The depth structure of a London high street : a study in urban order

Clossick, Jane (2017) The depth structure of a London high street : a study in urban order. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis is a study of Tottenham High Road, and how the urban blocks which comprise its depth are composed. Depth has a number of components: architecture, space and time; depth is the armature in which people live their social lives, and the place where local cultures emerge. The conception of depth offers a way of capturing urban life in its richness and its reciprocities. The literature about high streets offers few detailed analyses of their spatial and psycho-social ordering and this thesis seeks to fill that gap. The approach is a hermeneutics of praxis, using ethnographic methods, in-depth interviews, and situating the information spatially using architectural drawing techniques. It offers a novel method of investigating and understanding the structures and processes which make up the high streets and which, in aggregate, make the whole city. Tottenham High Road is used here as a case study, a vehicle through which to interpret evidence about the existence and nature of depth, with its manifold structures. Understanding depth is vital to understanding high streets, so this thesis allows a deeper and richer interpretation of high streets than has previously been possible.

There is a problem in planning orthodoxy around high streets, typified in Tottenham: the richness of depth is flattened and codified, in order to frame swathes of city as sites from which to reap economic reward. In fact, depth contains all of human life, and understanding it, therefore, is an ethical responsibility for planning. Depth has a number of characteristics, ordered by different processes and forces. Firstly, physical order, shaped by both economic and social forces. For example, the most public uses are found in the ‘shallowest’ parts of depth, and these are the most valuable sites because they command the greatest passing trade. Secondly, depth has a social order, through playing out of place ballet by people as they live their lives. The social order operates interdependently and reciprocally with the physical order of depth. Commitment between people and places (citizenship) results in special place cultures, which are hosted in depth. Depth has variation in the scope of decorum from the outer edge of the block to the centre: more things are possible inside the block than at its edge.

The insights about depth in this thesis are relevant to many areas of life: to planning, to politics and to existing theory, because depth provides an account for the ethical order in which other areas of human life take place. With an understanding of depth it is possible to evaluate planning proposals, efforts at ensuring political participation, to shed light on existing theories such as Cosmopolitanism, and to add a valuable layer of information about the real structures of London to the existing literature.

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