning to build an import business from the office at the back of his fish-grocery-phone store. While independent businesses demonstrate resilience as small and temporary, the Council is planning for big and permanent. In the guidelines of the AAP, the Council proposes restricting the subdivision of new larger retail properties to be developed at the Aylesham Centre, Copeland Industrial Park and other commercial sites along Rye Lane (Fig. 45) (Southwark Council 2012, p. 34). By courting chains to take residency in large retail units, the Council hopes to capture the purchasing power of the 84% of Southwark residents who currently shop for clothes, music and other goods beyond the borough (ibid). This strategy reads as uncannily myopic. During the August 2011 London riots, while independent shops were for the most part spared, the stores looted on Rye Lane were its chains, such as Clark’s Shoes, Curry’s Digital, Blue Inc. Clothing and Gregg’s Bakery.12 To support the AAP’s objective of countering deprivation, building community and promoting local prosperity, a new cohort of chain stores will not help diminish the economic development or social inclusion gap. The resourceful spatial and social strategies of small businesses should be drawn upon to generate a more appropriate plan.

Grocery Mobile Money Internet/PC Repair Clothing/Accessories Fig. 22 Floor plan of evolving business offers at the shop where Umesh’s money transfer booth is located (Author, 2012).


A Fig. 23 View of Ziyad’s ‘cash & carry’ shop from the interior looking out towards Rye Lane (Author, 2012).

B Fig. 24 Interior view of the shop where Umesh’ money transfer booth is located. Storage for the new dress making shop is on the left and the mobile and PC repair counter on the right - the booth is set at the back of the shop and not pictured (Author, 2012).



Fig. 25 Interior to street view from a small mobile phone shop (right) that is subleased from a poultry and grocery store (left) (Author, 2012).


Fig. 26 Interior to street view of two businesses that rent space at the same shop: mobile phones and custom children’s clothing stand side by side (Author, 2012).


E Fig. 27 Interior of Khan’s Bazaar, a markey-style department store with five separate business offers - each one under the single management of Khan (Author, 2012). Khan’s occupies the site of the former Holdron’s Department store (1882-1949), which before it closed was acquired by Selfridge’s and then John Lewis (Beaseley, 2009; see Shopomama gamebook location #9 for archival photos of Holdron’s).


Fig. 28 Interior to street view of a designer children’s clothing shop owned by three Pakistani-British brothers from Manchester (Author, 2012). What began as a stall at the nearby Rye Lane Market has grown to two shops on Rye Lane (the other specialising in school uniforms). The owners receives regular offers to rent their window to mobile phone kiosks, but they are not interested in subdividing the shop.


G Fig. 29 Interior to street view of Arun’s fish, grocery and mobile phone shop. Mobile phones are displayed on a shelf over the pumpkins (left) and phone cards are stored in a cardboard box atop a freezer (right) (Author, 2012).

H Fig. 30 Interior to street view of Arun’s former beauty supply store that he temporarily converted to a hair and nail salon, with storage for a new import business at the rear (Author, 2012).


I Fig. 31 Interior to street view of a major beauty supply store on Rye Lane. Neighboring stylists often stand outside the entrance of this chain store, subtly soliciting potential clients once they have purchased their hair products (Author, 2012).

J Fig. 32 The second floor of McDonald’s, where a quieter environment and free WIFI invite people to linger over newspapers. This is also where a man selling tobacco stations himself to catch customers on their visit to the nearby restrooms (Author, 2012).


design research case studies There are critical lapses between what planners, architects and retail experts recommend for Rye Lane and the successful spatial strategies that subdivided street-level practices have demonstrated. My proposed point of intervention is to design an open source data gathering and sharing platform that can directly link the voices of the public - specifically, those of businesses and individual traders - with local decision-makers. Precedents for radically democratising the data collection and dissemination driving urban planning have been successfully piloted by designers and advocacy groups in other global cities, such as Mumbai and New York. The following projects have been particularly effective in addressing the stigmas of business districts and professional sectors underestimated by urban planners. ‘Design for Elastic Cities’ by Superflux Lab aims to map the multiple social and economic values offered by the fluid network of informal street services in Mumbai (Fig. 33). In this close-up mapping of the street, the local barber trades stock market tips, the rickshaw driver reviews Bollywood movies, and snack bars also serve real estate advice – a real-time urban archive of ‘entrepreneurial savvy under messy, organic conditionsʼ (Superflux, 2009). Superflux creates visualisations of social infrastructures that urban planners, designers and other spatial practitioners can use as tools in designing streets that appraise the social capital of these informal networks, rathan than disregard them as cluttering public space and defying regulations.

Fig. 33 Left & centre: Details of street vendor mapping in ‘Design for Elastic Cities’ (Superflux, 2009). Right: Video stills from the ‘Made in Midtown’ documentary project on the Garment District (Design Trust for Public Space, 2010).

‘Made in Midtown’ by the Design Trust for Public Space was an independent research and advocacy campaign to protect Manhattan’s Garment District from being re-zoned from industrial use to higher-rent yielding offices (Design Trust for Public Space, 2010). The Design Trust partnered with local business councils and designers to alter the city planning department’s view of this cluster of factories in midtown from a deadbeat district to the lynchpin of a local design industry relying on rapid prototypes. Producing a film, exhibit and interactive website featuring interviews with designers, suppliers and expert artisans, the Made in Midtown campaign refreshed the perception of the neighborhood as a hub of skilled workers generating creativity and innovation (Fig. 33). The campaign successfully pressured the City to revoke its rezoning plans, as well as to fund new business incubation programmes. ‘Values and Variety: Shopping on Fulton Street’ by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) and Pratt Center for Community Development aimed to improve the image of the long stigmatised independent retail capital of downtown Brooklyn. Suffering from similar cultural misperceptions as those flung at Rye Lane, city planners continually problematised Fulton Street as failing as the demographic of shoppers shifted from the white middle class brownstone residents to the growing working class black population that had migrated to Brooklyn since the 1950s (Woo and TenHoor 2010, p. 11). Planners in the 1970s lamented the lost ‘golden era’ of high-end department stores and set out to compete with new suburban shopping malls (ibid). In hopes of upscaling the retail composition, planners cycled through several costly design rounds - from removing an overhead rail trestle to enclosing sections of the street in an arcade. Despite ongoing interventions, Fulton Mall remained a retail hub of black culture and is currently the third most profitable street in New York City (ibid, p. 33). In 2005, CUP and Pratt interviewed longtime business owners and created a public poster series addressing the misperceptions of the street. For example, while planners perceived vacant second storey spaces as a sign of dereliction, interviews with business owners revealed that staircases to upper floors had been removed because any ground level retail space was too valuable to spare.13 Future decision makers can reference this business-based research and approach to site analysis before tackling invented planning problems or grafting culturally irrelevant design schemes onto Fulton Street, or other multicultural high streets (Centre for Urban Pedagogy, 2012).

Fig. 34 Left: A solitary tweet by Southwark Council, inviting the public to visit its website and fill out a survey on the AAP (Twitter, 2009). Fig. 35 Centre: Screenshot of Southwark Council’s website featuring instructions on how to submit feedback on the AAP by downloading a survey to post to the Council, calling a phone number, commenting on Facebook and attending a meeting (, 2012); Screenshot of results from feedback survey distributed online, at meetings and at community centres such as the Peckham Library (Southwark Council, 2011). Fig. 36 Right: Notice for a public consultation meeting on the AAP (Southwark News, 2011).


play before you plan As the above precedents illustrate, immersive field research can be incredibly important for shaping responsive planning and policy schemes, yet many planning and design professionals do not have the time or toolsets to engage in extensive field work. To address the gap between professionals and the street,


before you


I created ‘Play Before You Plan’ – a set of two mobile games and a guided tour – to challenge planners and other urban practitioners to depart from conventional frameworks and learn from the creative spatial and economic strategies evident on Rye Lane. The games reward players for their detailed observation, conversations with traders, curiosity, and overall openness, qualities that planners can then apply to better understand the street and devise appropriate design strategies. The games run on the open source platform 7Scenes, which allows people to script their own location-based, urban narratives that anyone can freely download and play on an iPhone, iPad or Android phone.14 I also developed a complementary print version of the games that can be played independently of a mobile device (see appendix for game books). 7Scenes is integrated with Facebook and Twitter, which players can use to post opinions and photos at each game location, as well as add game feedback and scores to their profiles. The games are intended to be applied in the context of public consultation and educational workshops, design charrettes, as well as incorporated into the public consultation process. As a street saturated with mobile phone vendors and users, a phone-based tool blends with the local culture and is an accessible way for traders to share their perspectives and opinions throughout the planning period - rather than only at designated meeting times. Bypassing a cumbersome, multi-step participation process currently in use by the Council (see illustrations of Southwark Council’s public consultation process Figs. 34-36), the game platform can potentially generate a higher volume and diversity of feedback from people who would otherwise not be able or inclined to participate in public meetings, surveys or resident committees. Below is a synopsis of the games and guided tour, which invite players to sample scenarios of starting a new business, raising a young family and re-envisioning the future of the street. Fig. 37 Screenshot of Arrivalocity game on the website and a mobile device (Author, 2012). Fig. 38 Play testing Arrivalocity on Rye Lane (ibid).

 Players take on the role of a refugee from Afghanistan and have up to two hours to find a room to rent, buy a mobile phone, learn how to send money home to their family and find a job or identify a business they want to test (Figs. 39 & 42). At the start of the game, players are given a ‘wallet’ with a suggested budget and a map of locations they can visit in any order. With assistance from the Refugee Council, players have a budget of £75/week to rent a room off Rye Lane, in addition to £500 in savings they can apply to start their own business. Players can visit 12 locations and complete challenges to earn points that will determine whether they are ready to start their own business or if they should apprentice first. They visit indoor and outdoor market places, where they are rewarded for observing details and learning the regulations of trade. This game quickly gives players a sense of the resources offered on Rye Lane that are conducive to small-scale entrepreneurship and staying connected to one’s home country. 


Fig. 39 Arrivalocity banner for mobile and online game versions (Nicolas Palominos and Author, 2012).


 As a mother of two who has recently moved to Rye Lane from Lagos, players are tasked with the weekend shopping for the family. With two kids in tow, players have up to two hours and £150 to finance the following: ingredients to cook dinner for five, special occasion clothing for the entire family, a Nollywood DVD, and a hair extension and manicure. Players must also find a place to access free WIFI and change their child’s nappy (Fig. 43). At the start of the game, players also have a ‘wallet’ with a suggested budget and a map of locations they can visit in any order. Players experience the social amenities, affordable prices and other conveniences that subdivided shops offer to families.


Fig. 40 Shopomama banner for mobile and online game versions (Author, 2012).

Pech City Visitors to Rye Lane are invited on a walking tour of four of the AAP development sites, beginning at the Peckham Rye rail station and ending at the cafe of the Rye Lane Market (Figs. 44-48). The tour title references Tech City in East London, a hub of tech-based companies - from small start-ups to blue-chip giants - celebrated as ‘Europe’s centre of innovation’ (Whitehead, 2012). Similar to its silicon neighbor to the east, Pech City contains a concentrated start-up culture driven by everyday emergent technologies for sending money and messages around the world. In the guided tour, the economic and mobile culture of the street is scaled up to inform the upgrading of four critical neighborhood sites: Peckham Rye Station, Peckhamplex Cinema, Peckham Town Square, and the Aylesham Centre. Rather than prioritise historic preservation or the provision of large retail space for chain stores, I recommend that large commercial sites are programmed to support small business incubation, cultural production and the dissemination of media production, design and technology, and business development skills. The following section details my proposed planning guidelines as illustrated in Pech City.

Fig. 41 Detail of the Aylesham Centre tour stop in Pech City, online version (Author, 2012).


0 7.14

arrivalocity £500 on Rye Lane £200 Weekly rental of booth at the rear of a store, including utilities £150 Weekly rental of an indoor trading stall* £60 Weekly rental of outdoor 2x2.5 metre trading area (Monday-Saturday)** £75 Weekly wage of market stall worker, (£5/hour for15 hours)*** £3 Per kilo price to send parcels to Nigeria £7.14 Weekly payment for 15” laptop (104 weeks lay-away) £4.90 Transaction fee for instant transfer of £1-100 to 200 countries £.3 Per minute rate to call a mobile line in Nigeria £15 New Samsung 1018 mobile phone .99 International SIM card .0 Western Union Startup Kit: includes training and promotion materials, software and forms *As advertised on Gumtree ** Managed by Southwark Trading Council *** As advertised on a notice board in the window of an Off-License on Rye Lane


4.90 .3 150 15 .99



3 Figs. 42 & 43 Products and services available on Rye Lane that players discover in Arrivalocity and Shopomama. (Prices collected through field research, December - July 2012; Author, 2012)

10 8 15 14.99


£150 on Rye Lane £10 Manicure £15 Synthetic hair ponytail extension £15 Hair stylist fee £8 Children’s shoes £5 Men’s shirt £14.99 Studded strapless cocktail dress £9.99 Studded suede booties £5 Imitation Louis Vuitton tote £10 Dinner ingredients to feed 5 adults (including 3 whole chickens, rice, veggies, mango juice) £25 Boy’s suit £20 Girl’s dress £5 Nollywood DVD £1 Mobile battery charge

5 1 5




1.99 .99 .50

.50 .50


planning guidelines 1. Market Mixing Chambers (Figs. 44 & 45)
 Although there is an abundance of markets selling fresh foods on Rye Lane, there are few places selling healthy prepared foods (a need identified by the AAP and the neighborhood characterisation study by KM Heritage and Tibbalds, 2012). The Waiting Room of the Peckham Rye Station could host a cafe and prepared food market that incubates local food entrepreneurs to feed hurried commuters (Pech City Location #2). Like the People’s Kitchen model, ingredients are sourced from the fresh produce at local markets that become too ripe to sell.15 This reduces food waste and cuts costs for food start-ups. Cooking demonstrations, take-away recipes and other knowledge sharing strategies could make healthy food more readily available and cultural foods more accessible to residents from diverse backgrounds. Adding a mobile phone kiosk to the mix would give commuters a place to charge their mobile batteries, top up calling cards and have their phones repaired. In addition to its current use as a temporary gallery and meeting venue, the waiting room could serve as a mixing ground and multicultural touch point that leverages local knowledge and resources in an inclusive and economically viable format. In the AJ and Philips charrette, architects Duggan Morris devised an outdoor European style ‘food halle’ concept for the rear of the Aylesham Centre (Olcayto 2012, pp. 48-51; Pech City Location #6). To compliment this vision, a kitchen incubator and indoor market-style eateries could be programmed at the previous location of Curry’s and along the indoor arcade. Food businesses that succeed can then scale up to occupy storefronts on Rye Lane as space becomes available, immediately filling the demand for more cafes and restaurants and in the longterm, diversifying the business offer on the street. This would be an alternative to the AAP proposal to place chains in the large retail spaces at the Aylesham Centre. At both locations, the Council can apply flexible and incremental rent structures, such as those used by Council-run street markets and independent subdivided shops. The Council can also facilitate further mixed business mutations by expanding the types of trade allowed under the A1 retail lease - such as allowing for the sale of prepared foods alongside other retail uses.

2. Making Media and Mobility (Figs. 46-48) Catering to London’s art scene, Hannah Barry Gallery’s sculpture park and Frank’s Campari Bar and Cafe are pop-up summer venues perched on the top floor of the under-utilized car park of the Peckhamplex Cinema (Pech City Location #4). In the charrette, Lee Marsden and Ben Adams Architects proposed redeveloping the site by adding a new 6-10 storey building to host a hotel, cinema, art space, health centre and spa, and student housing (Olcayto 2012, pp. 58-61). Rather than exacerbate the Peckhamplex’s current seasonal and demographic distance from the local cultural and economic contexts, I propose that the new building integrate with the existing cinema and street-scape by including a multi-media production studio accessible to local businesses, educational institutes and in particular, to youth. In addition to the prominent businesses of food, beauty, clothing and mobile phones, there is a large trade in DVDs and music originating from the world leading film industries of Nollywood (Nigeria) and Bollywood (India). Building on the density of media, entertainment and beauty products sold on the street, commercial production studios and educational programmes could capitalise on local resources to build new skills, new businesses, and new vehicles for social inclusion and integration. Nearby leading institutes such as Goldsmiths University (which recently established a satellite campus at Tech City) can be drawn upon as educational partners. To sustain public programmes, commercial studios can be leased to media and technology firms and media produced on site can be sold at local businesses – with a percentage of profits donated back to the centre. In addition to the media campus, a seasonal night market open to local traders can complement the rooftop bar and sculpture gallery. Another site that can diversify its audience through educational and commercial programmes is the Peckham Space - a public gallery run in partnership with the Camberwell College of the Arts. As a gateway to both the Rye Lane’s shops to the south and the London cycle route to the north, the

1 Fig. 44 Above: The recently restored waiting room of the Peckham Rye Station (Peckham Vision, 2012). Below: Rendering to programme the waiting room with prepared food stalls, cooking demonstrations, and a mobile phone kiosk to service commuters and visitors (Author, 2012).

Peckham Space sits at the threshold of multiple mobilities. This space could host workshops that complement a mix of local lifestyles, from building mobile apps to building bicycles. Young people and aspiring entrepreneurs could acquire a spectrum of technical and business skills, addressing high youth




unemployment and low-literacy rates associated with persistent crime rates in Peckham.16 Overall, to contrast the confined food and cultural quarters (as outlined in the AAP), the Council can expand on the existing businesses and cultural sites distributed across Rye Lane by supporting skills development opportunities for diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to learn, make and trade together.17 3. Open Feedback The Council currently lacks an inclusive platform to gather feedback on the planning process. Based on my initial game and tour prototypes, I propose that the Council develop a data gathering and sharing platform using a similar open source framework capable of mapping and analysing crowdsourced media, such as videos, photos and written comments that the public can submit via email, SMS, as well as integrated social media platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook). For example, the Council can set up an online and mobile platform mapping the 11 AAP sites and showcasing proposed design interventions. The public

Fig. 45 Above: The Aylesham Centre, an indoor shopping arcade, is designated in the AAP to offer large retail spaces for chain stores. Below: Rendering for a training centre and commercial kitchen to incubate local food businesses to meet the AAP identified need for more cafes and restaurants. (Author, 2012)

Fig. 46 Above: The Peckhamplex is designated in the AAP as the potential site of a hotel, student housing, art centre and renovated art cinema. Below: Rendering for a commercial studio and educational centre for media production, costume design, hair and make-up and other skills supporting existing businesses and the incubation of new media production ventures. (Author, 2012)

is then invited to virtually and physically visit these sites, adding their opinions, ideas, and media content in response to the proposals. The platform can receive data for a certain time frame before it is analysed by planners and incorporated as feedback in the public consultation period. Since the platform is open source, community groups,

business associations and others can curate media content to create their own games and tours of Rye Lane that illustrate their understanding of the street and their vision for future developments. Councillors, planners and designers benefit by gaining a more detailed and diverse sampling of feedback from the public that can drive more nuanced and progressive policy and design schemes.


Fig. 47 Left: Frank’s Campari Bar and the Hannah Barry Gallery curated sculpture park (Mark Dodds, 2010). Right: Rendering for a night market to complement the bar and art events, adding opportunities for small businesses to integrate their offers (Author, 2012).


Fig. 48 Left: Peckham Space gallery in the town square at the north end of Rye Lane (Southwark Council, 2012). Right: Rendering for mobility themed educational workshops, including bicycle and mobile app design courses (Author, 2012).


conclusion The ShortList, a free weekly men’s lifestyle magazine distributed at

future development. Games allow players to escape to an

Tube stations throughout London runs an entertainment column on

unfamiliar fantasy land. They offer a reprieve from reality, offering

humorous shop names. Recently it featured a photo of ‘SMS Travel

new incentives to take risks, switch perspectives, and test new

and Halal Meat Ltd’ located in Feltham, West London (Wallace, 2012).

knowledge. The games I designed enable planners to envision a

Although seemingly disparate business combinations of meat, mobile

reality that is already happening, but one they have trouble seeing.

and travel can be read as an amusing pop culture phenomenon,

By relating to the narratives in the games, planners can potentially

multiple trade offers on multicultural high streets are serious business.

apply street-level economic and cultural practices to generate

As evidenced by the proliferation of small independent shops

responsive planning and policy guidelines.

divvying up overhead costs, mixing offers, and testing trades, these subdivided shops morph to match increasingly diverse demographics

In Rem Koolhaas’ critique of privatised public spaces and other

and challenging economic constraints. Forming multifarious micro-

sanitisations of urban life, he pronounced preservation-driven

streets within the exterior global street – subdivided shop interiors

design as a ‘hyper nostalgic celebration’ and a ‘form of absolute

exude a cultural and entrepreneurial intensity that gives the opposite

denial’ (2005). While UK high streets face daunting vacancy rates

impression of deprivation. Local authorities, planners and the

and displaced sales to big box stores and online retailers (Portas,

designers they commission have much to learn from this resilient and

2011), the street in its raw and open form remains an irreplaceable

flexible micro-development system fueled by everyday entrepreneurs

conduit for lifestyle and neccessity-driven innovation and design.

in one of the most deprived areas of London.

While it is impossible to plan for this type of organic evolution and experimentation, the role of planners and policymakers should

A shift in research and participation strategies is needed in order

be to leverage street-level entrepreneurial energy and open

to create planning practices that can nurture the small businesses

communication platforms to make plans that nurture inventiveness

on multicultural high streets and their corresponding cultural

rather than reactionism. In the context of the UK’s current climate

production. ‘Play Before you Plan’ aims to challenge how local

of recession-driven austerity, the potential for decentralised

authorities and planners view Rye Lane, and how this perception

and DIY urban development in the form of small business-led

of the street as deprived and declining is misguiding plans for its

regeneration should not be overlooked.



All interviewees, with the exception of the architects from the AJ and Philips charrette, have been assigned aliases in order to remain anonymous. 


I use ‘Peckham’ to refer to the neighborhood comprised of the commercial hub Peckham Town Centre and its complementary residential cluster, Peckham Community Council, which is comprised of Peckham Ward and the southern section of Livesey Ward. The Peckham and Nunhead Area Action Plan is more extensive, and includes the above areas, in addition to Nunhead and Peckham Rye Wards (Fig. 15). 

Both Mark and Gwenyth cited that the leaseholders and owners of subdivided shops inflated rent levels of the street, making it unappealing for chain stores to enter the local market. In the report by Gort Scott and UCL, average monthly retail rent in Southwark was recorded at £1,372 in 2009 as compared to the highest average rate of £3,189 in Kensington and Chelsea (2010, 25). 


Additionally, the license holder is not required to be the salesperson, opening a legal loophole for people to work at a stall without having applied for a license or possessing legal rights to work. 


One custom tailored clothing boutique was looted, but rioters later returned the stolen goods (The Telegraph, 2011). 


In a 1991 study of shopping habits of Southwark residents, 26% of the borough’s residents use Rye Lane to buy household goods - 63% because of its location and 21% for its selection of shops (Southwark Council, 1992). 


From Rye Lane, you can arrive at King’s Cross Station in 23 minutes by rail and can reach Oxford Circus in 53 minutes on the #12 bus (Transport for London, 2012). 36% of Peckham residents rely on buses to get to work, 8% walk and 20% use rail (ONS, 2001). 


Street Value: Shopping, Planning and Politics at Fulton Mall (Woo and TenHoor, 2010), a book project by CUP founders, catalogues the planning mishaps and outlines a set of culturally appropriate guidelines that celebrate anomalous signage, mismatched street furniture, and other failed attempts to aesthetically unify the street as evidence that people and businesses continuously out-design the plan. 


7scenes is an open source storytelling platform for GPS tours and games that allows for customizable content to be programmed and freely accessed via its mobile app for the iPhone, iPad and Android phones. As content is GPS-activated, players must be on Rye Lane with 7Scenes open to discover and play the games. When players search for nearby scenes, the Play Before You Plan game series appears as browsable content on a mobile device. A web version of the games and tours is also be viewable, but games cannot be played. Games are downloadable at playbeforeplan.tumblr. com and via iTunes. 


The northern end of Rye Lane links to London Cycle Route 22 along the route of the former Surrey Canal towards central London (Cycle Streets, 2012). 



For a snapshot of trade activity around McDonald’s, see the video clip in Arrivalocity, location #4. 

‘White flight’ - the exodus of white middle class residents from central urban areas towards the suburbs - has afflicted post WWII American cities and more recently cities in Northern Europe (Avila, 2005). 




Global migration to London has intensified in the past 20 years. The foreign born population doubled from one to two million during 1998-2008 (LSE, 2009). Peckham’s proportion of foreign born residents (42%) is almost twice that of London’s (25%) (ONS, 2001). 


Within The Lane ward, where Rye Lane is located, a young and economically active population is leading the majority. Currently, 73% of The Lane residents are within working age (16-64) and 80% of those categorised as economically active have full-time jobs: 28% of whom are highly skilled,10% engaged in elementary occupations, and 9% are self-employed (Nomis, 2003). 



See The People’s Supermarket for more on this model (The People’s Supermarket, 2012). 

In addition to the elaborate CCTV scheme and community policing programme in place since 2000, these educational programmes can contribute to reducing crime - addressing the risk factors of social exclusion and low-level literacy associated with youth crime (Arts Council of England, 2003).  Precedents for media education and production centres include London Hackspace in Hackney and Urban Development in Stratford (Hackspace, 2012; Urban Development, 2012). 


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Arun. 2012. Temporary Businesses. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane, London, 22 June 2012, 13:00.

Arrivalocity (2012), [Accessed 23 August 2012]

Balaam, F. 2012. Urban Design of Rye Lane. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] telephone interview, 29 July 2012, 11:00.

Center for Urban Pedagogy (2012), [Accessed 12 June 2012]

Darius. 2012. Peckham South Real Estate Market. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane, London 10 May 2012, 09:30. Gwyneth. 2012. Council Perspective on Planning Peckham. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] telephone interview, 18 July 2012, 15:00. Jain, A. 2012. Digital Ethnography Methodology. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Brockley, London, 10 August 2012, 17:00. Kasen. 2012. Identity and Business. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane Market, London, 25 July 2012, 14:00. Mark. 2012. Rye Lane Lettings Agency. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane, London, 11 May 2012, 17:00 Nanayakkara H. 2012. Interactive Game Design. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] telephone interview, 11 June 2012, 10:00.

Cycle Streets (2012), [Accessed 18 August 2012] Games for Change (2012), [Accessed 12 June 2012] 
 Pech City (2012), [Accessed 23 August 2012] Peckham Vision (2012), [Accessed 10 June 2012] The People’s Supermarket (2012), [Accessed 24 August 2012] Play Before Plan (2012), [Accessed 23 August 2012] The Presence Project (1997), [Accessed 21 August 2012]

 7Scenes (2012), [Accessed 12 June 2012]

Umesh. 2012. Money Transfer Business. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane, London, 28 March 2012, 10:00.

Shopomama (2012), [Accessed 23 August 2012]

Ziyad. 2012. Subdivided Businesses. Interviewed by Adriana Young [written notes, no tape] Rye Lane, London, 13 May 2012, 10:00.

Tech City Investment Organization (2012), from [Accessed 8 August 2012]
 Transport For London (n.d.), from [Accessed 20 August 2012] Urban Development (2012), [Accessed 21 August 2012]


acknowledgments Mil gracias to my friend and colleague Nicolas Palominos for first exploring Rye Lane with me and for always being incredibly thoughtful, calm, and precise; to Steve for forcing us to stop and look around by asking us to take his picture; to market vendor Safi for sharing his story and his fruit with us; to all the business people of Rye Lane that I had the good fortune to meet and learn from; to my advisors Suzanne Hall and Savvas Verdis for sharing their expertise; to my global neighborhood technologists Ziyad Alsubaih, Adam Greenfield, Anab Jain, and Hirumi Nanayakkara for sharing their open sourced, pirated and people-centered knowledge; to 7Scenes for sponsoring and featuring my games; to the kind architect Fran Balaam and architectjournalist-recovering-game-designer Rory Olcayto for sharing their intrigue and insights into Rye Lane; to friends and game testers Fung Wah Man, Gabriela Vicencio and Magdalena Morel for being generous with their time and enthusiasm; to my friends and colleagues Sharifa Alshalfan, Christina Kral, Liz Kueneke, Annie Kwon and Shin-pei Tsay for their unlimited encouragement; to my family: Philip, Ilse, Chris, Allison, Hayden and Emy for being always supportive and funny; to Binh for super-fast contact numbers; and super-duper-deluxe-24-7 thanks to Paul Amitai who moved to a cloudy island with me, packed me many healthy lunches counterbalanced with cookies, and introduced me to Nollywood, along with many other critical cultural phenomena of the global street. Merci Shukran a todos!


Selling & Planning Rye Lane (for print)  

Valuing the cultural economy of the street