The Crescent Roads

(2016)   Back

In 2016 I undertook an extensive research project that brought me to many of London's quiet suburban corners. According to my 2006 London A-Z, there are 20 roads called Crescent Road in the capital, and I set out to visit all of them to see if they shared more than a name.

Each time I visited a Crescent Road, I filled out a form, noting down information on the location of the road, the types of houses there and the traffic. I also wrote down descriptions of what was happening. You can view the information for each of the Crescent Roads below, or view my analysis of the data.

Image Map

Select a number on the map to find out more about that Crescent Road


BR1 Sundridge Park (Bromley)

Visited 31/5/16 14:00
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 35
Detached: 12
Flats (Blocks): 2
Car Count (5min): 4
Pedestrian Count (5min): 4

Notes: A quiet road, possibly due to the time and weather. But there is still steady traffic from College Road going to the short section of C. Road (it is split by Cambridge Road into two parts) and dispersing into the residential quarter. A blue plaque commemorates Peter Kropotkin, a ‘Russian Anarchist’ who lived there. A man cleans his large car out at the end of the road. Many people are just sitting in their cars but I’m not sure why. The quality of houses on the road is very variable, some brand new, some practically run down.

BR3 Beckenham (Bromley)

Visited 9/5/16 14:30
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 18
Detached: 13
Flats (Blocks): 3
Car Count (5min): 6
Pedestrian Count (5min): 10

Notes: A much more affluent road than I expected - it may be next to main roads but it is nestled. The townhouses are very nice (some are divided into flats). The road is narrow so cars have trouble passing by. Several groups of dogwalkers are on the road near where it joins Limes Road - where are they coming from? Do they live nearby or just walk the dogs here?

DA15 Sidcup (Bexley)

Visited 31/5/16 13:45
Terraced: 6
Semi-Detached: 6
Detached: 38
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 6
Pedestrian Count (5min): 6

Notes: Large and semi-rural, very spacious. Compared to what I’ve previously seen, I expected most of these houses to be split into flats or at least in two, but they aren’t. Speed bumps show traffic slowing. The road is bisected by two other suburban roads. Some activity on this Monday afternoon - building works on a bungalow, people walking to/from work, and an abundance of driving lessons using the quiet streets.

E4 Chingford (Waltham Forest)

Visited 20/5/16 14:00
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 6
Detached: 11
Flats (Blocks): 5
Car Count (5min): 3
Pedestrian Count (5min): 3

Notes: A spacious residential road with lovely houses. Though I came through Walthamstow, Chingford has the safe and leafy feel of nearby Enfield. One house had a Bentley out front with numberplate ‘JIIDGE’ (Judge?). An old woman goes into a block of flats; I almost asked her if she needed help up the steps. A man is trimming his garden at the foot of the road and I feel he is watching me.

E6 Upton Park (Newham)

Visited 10/4/16 17:00
Terraced: 6
Semi-Detached: 0
Detached: 1
Flats (Blocks): 5
Car Count (5min): 6
Pedestrian Count (5min): 35

Notes: A very small road mainly for practical, not residential, use. Shops spill out onto it from the high street. It seems to be at the back of everything, including several estate blocks. But it is a busy through-road. At the Green Street end men stand in the street phoning their network, wearing sandals. An activity that would normally happen inside but the community is strong here. The men ask a random man for a light. He gives them one.

E10 Leyton (Waltham Forest)

Visited 20/5/16 12:30
Terraced: 24
Semi-Detached: 5
Detached: 2
Flats (Blocks): 3
Car Count (5min): 1
Pedestrian Count (5min): 9

Notes: Unlike I expected, Leyton seems to have a lot of grand, historical buildings. This C. Road has some, but also some cheaper, newer detached and semi-detached buildings that fill in the gaps. Some building works going on. An old woman is dropped off by a TfL Dial-To-Ride van, and proceeds to water her flowers. An old man makes a phone call on his house phone in the middle of the street. Lots of foot traffic, but I’m not sure where to...

E13 Plaistow (Newham)

Visited 10/4/16 16:30
Terraced: 19
Semi-Detached: 24
Detached: 5
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 5
Pedestrian Count (5min): 8

Notes: A road in the middle of a busy community. It’s a Sunday so there are people around; kids wander the street not knowing what to do, mention their geography homework. A group of girls wait outside a house for people. The road is split into a small and a big part by Stopford Road. The small end is at the back of some tall estates, there is a small pub there called The Lamb. Some houses have gilded gates and Greek columns added.

E18 South Woodford (Redbridge)

Visited 20/5/16 15:30
Terraced: 17
Semi-Detached: 39
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 1
Car Count (5min): 1
Pedestrian Count (5min): 8

Notes: A busy road with many pedestrians walking through and out the roundabout side - though the crossing across the slip road is near suicidal. Map says there is a tunnel...? Woodford has a more wholesome East feeing than today’s earlier areas - I think this is Essex proper? But I like it. Lots of schoolkids out at this time of day, the roads become filled with members of the school run. Everything here is very green.

EN2 Enfield Chase (Enfield)

Visited 25/5/16 13:00
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 2
Detached: 1
Flats (Blocks): 5
Car Count (5min): 6
Pedestrian Count (5min): 5

Notes: A short road with little sense of community/activity - but, I suppose it is a Monday afternoon and the inhabitants seem to be mostly OAPs. There is a retirement home at the end; old people visible within. A younger woman is leaving, perhaps having visited a relative. Two workers are cleaning the front garden of one of the blocks - one raking and one with a leafblower. There is some traffic - C. road is a through-road, perhaps?

EN4 East Barnet (Barnet)

Visited 12/3/16 15:00
No data collected

Notes: In three parts. Very long. Goes through fancy/run-down phases. Bus stop on corner called ‘Crescent Road’. Very quiet. People watering their lawns. Man stopped to tell couple he thinks he might have found their cat. Some nicer houses than my road, some much nastier. Too long to average. Woman, picking girl up, stops in middle of road.

KT2 Coombe (Kingston Upon Thames)

Visited 3/4/16 16:00
Terraced: 17
Semi-Detached: 50
Detached: 19
Flats (Blocks): 5
Car Count (5min): 8
Pedestrian Count (5min): 8

Notes: Very affluent. A posh estate at the top of the road where children were playing on scooters. The large houses: old man getting out of car in driveway, seems to be a lot of space. Many interesting looking houses. A community noticeboard is at the church end.

N3 Finchley Central (Barnet)

Visited 14/3/16 11:00
Terraced: 3
Semi-Detached: 2
Detached: 8
Flats (Blocks): 2
Car Count (5min): 2
Pedestrian Count (5min): 5

Notes: A one way road (old lady ignored this). Most traffic (people too) goes from Dollis Park to the roundabout at the other side. Man smoking on the step of one of the townhouses. Couple walking down; man gave me a really dirty look (I didn’t even have my camera out). Tube line runs over the road on bridge; noisy. Seemed suburban-sleepy but also grimy - Monday morning perhaps? New homes for sale and are being built, maybe it is a road ripe for regeneration.

N8 Crouch End (Haringey)

Visited 13/3/16 13:30
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 4
Detached: 12
Flats (Blocks): 10
Car Count (5min): 11
Pedestrian Count (5min): 9

Notes: Dead-end road. In two parts. Smaller part is quiet except for people coming out of the parkland walk. Other part is busy with people walking to and from the high street. Two men with sports equipment go into a block of flats. A party of 4 come out of their block and admire the nice houses further up. People seem to have places to go.

N9 Edmonton Green (Enfield)

Visited 30/3/16 15:45
Terraced: 11
Semi-Detached: 10
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 5
Pedestrian Count (5min): 3

Notes: One car on the road was large, with a New York numberplate (‘Empire State’). Relatively quiet compared to Bury Road (busy even on a Wednesday) - seems like it’s in a residential block. Man with scary dog walked through from a park walking path nearby. Very little other activity - mother with kids going into her house, businessman leaves his and walks towards the station. Some builders on an adjoining road.

N11 Friern Barnet (Barnet)

Visited 12/3/16 15:30
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 14
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 15
Pedestrian Count (5min): 4

Notes: Only a section of road - easy to not know exactly where it ends. Has a school on one side. Allotments on the other - a man drove up, opened the gates, drove in and closed the gates. A woman walked out. Family cleaning their car with the radio on. Kids. Several people parked outside the school. One man opened the hood of his car, with a water bottle. Taxi parked - maybe driver lives there?

N15 Turnpike Lane (Haringey)

Visited 13/3/16 17:00
Terraced: 17
Semi-Detached: 0
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 7
Pedestrian Count (5min): 11

Notes: Langham Road - long road, leads off from C. road. Most traffic goes down there. Via C. road, to Turnpike Lane direction. Woman and other men cleaning a gutted house. A family stop to say hi through the gate of a back garden to another family. People going through the road to the shop. Siren in background.

N22 Wood Green (Haringey)

Visited 13/3/16 15:30
Terraced: 51
Semi-Detached: 30
Detached: 2
Flats (Blocks): 2
Car Count (5min): 18
Pedestrian Count (5min): 20

Notes: Loud sounds of trains behind the houses. Wooden sculpture at top of the road with community board. Man driving down playing loud music - African pop. Woman sitting on her doorstep with her dog, enjoying the sunshine. Fair amount of pedestrians. Street too tight to accommodate two cars at some points. Lady in garden.

RM10 Dagenham East (Barking & Dagenham)

Visited 22/4/16 12:00
Terraced: 126
Semi-Detached: 26
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 0
Car Count (5min): 4
Pedestrian Count (5min): 3

Notes: In many ways this one reminds me of the Barnet one; it is suburban and long, with a quiet sense of community. Despite the mid-weekday silence, there was still things happening. Many houses’ doors were open, with the sound of building works going on inside. Skips were in the driveways. A van from Barking & Dagenham Home Maintenance (??) pulled up. Two young men were going for a leisurely drive, smoking and going round the block. Feels strangely familiar.

SE18 Woolwich Arsenal (Greenwich)

Visited 10/4/16 15:30
Terraced: 119
Semi-Detached: 2
Detached: 0
Flats (Blocks): 1
Car Count (5min): 26
Pedestrian Count (5min): 12

Notes: A very strange road compared to those I’ve seen - it is in a neighbourhood of estates but only has one block (at its bottom). Buses run along it towards Plumstead, Charlton and Woolwich. With the peeling houses it reminds me of a road in Brighton or Margate. Lots of cars and people going through the road but not much activity re: the houses.

SW20 South Wimbledon (Merton)

Visited 3/4/16 15:30
Terraced: 0
Semi-Detached: 4
Detached: 18
Flats (Blocks): 2
Car Count (5min): 0
Pedestrian Count (5min): 2

Notes: A dead-end road, leading to a suburban cul-de-sac. Definitely the quietest road I have surveyed so far. Families can be seen inside their houses watching TV and doing Sunday things. A man stands about absent-mindedly in his driveway, doing nothing. Two people walk down the road, right down the middle. Some houses have tall walls enclosing them. It is groggy but the air is fresh here.

Conclusions


Collecting the data, I found myself adopting the role of either a geographer, someone working for the local council, or a very niche suburban trainspotter. Sadly I didn’t have a little clicker to take the car and pedestrian counts with, or a suitably shapeless anorak. But the process was as much about the performance of being an outsider travelling across the city to measure seemingly meaningless things as it was about the data itself.

Trying desperately to remember my Geography GCSE, and closely studying Jan Gehl's urban planning bible 'Life Between Buildings', I tried to apply the scientific method to my data. I started my analysis by finding an ‘average’ Crescent Road from the 20 samples I have collected. Here’s the results:

Terraced: 0   Semi-Detached: 4   Detached: 18   Flats (Blocks): 2
Car Count (5min): 0   Pedestrian Count (5min): 2

With this data I could compare each Crescent Road to a general idea of what the average Crescent Road was like. Number 5 (E6), for example, has an very high pedestrian count - 35, relative to the average - 9. Number 20 (SW20) has a comparatively low pedestrian count, of only 2, and I counted no cars at all.

Unfortunately, this data means nothing when we have nothing to compare it to. Is 7 cars every 5 minutes busier or quieter than the average? And what average do I mean by that - the average for residential roads? Another issue I discovered with the data was that I had collected it at different times of day. I visited Number 5 at 17:00 on a Sunday, so naturally the pedestrian count will be larger than Number 9 (EN2), which I visited on a Monday at 13:00. To truly make the data comparable, I should’ve visited each road at the same time of day, and probably on the same day of the week. Plus, extrapolating the traffic counts to find the number of cars and pedestrians per hour (by multiplying by 12) makes the data very unreliable. 5 minutes is not representative of a whole hour.

So with the traffic data rendered useless by poor methodology, maybe the house data will tell us something. Using statistics from the London Data Store, I compared the makeup of Number 4 (E4) against the makeup of Waltham Forest borough:

Crescent Road No.4 Waltham Forest Borough
Terraced 0% 44%
Semi-Detached 27% 9%
Detached 50% 1%
Flats (Blocks) 23% 43%

As you can see, Number 4 is not typical for the borough. It has no terraced houses and a much higher percentage of detached houses. But the borough data is taken from roads of all types - from quiet residential roads to busy high streets. So we are effectively comparing the Crescent Roads to the entirety of London’s urban fabric, which seems pointless. When this comparison is done to all the Crescent Roads, there is no consensus: they neither fit, or don't fit, the typical makeup of their boroughs. Below you can see the difference (in %) between the Crescent Roads' data and that of their respective boroughs.
Crescent Road % Difference
Terraced Semi-D. Detached Flats
1 (Bromley) 24 46 9 26
2 (Bromley) 24 28 23 21
3 (Bexley) 16 25 71 24
4 (Waltham Forest) 44 18 49 20
5 (Newham) 4 2 7 8
6 (Waltham Forest) 27 6 5 34
7 (Newham) 6 48 9 50
8 (Redbridge) 13 50 3 31
9 (Enfield) 38 8 9 24
10 (Barnet) - - - -
11 (Kingston) 2 27 10 33
12 (Barnet) 1 12 44 22
13 (Haringey) 33 11 45 23
14 (Enfield) 14 31 4 39
15 (Barnet) 19 75 9 45
16 (Haringey) 67 4 1 61
17 (Haringey) 27 31 1 59
18 (B&D) 23 9 0 30
19 (Greenwich) 63 11 2 47
20 (Merton) 45 5 71 31

Not only are the results inconclusive, but when you see the raw data, you realise how incomparable it is. How can we compare house counts in dozens against house counts in thousands? And what am I looking for, anyway - some indication that Crescent Roads are ‘average’ or ‘normal’?

My data consistently lead to dead ends like these. In the end, I figured the problem was with my methodology. I was looking for a specific answer from the data I was collecting, and that was not an ethical or productive method. I think I was secretly hoping all the Crescent Roads would have something in common, and that they would all be fantastically average, with rows of semi-detached houses and below-average traffic. Reality, however, disagreed. The reality of the roads wasn't as simple as the idea of suburbia. The city is complex, diverse and never consistent.

My unspoken hypothesis was that all Crescent Roads would be the same as the one I grew up on, and that was proven wrong. I assumed that 20 roads that shared a name would share more than that, but ultimately they didn’t. What I've learned is that the city is not a homogenous mass of endless Metroland suburbs, or that every street is only different from every other street by its location, but that London is infinitely various, and that roads that initially seem similar in fact hold a wealth of differences. As for the name - few of these roads were even crescent-shaped, so that shows how relevant that is to placemaking.