Whose idea was it?
Is probably the most frequently asked question we’re asked about the Camden Highline
So we thought we’d shed some light on the recent, but relatively short, history of the project below…
We’ve been interested in the possibility of a Camden Highline for a while. In 2008 we repainted the existing Camden Road bridge owned by Network Rail that the Highline would use. And in 2014 we carried out a series of pop up art installations that asked artists and designers to explore the possibility of installing a green high line above the busy Camden streets — using the High Line in New York as a reference.
We weren’t the only people to notice the potential of the disused infrastructure though. The earliest chatter we can find online, is by the Anonymous Widow. Who wrote in 2015: ‘Note the disused twin-track rail loop around Camden Road station to the north side of the station. There is also a smaller space on the south side that leads almost to Camden Gardens.’
He went on to conclude, ‘Surely, an imaginative architect could use these resources to extend the station to the area of the gardens, from where some means of descending and ascending would be provided.’
But, the prompt we needed to start seriously pursuing the project originated from a series of blogs written by Oliver O’Brien, an Urbanist and Geographer at University College London. Some readers will already know that the original blog Oliver wrote about the Camden highline was picked up and promoted by the Kentishtowner, who ran a subsequent cover story in May 2016.
Anyway, we caught up with Oliver, to walk the route and ask him a few questions about the Camden Highline. And we started off by asking him what inspired him to write about 12 potential Highline locations in London?
OO: “There have been all sorts of indeterminate competitions to find the next High Line in London. And I saw a competition which included a tunnel as the winner, and made me think that someone ought to do it properly — so I did it myself. I looked at 12 possible High Line locations across London, including the Camden Highline, which I think is by far the best.”
CH: So what makes the Camden location stand out?
OO: “Camden is as close to central London as you can get for a place to contain the post-industrial infrastructure that makes the Camden Highline possible.”
CH: Go on…
OO: “It’s not just the infrastructure that makes the Highline possible though, there are lots of surrounding things (admittedly hard to quantify) like the mix of residential and commercial activities, Camden’s reputation, and its prominence as a tourist destination that contribute towards its unique identity. And which all combine to make it the best potential Highline location in London.”
CH: And how did you discover the Camden Highline, and why did you decide to write about it?
OO: “The initial inspiration was from passing beneath it twice a day. I live in Tottenham and cycle to and from work in Bloomsbury in every day. My day job is visualising city data, and I think that when you experience something as a user you study it in a different way.”
CH: We guess people tend not to look upwards, particularly at the bridges…
OO: “No, but they should. Particularly in Camden which is famous for the iconic bridge sign by John Bulley. The bridges help define the area the area!”
CH: Good point. Camden Market’s recent rebrand was inspired by the iconic sign!
OO: “Well — yeah!”
CH: OK. So, you’ve visited 12 potential routes and locations in London, the Promenade Plantee and the New York High Line. What do you think it is about these type of projects that interests people?
OO: “People want to view the city from different perspective, and travelling on a raised linear route provides a totally different experience to the normal. My favourite part of the New York High Line is The 10th Avenue Square because it brings to life the theatre of the city through the unusual perspective it provides.”
CH: The closest piece of theatre we have in London and Camden is walking along Regent’s canal where you can watch the city to reinvent itself every five or 10 minutes…
OO: “But people also like linear routes and paths that are separate from cars, but also separate from bikes hurrying by, which the canal doesn’t provide. Everyone is a pedestrian in London.”
CH: Quite. So from a geographer’s perspective what do you see as the challenges facing us?
OO: “The challenges will be technical, and related to that, financial. But these can be overcome, and the New York High Line proves it’s possible. The infrastructure is there, the bridges and viaducts are good enough for pedestrians, but probably not good enough for trains anymore, which makes convincing the right people a lot easier. And the location, the location is perfect!”
CH: The position of the route next to the North London line is the challenge…
OO: “Yes, it means the views are restricted along parts of the route, and there will be noise from the trains, but they travel at low speed. The experience will be quite similar to walking along the Jubilee Bridges, where the pedestrian bridges are close but physically separated from the railway, and the noise from trains doesn’t impact your enjoyment of the views there!”
CH: OK. Last question. Where are the best locations to get a good idea and understanding of the potential of the Camden Highline route?
OO: “If you go to the western end of the eastbound platform at Camden Road station you can get a good idea of the widest section to the north of Camden Road station. Another good spot is beneath the bridges that cross Baynes St and St Pancras Way where plants and trees are growing through the existing structure and you can imagine the potential of the Highline.”