Unfairly maligned, usually by people who’ve never been there and often by those who still think it is “The Arbury” despite a name change of “North Arbury” to “Kings Hedges” some 20 years ago, the Kings Hedges estate is actually a very interesting part of the city. It is the result of having learnt from the 1950s housing blocks.
It was designed to put people first, not cars. It has a progressive design, in the European style, with a lot of open green spaces. It has housing which fronts onto the park and the bike/footpath instead of onto a road.
It’s a model of how further housing developments in Cambridge should have been designed, but sadly it’s been ignored by more recent developers keen to cram as many houses as possible onto the smallest possible scrap of land. Kings Hedges was designed to be a good place to live. I strongly recommend a walk or cycle through the estate.
It’s not perfect. The paths are often not wide enough and have a few blind corners and barriers. However, together they are still the most helpful off road cycle facility built anywhere in Cambridge to date. They are genuinely pervasive and useful rather than seeming like afterthoughts. How sad that we’re now so far behind the 1970s, and how sad that what was achieved in Kings Hedges is so rarely recognised for what it is.
This is the path past St. Lawrence’s school towards Kings Hedges:
We can ride from this position to the Science Park hardly having to touch any roads at all. At this point, the path has a newer housing development on the right, which presents a fence against the path instead of including equally good cycling or walking provision.
This is a rare place in Cambridge where the path has proper lighting, so it’s useful after dark as well as in the daytime.
Old vs. new. This photo shows housing which fronts onto the park (unfortunately there is a blind corner which effectively narrows the path:
This photo shows what is nearly a small “gated community” of privately owned apartments built just a few years ago in the middle of the estate:
These have a fence between themselves and the park meaning there is no easy way for the people living in these apartments to use the park and that they are cut off from the rest of the local people. Instead, their entrances are on the other side in the car park.
This is not an example of the ‘permeable’ and well-linked infrastructure so highly regarded in the Manual For Streets (see article elsewhere in this Newsletter).
Photos 5 to 7 show the underpass of Northfield Avenue. This provides easy access to Kings Hedges Primary School:
It’s rather a shame that it is marred by barriers as these especially make use difficult for children and for those who are carrying shopping.
The gradient here is greater than almost anywhere else in Cambridge. It makes it difficult to get up the slope from a standing start and I’ve seen a primary school kid collide with the barriers at the bottom of the slope at quite a considerable speed.
Despite these rather unfortunate barriers, this route, which goes through one of the housing areas, acts as an alternative to riding along Arbury Road. There are large green areas between each building.KH8
Bollards prevent cars from entering this area. Also the old style bike route sign. These have mostly been replaced, but it looks like Kings Hedges was overlooked!
As you’ll have seen, this is a rather unusual housing estate for the UK. It’s a very pleasant design, with a lot of green spaces and favouring people over cars. It provides traffic free routes which are more direct and quicker to use than the roads. It provides for children, pedestrians and adult cyclists to a much higher than usual standard. Developments like these are still built successfully in other countries. For instance, Houten is an entire city built on these lines. Or Meerhoven near Eindhoven. Both of these places are in the Netherlands – a country where cycling provision is always better than the UK.
It doesn’t have to be so, of course, and Kings Hedges is as close as we get in this area to showing that we too can build good quality housing estates.
If only new developments in Cambridge were built to the same standard we’d be much better off. Sadly, Arbury Park, a new development being built just north of Kings Hedges on the opposite side of Kings Hedges Road is a ‘normal’ car oriented development. This appears to be the style in which all the new developments are being built. However ‘pervasive’ and ‘cycle friendly’ the proposals claim them to be, none get close to matching Kings Hedges.
Sadly, not only do newer developments not match Kings Hedges, they often seem to try their hardest to defeat what was achieved. For instance, look at the distance you have to travel between Hopkins Close and the Carlton Way shops. They are only about 200 m apart, and there is space for a cut-through by foot or by car, but the roads have been designed apparently in order to change the journey of a few hundred metres by foot into a mile by car. Once people hop in their car for this they are as likely to end up driving to the out of town supermarket, aiding the demise of local shops. The layout of modern housing estates has a lot to answer for:
We’re seeing similarly indirect cycling and walking routes provided from other new estates, ‘The Quills’ and ‘Arbury Park’ included. New developments should be required to co-operate with existing cycling and walking infrastructure, not react against it.
There are many beautiful buildings in the centre of Cambridge. People come from all around the world to see them, and Cambridge would not be the same place without them. However, for people who live here what is needed is housing which is designed for people. The design of Kings Hedges has excellent architecture and the best planning in Cambridge. We should be seeing more of this.
Note: Photo locations shown on map.
Map by OpenStreetMap, CC-by-SA – some rights reserved.