Visions of Vibrancy: London's Soho

The vibrancy of cities comes in all shapes and sizes. Many believe that what works in internationally known cosmopolitan settings may not be applicable for cities in America that have struggled with embracing walkability. If we look hard enough, we may realize that this type of view should be challenged. Despite the diversity around the globe, all lively cities, downtowns and urban cores have something in common: being pedestrian friendly.


A major traffic junction and meeting place, it can be said that Piccadilly Circus is to London what Times Square is to New York City. Dating back to 1819, since Since 1908, Piccadilly Circus has been home to illuminated advertising signs on various buildings. The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs.

“Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent-street westward to Hyde Park-corner, is the nearest approach to the Parisian boulevard of which London can boast.” - Charles Dickens, Jr in 1879

Shad Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t the only Jaxsons that have their eye on London. London is a leading global city, a cultural capital, financial center and the world’s most visited destination as measured by international arrivals. As of 2018, London’s official population was 8,908,081 with a total of 14,187,146 residing within its metropolitan area. The largest city in the world between 1830s and 1925, it’s still the most populous municipality in the European Union.

When it comes to identifying a place where historic preservation, modern iconic architecture, color and streetscape lighting schemes seamlessly come together, London is hard to beat. If one desires to see the impact of lighting on the pedestrian environment, this article is a great place to start. Here is a visual opportunity illustrating lively street scenes full of innovative concepts and ideas that can be absorbed locally without major public investments in studies and transatlantic trips.

London’s Soho is a place that defies many of our regulatory assumptions. Its streets and sidewalks are extremely narrow and off-street surface parking lots are hard to find. The demolition of historical and culturally significant structures rarely happen, so most of the district’s buildings are older than the majority of America’s cities. Yet, despite elements commonly labeled as “blight” by many civic leaders, people seem to be attracted to Soho like bees are to honey.

However, it wasn’t always this way. Now located in the City of Westminister, Soho’s modern development dates back to 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII when the area became a royal park for the Palace of Whitehall. By the 17th century, it emerged as a fashionable district for the aristocracy. The district found itself if a period of decline during the 18th century as newer areas in the city had become more fashionable. By the 19th century, its once aristocratic residents were being converted into tenements, making Soho one of London’s densest unsanitary neighborhoods, resulting in a cholera outbreak in 1854. Nevertheless, 19th century immigration transformed the district into one of London’s earliest dining and entertainment destinations as it became known for its affordable restaurants, cafes, small theatres, music halls, authors, poets and artists. The clustering of this history, buildings and culture within a compact pedestrian scale setting continues to make Soho one of the world’s premier entertainment districts. Here is a look at the streets of London’s Soho.



3. Built between 1877 and 1886 as a form of urban renewal, Shaftesbury Avenue is a major north-south traffic artery through Soho.




7. Completed in 1676, Rupert Street is named after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, noted 17th century general and son of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I.