Exhibition Road: an HR/workplace docusoap

Although it says “property” on the tin, I often describe the area in which I work as a grey patch between workplace and HR. One could call it a “shared space”.

Having openly and enjoyably engaged with ConnectingHR, and attempted through blogs, tweets and even songs to bring the two communities closer together – because it is rather lonely in the grey area at the moment – it has not transpired to the degree that my most sceptical mindset might have predicted.

I noticed an article in the Economist this week about Exhibition Road in West London, a newly created physical “shared space” where normal road and pavement markings and levels have been replaced with uniform tiled surfaces and variuous shades of street furniture. The concept was developed in that living road laboratory, the Netherlands, and is said to increase safety through creating greater awareness. Instead of nestling within the visor of predictable layouts and markings, where we consequently expect every user to behave in a particular way, we are drawn to be vigilant, we notice each other, we make eye contact (heaven forbid – in London?). They also naturally take some of the heavier, more antisocial traffic away from the space.

Since occupying an office just off Sheldon Square in Paddington (which is really a plectrum but clearly we only understand “square” – a lovely inherent irony, there), itself a shared space, I have found myself doing the same. I pay more attention to everyone and everything around me, and behave accordingly. It works. It also creates a subtle sense of participation, rather than simply passage.

Relations between the professions are presently arranged like the standard, demarcated British road layout – lines, warnings, barked instructions and separate defined paths, enforcement. Interaction is too dangerous, people would get hurt. We cannot be trusted, and are instantly visually remonstrated when stepping out of our front door, thereafter nervous of the risks. We need to understand our place, for our own safety – after all, the segregation and exercise of authority is an act of kindness.

The promotion of Exhibition Road promises “vibrant programmes that challenge and surprise” – just, perhaps, what lies in the grey space between workplace and HR, if only we would look. They also state “generating and sharing knowledge are at the heart of what we do” – isnt that what both our professions claim to do, too? In our own spaces, of course, despite the common issues.

We will only progress when we take the type of risks that the urban planners have taken, with the courage of their convictions, and develop the shared space. It promises an energised re-definition of relations. We may even just start with eye contact.

Its time to step off the kerb.The bus driver has seen you.


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