'Hampstead and South End Green will be free of cars for one day this year'

A 'car free' day in central London is paradise for children. Picture: TfL

World Car Free Day is on September 22. - Credit: TFL/GLA

When drafting the neighbourhood plan, the Hampstead Forum held many public consultation events to explore what residents want from Hampstead in the future.

The most persistent wishes for our high streets were clean air, less traffic noise, and to be more pleasant for walking. 

In time, that will certainly happen. London’s future holds much less motor traffic. We had a taste of that in the pandemic lockdowns. We saw blue skies, and roads we could walk on. We heard the birds sing. 

Much has to be done before those become part of the new normal. Hampstead’s public transport access level scores must be raised. The mayor of London reports post-pandemic a huge modal shift from public transport to cars, quite overwhelming a smaller shift to active travel. Perhaps that will be reversed as people regain confidence in public transport, and turn more to e-bikes and e-scooters on our hilly streets.

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Stephen Taylor is planning World Car Day - Credit: Miki Yamanouchi

In the meantime we have a chance to taste and explore that car-free environment. September 22 is World Car Free Day and Camden has offered officer time for Hampstead to take part.

Hampstead and South End Green have been closed before, for summer and Christmas fairs. This is to be different in two ways.

First, while fairs are holidays, exceptions from the everyday, Car Free Day is to experience and explore a possible new normal. Buses and emergency services must still run.

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Second, instead of filling empty streets with fair stalls, let’s explore what we might do with quiet streets. Maybe just stroll and talk. Perhaps just sit and read in the autumn sunshine. (That’s what New Yorkers did when the city closed Broadway to through traffic and put out garden chairs.)

But this is just one day. We could go a *little* crazy. Play streets? A marching band? Open-air storytelling? A community potluck lunch? A treasure hunt?

The forum will do what it can to coordinate and facilitate. 

What would you like to see happen on Car Free Day? Please write to carfree@hampsteadforum.org with your ideas or proposals.

Stephen Taylor is chair of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum hampsteadforum.org