Simple, Cheap Ways To Make London Better

By M@ Last edited 21 months ago
Simple, Cheap Ways To Make London Better

What can we do to make London better? The city has many problems — soaring house prices, temperamental rail networks and the increasing rich-poor divide among them — which need tackling with urgency. None of these have quick or easy solutions. At the same time, there are many tweaks we might try, to make the city that little bit more pleasant. These are interventions that might not save lives or put more bread on the table, but which might cheaply and simply give the city a morale boost. We've dreamt up a few ideas below, and encourage further suggestions in the comments section.

Labels on trees


Can you tell a plum tree from a quince? An ash from a beech? A ginkgo from a willow? Trees are bloody everywhere in London, and can be found on our streets in many more species than you might think. Identification can be tricky, though, especially in winter. We propose that each new planting comes with a label attached, like these saplings near Golden Lane. Oh, and info on whether we can eat the fruit would also be champion.

Amusing street furniture


Bollards, barriers, parking meters… all of them boring street clutter. Let’s make them interesting. Any organisation installing new street furniture should be asked to inscribe or stencil a piece of random trivia on the top. Imagine walking past some railings and learning that Saddam Hussein was once awarded the keys to the city of Detroit, or glancing at a postbox to find that For Your Eyes Only is the only James Bond film not to feature ‘M’. Our lives would be enhanced immeasurably. (Well, a bit.) If the council can't afford these minor interventions, then let's let the artists loose with their own embellishments, like the Fitzrovia ice cream cone above.

Local heroes

The only piece of street furniture not to carry random trivia should be street lights. Instead, these should be inscribed with the names of local heroes — those who have ‘enlightened’ their communities. Each lamp post would carry a QR code or chip, which could give more information about the dedicatee’s life.

World’s biggest sundial


We have Western Europe’s tallest building. Why not make it work harder by turning it into a timepiece? By placing markers along the north bank, it should be possible to roughly estimate the time of day based on the angle of the Shard’s shadow. Sure, we can all look at our watches, but where’s the fun in that? “Meet me when Queenhithe falls within the umbra of the Shard” we’ll be able to say, like proper romantic devils.

Green rewards


Google’s Street View surveys are updated in London every year or two. Perhaps the tech giant could be persuaded to add some visual recognition software to help reward those who beautify the neighbourhbood. For example, the survey could work out how many hanging baskets each home or business is displaying. Hook the info up to the local council, and any building with, say, five or more hanging baskets gets £20 off their annual Council Tax.

Centre of town

For each small area of central London (e.g. Smithfield, Fitzrovia, Marylebone...) decide on a central point, and there paint a colourful shape (green square, red star, etc.). Declare these to be the 'centre of Fitzrovia' (or wherever). Do not declare the significance of either the chosen location or the colour/shape of the marker symbol... let people debate what the reasoning is. Then sit back and see how people use them... as easily identifiable meetup spots, curious bits of artwork, stopping points for tour guides, local versions of Speaker's Corner...


Busking is an ancient practice in London, yet it’s becoming increasingly restricted through licensing and heavily controlled pitches. Let’s anoint a King and Queen Minstrel for each borough (through public competition). The annual winners are then free to play anywhere public in their borough during daylight hours, no questions asked. This will, of course, annoy as many people as it cheers, but Londoners love a good moan.

Sort the maps out


These Legible London maps have sprung up all over the city, even in the outer suburbs. This is an excellent development. Trouble is, the map-makers have forsaken the age-old custom of putting north at the top. Instead, the top of the chart coincides with the direction the viewer is looking in. We don’t care if research shows that most people prefer it this way. They are wrong. Put north back at the top.

Open Rooftops

A falcon nesting box on top of the Cheesegrater building.

As veteran roof-visitors, we’ve seen just how much unused space London harbours on top of its buildings — much of it flat and accessible. There’s a load of stuff we could be doing up there: beehives, solar panels, staff sunbeds, vegetable planters, bird boxes, yoga classes, weather stations, amateur astronomy. To encourage more uptake, an annual Open Rooftops weekend would coax buildings who already make use of their roofs to open them to the public. Such an event would not only be attractive for the views, but would also give visitors plenty of ideas on how to make the most of their own homes and offices. The festival would culminate with the awarding of the Dick van Dyke Chim-Chimney Award for Services to Rooftops, to whichever building has best improved its top floor in the past year.

OK, so what are your ideas?

All images by the author. With thanks to Roger Williams and Stu Black for the seeds of two of these ideas.

Last Updated 26 October 2016

Rachel Holdsworth



Where exactly is the ice cream cone?

Ms Marple

Sofas, standard lamps and book cases for book swapping at bus stops.


More recycling bins on the streets((:


Brick barbecues in parks. Easy + cheap to build and maintain, creates nice little communal picnic areas, stops people burning up the grass. Something like this: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pini...

Mark Wilson

Rigidly enforce a 'Walk Left' policy on ALL public transport. Send flagrant rightists to the stocks for brutal correctional treatment. Improve expediency, increase productivity, spread the calm, London wins again.

Merge signposts with lampposts to remove excess street furniture. Use reclaimed metal poles to make mini football goals. Dot them around brownfield sites, parks and playgrounds.

Build many, many more drinking fountains. Equip them with a special key in the evening that switches to IPA for the gentlemen and gin for the ladies.

Increase the number of public toilets and employ well-dressed, polite cleaners to welcome patrons, offer shoe shine services, tidy up throughout the day and earn a well-paid salary of living wage +15% RPI.

tapesh majumdar

Just a coat of fresh red paint to the London telephone booths - epecially in the tourist trail - will make these attractions a ' must ' for a selfie .

Mark Walley

I nominate the middle of the pedestrian crossing outside ICCO pizza (the one that runs across Goodge Street) as the centre of Fitzrovia


Local parks that open at night, even if it's just in the summer.

Greg Tingey

Remove ALL full width road "humps" anywhere in London.
( They can be replaced with "cushion" humps" if necessary. )
They hurt just about everybody in a bus passing over them & are cyclist-unfriendly, too!

More FLAGS .....


Clocks, of any design, in useful paces like on centre point, the PO Tower, fronts of tube stations and road junctions


What about painting some old dirty buildings?


Our local shopping centre has "Squirt" the whale - a simple and safe whale shaped climbing frame. The children love him and it keeps them amused for hours

A few of those would no doubt be welcomed by all those responsible for keeping children amused while waiting.

Lara Band

Keep the maps as they are but put a north arrow on them, that would be best.

Beth Williams

Install a litter bin at every bus stop in London.


The best thing Boris has done by a mile was introduce bins on the underground, much more civilising than his bus.

I'd stop all announcements on the tube, as none of them are useful and all of them annoying.

Turn the Thames shore into beaches like they did at Tower Bridge in the 50s

Give concessions to people living in a borough to museums and attractions in their borough


Another suggestion to improve the urban landscape: demolish and cart away to a distant landfill site the following public abominations:
The Arcelor Mittal Orbit
Vroom Vroom
The Jelly Baby Family