Public space is a fascinating place. I wrote my MSc dissertation on an urban town square and the ways people use it. The space in question was Peckham Square, originally designed as a new civic heart for Peckham, that scruffy, maligned bit of south-east London that I once called home.

A lengthy co-design process was run intended to ‘envision a better future for the square’, according to the architects. So I decided to revisit my thoughts from my masters research project about the how the square’s future had been envisioned originally.

I look at how a public space comprises not only designed elements, but patterns of movement, sociability, and sensory stimuli (sound, light, smell, for instance). And on this structure layers of history, aspirations, social psychology and collective local identity are overlaid. How do we make a public space somewhere that everyone values and enjoys? By understanding these elements and working with them – which requires immersion and imagination.

Peckham as a deprived, run-down, highly diverse area with no strong collective voice is becoming a sandbox for inexperienced architects and prey to hit-and-run designers. Poor areas like this are fobbed off with jokey design that would never make it past the drawing board anywhere else. It deserves better than attention-seeking experiments by designers wanting to make a name for themselves.

If you want to skip the obligatory academic bits and get straight into the Peckham stuff, read the introduction then head to chapters 4 and 5.

The Ballad of Peckham Square