Cars vs. people: why can’t Oxford Street be pedestrianised?

A sad mannequin I photographed on Oxford Street as she watches over us.

How sad to read that the plans to create a traffic-free section on London’s Oxford Street have been snubbed. The large and long shopping street which houses famous department stores such as Selfridges (it opened in 1909), John Lewis, Debenhams and House of Frasier, as well as the Uniqlo Flagship Store and many more, attracts Londoners and tourists from all over the world. It is a buzzing street with red double-decker busses, black cabs (that’s a London taxi for you) and plenty of cars. In fact, some statistic estimate that each day around half a million people visit Oxford Street and foot traffic is in serious competition with buses and taxis.

This is my shot from the top floor of a double-decker bus, just next to Bond Street tube station.


Have a look at this video by Ivan Mladenovic. You can see that it is very, very busy.

The Architects Journal reported in March 2018, that Zaha Hadid Architects head Patrik Schumacher had told London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan that entire swathes of central London should become car-free zones. Indeed, Oxford street is one of the most polluted shopping streets and generally, the pollution in Central London has been a reason for concern for many years.

And although Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced his plans last year to pedestrianise the famous shopping street section between Oxford Circus Tube station and Orchard Street near Marble Arch from the end of 2018, this idea has reportedly now been abandoned.

Projection of how Oxford Street could look like if traffic was banned.

Transport for London has published results of surveys, which show that 33 per cent of more than 14,000 respondents objected to the initiative outright while a further 16 per cent said they had ‘some concerns’ about it. The biggest concerns seem to be accessibility of surrounding areas as well as traffic congestion and diversion away from Oxford street. It is true, that sometimes it is difficult to tell if there are more cars or more people on Oxford Street but is this really how we think in our day and age?


Selfridges June 2018: A window display with moving objects.

Pedestrianisation of shopping streets has been achieved in various other cities, and I will take Frankfurt as one example. The main bustling shopping street “Zeil” has seen it’s last bit of traffic removed over several decades and this has had lots of positive reactions from the public.

Zeil in Frakfurt in 2018 (no traffic and new architecture)


Zeil in Central Frankfurt in 1970


The pedestrian zone extends all the way to the Opera House in Frankfurt, where I did a photo shoot with some invading pandas.

There are numerous examples from around the world such as Lincoln Road in Miami, Copenhagen’s Stroget street, Qianmen Street in Beijing, China, Flower Street in Curitiba, Brazil, Buchanan Street in Scotland’s Glasgow, Takeshita Dori (a famous Harajuku Street) in Tokyo, Via Dante and Corso Corso in Milan, Italy, Third Street Promenade in LA, USA and Munich’s Kaufinger Straße, Marienplatz, Theatinerstraße and Viktualienmarkt (just to name a few). For the few years that I spent living in Munich, the pedestrianized areas actually improved the quality of my life and offered a unique participation in the city’s culture.

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Theatinerstrasse in Munich: Shopping, coffee, lunch, a Biergarten or just a stroll is always lovely.


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Takeshita Dori in Harajuku/ Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan. Everything is “kawaii” but it does get crowded. However, thanks to Japanese manners, noone will ever bump you. I promise!

Even in London places like Carnaby Street have successfully made the transition to a pedestrian Zone so why is it such a hassle to turn a small fraction of Oxford Street into an oasis of clean air and safety? Although I am not an urban planner nor architect, I understand that pedestrianisation is something that needs very careful consideration and thorough research and planning. For example, some streets might attract crime and drunk pedestrians at night and the lack of traffic makes the area deserted and dangerous. Traffic which would normally pass through these streets would divert into other areas and pollution would not simply decrease but spread out. Furthermore, various factors can contribute to either a positive effect on retailers or a negative one with less revenue and dropping property prices.

There is however, one compromise which most of London is currently not offering: The tram. A method of transport which has no emissions and can connect pedestrian areas instead of buses, which is a part of many cities around the world. Personally, I enjoyed regularily taking the tram in Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and St. Petersburg and I have yet to try it in Croydon – the only area in London which uses modern trams. If you want to read a brief review on London’s trams I recommend checking here.

Pedestrian or not pedestrian? That is no longer the question on Oxford Street.


But not all is bad when it comes to Oxford Street, even if the traffic stays at present. If you were to go back in history far enough, you might be able to argue that Oxford Street has indeed gone through a positive transformation over the centuries and that it could be much worse: For example, did you know that it was an ancient Roman street originally and that in the Middle Ages it was very popular for public hangings of prisoners?

What a relief that the only things hanging around Oxford Street nowadays are things in the window displays and the (mostly) beautiful Christmas lights in the winter time!


Yes, the 2017 Christmas lights were somewhat spooky.





Junko Watanabe’s interactive textile designs reaching disabled children

Today, I would like to repost this report which recently appeared on NHK World (Japan) about Junko Watanabe and her cloth books. Not to be confused with the famous fashion designer Junya Watanabe, Junka has been using textile design in a way which reaches the youngest members of our society. Children with disabilities or difficulties have seen benefits from cloth books over the last 30 years.

Watanabe’s work reminded me of my “cut & paste project” which I came up with during my first year at Central St. Martins. The idea was to let children and adults take control of the final design by making interactive clothes. There were playful parts which could be removed and reattached, coloured with fabric markers. Here are a few images of the prototypes.

This t-shirt sends a message about pollution. You can manipulate the tree leaves. Put them up if they are healthy, push them down if your tree got too polluted.
This t-shirt sends a message about pollution. You can manipulate the tree leaves. Put them up if they are healthy, push them down if your tree got too polluted.
This skirt prototype has velcro elements. You can change their position and customize the elements, for example with fabric crayons from pentel.


My professors were not very enthusiastic of my idea and wondered who would ever want to purchase this. However, over the last 10 years more and more interactive  design items have come onto the market! I am happy to see that more designers are thinking the same way.Back then I never considered that children with disabilities could be the end-consumers who’d benefit the most from such products.

Junko Watanabe’s interactive cloth books are not a commercial product but rather a humanistic gift. What an inspiring woman!

Please have a look at NHK’s story about Mrs Watanabe.


NHK WORLD – Culture & Sports

Nov. 17, 2014

The Fabric of Education

A Japanese artisan has a unique take on the classic picture book. She crafts each one by hand from fabrics, adding a personal touch that seems to connect with readers. And now her creations are reaching children around the world. NHK WORLD’s Mikiko Suzuki has the story.

Image source here.

This is a classroom at a school for disabled children and their parents in Tokyo. Students with disabilities get the chance to experience something new here.

Junko Watanabe created the special books they are exploring. She has been making them for 35 years as a way to give disabled children opportunities to earn.

Watanabe uses felt, kimono material and other fabrics.

Details include embroidery… buttons…and string. Children can practice tying and untying, buttoning and unbuttoning while touching the books. These exercises can foster independence.

Image source here.


“Sometimes a mother calls me to let me know a cloth book inspired her child’s first words. That makes me so happy it brings tears to my eyes.”

Watanabe has assembled a group of volunteers who help make the books and donate them to libraries around Japan.

So far, the group has given more than 20 thousand books to around 500 libraries. This library in a Tokyo suburb has 300 of them.

Eiko Naito and her 8-year-old son Daisuke live nearby. Daisuke was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth.

When he was a year and a half old, he started coming to the library with his mother to borrow cloth books. A book introducing musical notes really caught his eye.

Image source here.

Image source here.

“We also borrow regular books. But he is really drawn to the cloth ones. If I bring a big bag of them home, he’ll say, ‘I want to see one of those!'”
Eiko Naito / mother

Now Daisuke can play the piano. It’s a simple song, but it requires both hands.

Image source Image source here.

“The cloth books have broadened his world. He learned how to read from them. And he got interested in knowing more about the things around him.”
Eiko Naito / mother

It is tough for Daisuke to interpret the notes, move his fingers and listen to the music all at the same time, but he keeps trying.

Now Watanabe and her team are sending the cloth books to children around the world…especially those living in poverty or without access to education.

Some books were sent to an orphanage in Myanmar that takes care of 200 kids. Many had lost their parents in ethnic conflicts, or were abandoned due to poverty.

Other books were sent to students in Africa. They reflected cultural differences, like the way people there count with their fingers.

Image source here.

“People learn their own country’s language and think and act in that language. Just one cloth picture book is something people can explore and learn from. That’s why I want to pass them on to future generations around the world.”
Junko Watanabe

Watanabe believes all children, regardless of their circumstances, can learn something from her picture books. And she hopes this seed of an idea takes root around the world.