Dear Hackney Council,
I’m writing to you about the proposed redevelopment of Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. The garden is evidently part of the inspiration for the proposed ‘Redevelopment of Dalston Eastern Quarter’, but like many I am concerned that in wishing to ‘extend’ and ‘create a green lung in the heart of Dalston’, the very atmosphere the council is striving to reinforce, will be lost. Shared by both public and private landlords Dalston Eastern Curve Garden exemplifies how modern green spaces can be managed so that they work for and with local communities and businesses.
As a kid growing up in suburban Essex I didn’t quite comprehend what an enormous privilege it was to have green spaces on my doorstep. From parks to fields to woods to formal gardens, as a teenager they all just feel like spaces to live out adolescent alienation. They do allow you, however, to live out that alienation in some peace, they allow you to connect with the world, without demanding anything of you in return, which when you’re not earning money, matters a great deal, because it says you matter and that others matter about you. Not all the open spaces I grew up with were always safe or especially beautiful. Indeed when I moved to London in 2002, I felt a lot safer sitting in the Royal Parks than I ever did walking through my local park in Essex. When most people have a private gardens, public green spaces tend to have a lot less of the public in them and as a result tend to be under invested in. Truth be told, left as just places to walk through, from one private resident to another, those idyllic suburban greens can be pretty soulless places.
But Dalston’s Eastern Curve is anything but soulless. In a city where we have to access a shared space in order to access a green space, our parks and squares are London's secret gardens. And like all the best secret gardens Dalston Eastern Curve has been left to thrive organically. The garden isn’t just filled with art and children’s crafts because it looks good, but because residents see it as their garden. We, as Londoners have invested in it, from the first-time visitor buying a coffee to regular volunteers who mulch its roots. The design of the garden has helped foster and is indicative of a responsive atmosphere: native trees shield visitors from the din of traffic, woodchip and violets cushion the fall of toddlers as they learn to run on earth rather than the ubiquitous rubberised flooring of our playgrounds; pots of tulips and daffodils inspire, showing that a garden can thrive in the smallest of spaces and a seat of lavender entices everyone to sit and enjoy the calm vibrancy of this secret garden. But it isn't just to do with the planting, it is due to its location, so close to everything and yet shielded by buildings that have weathered Hackney's highs and lows. Dalston Eastern Curve Garden isn’t just a corridor to be walked, or a waiting room to be sold something in, it's a safe, creative space for Londoners to tell their story. One that speaks of how Londoners renew themselves continuously and in doing so create a space that says “no matter who or where you are in your life, there is space for you.” The garden reaches out and drawn us in, please keep it that way.
It is clear from the proposal that you know how vital a green lung is for Dalston, but I just wanted to clarify that in redeveloping the area you intend to take meaningful inspiration from the garden itself and work with it. Keeping its current location as an enclosed, managed, public garden that has helped to foster the creative community that makes the borough the one we love.
(A Southwark resident but a visitor and admirer of Hackney's green and creative spaces)
Historian by trade. Gardener by passion.