Its demolition and transformation has been a protracted and controversial saga, with some viewing it as the ultimate sign of social cleansing — with poorer citizens and smaller businesses pushed out to make room for something more friendly for young professionals and hipsters — while supporters argue it is important to improve the area.
A short walk from the station and the demolition site of the huge shopping center is Elephant Park, where another major regeneration project is underway with the well-known development company Lendlease.
A few weeks ago, PIT was invited to take a tour of the area to understand what Elephant Park does differently and what locals and residents can expect once the scheme is complete.
A new community
Before heading to Lendlease’s offices to start the tour, the PIT team first stops at Castle Square — a small Boxpark-like shopping and dining area with a great selection of independent shops, cafes, and three-story eateries.
The wooden-style structure, which houses 26 local dealers, is just one minute from the railway arch to Elephant & Castle station and only five minutes from the metro. At the top of the Castle Square sits the iconic Elephant & Castle statue, which previously had a pride outside the mall and was unveiled in its new home – accompanied by a large party held by locals – in June this year.
The shops on offer reflect the amazing diversity of the area, which has long been home to significant populations from Latin and South America, the Caribbean and West Africa, among others. There is everything from El Guambra (a family-run restaurant offering Ecuadorian cuisine) and Daddy O’s (African dishes) to La Bodeguita (traditional Colombian) and Original Caribbean Spice (Caribbean meal specialists, including jerky chicken and oxtail and legendary Caribbean producers kind)).
Castle Square is also home to hair salons, clothing and fashion stores, workshops and a grocery store – providing a great place for locals to have their lunch, a haircut or their phone straightened.
After some significant difficulty in deciding, we eventually settled on Kaieteur Kitchen, experts in Caribbean taste. Faye Gomes has been cooking Guyana’s most popular dishes since 2003, including ‘Pepper pot’ served with Spanish rice, and her kitchen offers a variety of homemade dishes, including oxtail, okra, fish, curry chicken and fried chicken, all served with large piles of spinach rice. and plantain. We are also treated to some delicious free Caribbean patties while we wait for our orders to be cooked fresh.
“We’ve been here almost a year now,” Gomes says. “It is fantastic, but we need the council to tell more people about us. People do not know we are here. They need signs at the station, by the subway, to tell visitors about us so they can find us here. ”
After a very hefty meal washed down with a nice mango punch, eaten in the public sitting area just outside Castle Square, we walk calmly towards Lendlease’s Elephant Park offices and quickly get our first look at the area – a large central park, full of greenery, sandboxes and play areas, surrounded on all sides by buildings and structures.
The day we visit is cloudy but relatively warm and there are plenty of children enjoying the park in the afternoon of the week before going back to school. Just to the right of the offices are a number of apartment blocks with retail use at the bottom. One of these is already occupied by Four Quarters, a favorite venue for gamers and those nostalgic for 80s and 90s arcade games (think Pacman, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Kart), while the other venues are soon ready to become obsessed.
At the offices, we meet with Kristy Lansdown – Lendlease’s project director for Elephant Park – and Harriet Sutton, senior communications manager at Lendlease Europe, who gives us a guided tour of the ongoing scheme.
What does Elephant Park contain?
It is described as a new residential and retail area in south London that offers the convenience of living in zone 1.
It is centered around a new park and aims to unite ‘creative independent, inventive local food retailers from the farthest corners and gems of the world on the high street together with a fun and adventurous spirit’.
When completed, in 2025, it is expected that Elephant Park will offer 3,000 new homes across a range of time periods, from Build to Rent for sale. There will also be space for more than 50 new shops, restaurants and cafés and the planting of over 1,200 new trees.
Located east of Walworth Road, the scheme is designed to breathe ‘new life into this historic area’ and create ‘thousands of new quality homes, jobs, business opportunities and green spaces for Londoners’.
One of the scheme’s most impressive areas, which is crucially open to the public, is a spectacular natural stone water playground, launched in June 2021. Elephant Springs is a natural stone and water landscape that boasts waterfalls, rolling slides, sandy coves and ambient lighting.
It aims to be a place of rest, relaxation, play and joy for all, and was constructed exclusively from 600 colorful porphyry plates, sourced from a quarry in the Albiano region of Italy. Water naturally bubbles up from the rock formations of Elephant Springs, and the rocks melt seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Sustainability at the forefront
Elephant Park has long focused on sustainability and its green credentials to differentiate it from other major new developments. But what does this really mean in practice?
With Elephant Park, Lendlease’s ambition has always been to set new standards for sustainable urban development, and it aims to be the first climate-positive development by 2025. This would make it one of the most sustainable urban renewal projects in the cities of the world.
To do so, it says, it works closely with a number of sustainable businesses to address one of life’s daily concerns for both residents and visitors — so they can live a guilt-free, environmentally friendly life.
Of particular importance has been to reduce waste during the construction process of Elephant Park, with this part of the process typically a large ball emitter. It says 98% of all waste generated during construction is recycled and redirected from landfill, while Elephant Park has retained over 120 mature trees from the area and planted another 1,300 new ones, helping to mitigate climate change and air pollution.
Elephant Park has set a goal of being a Net Zero Carbon Society in operation by 2025 and eventually reaching absolute Zero Carbon, Scopes 1, 2 and 3, by 2040.
Meanwhile, public spaces are lit up using renewable energy, and upon completion, there are expected to be over 90 new bicycle rental bicycles, more than 3,000 bicycle spaces and new pedestrian and bicycle routes. Dedicated charging doors for electric cars will also be available for use.
Kristy and Harriet take us in the direction of one of Elephant Park’s USPs, its Energy Hub, which includes a cogeneration tool that will provide low carbon, heat and hot water to residents and businesses across Elephant Park. It will also have the capacity to connect to an additional 1,000 homes across the Elephant & Castle Opportunity Area.
The Energy Center is crucial to Lendlease’s ambition to make Elephant Park one of the most sustainable urban renewal projects in the world and also functions as a local community with integrated applications such as A café and kindergarten.
It may seem like a strange paradox to have one of the most sustainable developments in the world in the heart of London, very close to one of the capital’s busiest and noisiest intersections, but it undoubtedly makes Elephant Park even more important to offset the pollution and damage to the environment caused by cars, taxis and buses running through Elephant & Castle daily.
And fortunately, much of the noise and chaos at intersections is lost in and around the areas where the scheme takes place. There is ongoing construction work for the next phase of Elephant Park and the big job taking place in the mall, but these are proving not to be too distracting in the main.
Giving local retailers a new home
One of the most controversial aspects of the demolition of the mall was the question of where the merchants who had worked there for years would be inhabited.
A place for some of the food retailers has been Sayer Street, which is part of the scheme’s planned more than 100,000 square meters of retail, leisure and affordable space. The narrow road, to the left of Central Park, is home to people like Bobo Social, Koi Ramen Bar, Tasty Jerk, Pot & Rice, Miko’s and zero plastic Italian restaurant SUGO.
Even on a Thursday afternoon in late summer, after lunch and before dinner begins, it is busy and lively with people enjoying meals outdoors.
The last part of the trip sees us end at The Tap In- a whimsical sports bar and bottle shop that has managed to thrive despite the pandemic and MMY Elephant Park, a bond between Elephant Park and the modern market maker Mercato Metropolitano to offer a market / delicatessen offering artisanal groceries, fresh pasta, authentic dim sum, Italian gelato and locally sourced meats. In the autumn, Mercato will open its urban production center in Elephant Park – ‘a unique and immersive dining experience where locals and visitors can meet its producers and enjoy delicious fresh produce’.
There can still be problems when it comes to affordability and availability of schemes like Elephant Park – and the dilemma of how to regenerate while not pushing local residents and poorer communities will continue to rage. But from a sustainability standpoint and in terms of remembering the area’s history when they build, it looks like Lendlease has got it right with Elephant Park.
Whether it can claim to be one of the most sustainable schemes in the world will probably only become clearer when it is fully completed in 2025, but any scheme that strongly pushes sustainability is welcome in the fight against the climate crisis.