Walkable Shopping In Brighton, England

Brighton seafront.

Brighton seafront.

This week, Walkable Princeton is running some stories from our recent overseas vacation, about towns with walkable ideas that might be relevant to life in Princeton. Previous posts in this series are here. Our regular local content is back after Labor Day.

Think of a historic town with great independent stores and restaurants, and an extremely environmentally-conscious residents. Princeton? No, we’re talking about Brighton, England! The seaside town (known to older readers as the location of the 1979 movie, ‘Quadrophenia‘, featuring Sting, the singer from ‘The Police‘) dates to Roman times. In more recent years it became known as a beach destination for vacationers from London and the south of England. Now British folks routinely fly to warmer places with proper sandy beaches, and many traditional seaside towns are down on their luck, but Brighton has reinvented itself as a bustling, eclectic place to live.

Fracking dominates the news in Brighton in 2013, as the local parliamentary representative (the only elected member of the Green Party in the UK) got arrested while protesting at a local gas exploration site. The green agenda runs deep in Brighton, as seen by the highly developed local cycle lanes:

Cycle lanes along the sea front in Brighton. (Click to expand.)

Cycle lanes along the sea front in Brighton. (Click to expand.)

Brighton is surrounded by the South Downs national park, a beautiful area of chalk hills. Development is limited to a small strip extending along the sea, providing the sort of density that makes public transit . Brighton has stepped up with a range of bus lines that are heavily used. Many of these buses are advertised as ‘one every 12 mins’, or ‘one every 5 mins’. Knowing that you won’t have long to wait for a bus makes people much more likely to use buses, an observation that transit guru Jarrett Walker calls ‘Frequency is Freedom‘.

This bus in Brighton is advertised as running 'every 12 mins'. (Click to expand.)

This bus in Brighton is advertised as running ‘every 12 mins’. (Click to expand.)

Brighton also does a great line in small parks, which help to break up the city. This tiny park, in the North Lane area, was the temporary home of several happy sunbathers. In Princeton, we have acres of parkland, but much of it is not near where people live. Sometimes people have to drive to go to the park, which is kinda crazy. A park does not have to be large to be a fantastic public space, but it helps if it’s very close to your home.

Park at Pelham Square in Brighton. Note the many bicycles chained to the fence. (Click to expand)

Pocket park at Pelham Square in Brighton. Note the many bicycles chained to the fence. (Click to expand)

Perhaps the best thing about Brighton is the shopping. In addition to the usual high street chains, Brighton offers an unbelievable range of quirky, independent stores, offering all sorts of craft items, unusual gift ideas and a lot of arty stuff. I’m not one for shopping, but it’s fair to say that I have never seen, or in some cases even imagined some of the stuff for sale in Brighton. Shopping there is a pleasure, not least because many of the stores are located on delightful walking streets where cars are banned or limited. In the shopping area known as ‘The Lanes’, which date from the 18th century, the streets are so narrow that cars couldn’t even fit through. The North Laine area has some of the best shopping streets:

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Shopping around the North Laine in Brighton. (Click to expand.)

It is taken as a truism that businesses absolutely require on-street parking to survive, but many of these independent stores in Brighton get by just fine without it. Other areas have vehicle limitations that restrict private car access, but allow vehicles for loading. The pavement in such areas is geared toward pedestrians, making it clear that it is primarily a walking area; this promotes strolling and sidewalk cafes, but also allows instant access for emergency vehicles:

Pedestrian zone in Brighton, near The Lanes. (Click to expand.)

Pedestrian zone in Brighton, near The Lanes. (Click to expand.)

Brighton is not without its problems, not least a very expensive local property market associated with the increasing population, and being recently accused of being ‘too trendy and bohemian’. However, if you want character, excellent dining and a fun place to walk around, you won’t do much better than here. Just remember that it’s still England, so it might pour down with rain at any moment – even in August!

Mosaic art built into the pavement in the North Laine area of Brighton. (Click to expand)

Mosaic art built into the pavement in the North Laine area of Brighton. (Click to expand)

Ever been to Brighton, England? Or have you been anywhere else good on vacation? Feel free to leave a comment below. Local content returns next week.

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This entry was posted in Alternative Transportation, Biking, Complete Streets, Density, Downtown Vibrancy, Sustainability, The Parking Question and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Walkable Shopping In Brighton, England

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  4. Jane says:

    Delighted you enjoyed the lack of cars and eclectic shopping. Alas your final comment about rain in August is all too true, although at least this summer was OK

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