I’ve been dreaming of the future in Penarth for a long while now. 

In early January 2021 I got involved with the newly forming local action group, Penarth Unlocked

I’ve got involved because I’m interested in creating places for people and nature and learning the arguments in support of pedestrianisation for our town centre. In the hope that our future might be car-free.

In her letter to the Penarth Times (21.1.2021), local resident Anne Crowley talks of how we must be thinking about how our town centre will thrive, post-covid and how we can create safe spaces, “offering a fresh vision of how our town centre might work in a more pedestrian-friendly way.” 

Anne also talks about how reducing traffic could reduce air pollution, contributing to the Vale of Glamorgan’s Climate Action plan. The Vale has, after all, declared a climate emergency. 

Though it doesn’t feel to me like they are responding like it’s an emergency. In her poignant and exemplary speeches, Greta Thunberg points out that when we respond to an emergency, we see a significant shift in behaviour. We are yet to see this here. 

This is our time. What better time have we ever had to take action around a pedestrian-friendly town centre? Yet still, nothing happens. Inertia. 

What’s more, the Welsh Government are encouraging, and funding, local authorities to act. According to the Urban Design Group “The leading local authorities are looking at how these actions can tackle inactive lifestyles, obesity, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, and to bring about a permanent improvement in happiness and wellbeing.”

How then, might we, a group of local residents, get the Vale to follow?

Because of the unprecedented times we are living in, the Vale Council has the power to put in temporary measures around how the roads are arranged in Penarth. 

What happened in the first lockdown, where there was a chaos of cones and a one way system for pedestrians that no one paid any attention to, was so disappointing for me. I could see the potential for our town from examples of other places where people have been prioritised. Now we have parklets, my hope for the future is buoyed, slightly.

And it’s more than a built environment thing, it’s a health thing too. Sustrans’ research into low traffic neighbourhoods reveals that “Outdoor spaces free from traffic are vital to maintaining good mental and physical health…those who regularly walk and cycle have a significantly lower risk of feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.”

Now is the time for regenerative action and systems change. It’s time to heal. It’s time to come together to imagine. It’s time for our community to envision a better place, and for the people of our town to be the ones who lead positive change. 

For the health and well-being of all. And, in response to the climate and nature emergencies we face. 

It’s time to reinvent the high street. I’m doing that by taking part in local action. I’m talking about it with everyone I meet. I’m doing it for my child, so he can breathe clean air and be safe in his home town.

And, I’ll be doing my best to shop locally.

I’ve long been inspired by the activist Jane Jacobs. Let’s bring a bit of her spirit to our town.

I’d like to live in a nicer town, with birdsong and clean air and space to play. I’d like to be happy here. In the words of Enrique Peñalosa*, the Mayor who transformed Bogota…

‘And what are our needs for happiness? We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.’ 

It is clear to me now that ‘doing nothing is no longer an option’**.

This blog is my personal view only. It does not intend in any way to represent the views of Penarth Unlocked. 

Title ‘We need to walk, just as birds need to fly.’ and *Quote from Enrique Peñalosa in Happy City by Charles Montgomery.

**Quote from London Living Streets

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