Gabriel's Wharf in South Bank, London is home to various riverside attractions, offering a unique blend of food and retail destinations that overlook the Thames. Once an empty space, the transformation of Gabriel's Wharf shows how waterfront areas are uniquely positioned to be great places, not only as public spaces but as opportunities to support local businesses and entrepreneurs.

The story of transforming Gabriel's Wharf begins in 1988, when it became clear that an interim use was needed for 20,000 square feet of empty Thames-side space. Gabriel's Wharf then became one of the many projects of Eric Reynolds of Urban Space Management, one of the most successful developers of local markets in London.

When Eric began to work on Gabriel's Wharf, the idea driving the transformation was that it would pay for itself in four years. Within three months, Reynolds and his team transformed a blank factory wall with a spectacular mural depicting a Georgian shopping street. This would quickly become the backdrop to a community of retail workshops, attractive stalls, and riverside restaurants.

The mix of off-beat activity, art events, and local designer makers complemented the site’s South Bank location. Now it is well-known as a unique visitor attraction. The "lighter, quicker, cheaper" interventions that spurred its transformation were so successful that it still flourishes as a for shopping and dining more than three decades later.

Now, Gabriel's Wharf carries the legacy of being London's oldest pop-up. It continues to be home to a mix of designer shops, quirky art galleries, fair trade boutiques, and a range of bars, restaurants, and cafes.

Many people consider it to be a town square along the water – an incredible outcome, especially considering that the entire project took 3 months to develop, cost only £78,000, and created 60 jobs.

Take Aways

This totally unique approach to urban regeneration was done privately; not to mention on a quick timeline! Gabriel's Wharf is living proof that offering low rents to a multitude of one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs is a model with long-term success. But to go beyond that, Gabriel's Wharf curates its "town square" role with a mix of amenities and activities that keep it active and exciting. Gabriel's Wharf is a major stop along London's South Bank, and remains a place that not only supports local businesses, but offers rich public life.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.
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