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· It's Sting. So What?
33,094 Posts
There's a big pool of research into public open spaces. It's strange that the larger they are, the less they tend to be used (there are obvious anomalies to this) and ultimately they are less successful. People tend to respond better to smaller, more intimate spaces that are well designed.

The mental and physical health benefits of greenery is well documented and it seems that the favoured approach is to integrate greenery into everyday public routes and spaces rather than creating zones of green within the city. Birmingham is really well-served by open spaces - they might not be particularly well-designed but there's no shortage. The connections between these spaces and other key areas of the city can be vastly improved with sensitive landscaping.

Ultimately I see Birmingham needing to retrofit its existing spaces rather than create new ones as doing this could just amplify the existing issues the city has.

· It's Sting. So What?
33,094 Posts
I'm surprised so many SCC forumers think demolishing the Wholesale Market and building a park is a feasible idea.

Surely we all have a fair understanding of the cost of such a scheme? Who would pay for it? There's no profit in a park. That means the tax payer would have to pay for it. They'd have to pay for the yearly maintenance as well.

Now I would love it if more of my council tax was spent on parks. I wouldn't mind a council tax increase to pay for some more parks, but I am in the minority. Most people do not want tax rises.

The council's current plan would be funded by private developers. The council will probably make money out of the scheme. A smaller park will be built as part of the scheme and this will probably be funded by the overall development.

If all of the Wholesale Market is turned into a park it would be surrounded by the existing buildings which are not all in a good shape. This might make the park feel shabby and neglected and that could lead to antisocial behaviour in the park. We all know this is often a problem in parks. Just look at east side park.

I think it would be better to invest in our existing parks.

Highgate Park could be really good if it was smartened up. It could be extended as suggested by others already.

The Peace Gardens are already nice but could be improved if they removed the railings that restrict the access. Also some cafes around the perimeter would be good.

We have a really good park in Park Central that hardly ever gets mentioned and is always very quiet when I go there.

There are also lots of poorly used green spaces amongst or 1970s social housing. I've heard them called 'green deserts' due to the fact they are so poorly used.

My understanding is 70s social housing was built to corbusiean theory. The idea was people would live in high rise towers surrounded by public green space. The roads would be in underground tunnels or elevated on viaducts. Sounds great but as we all know it was disastrous in the UK.

Because of this there is now a lot of wasted green space in the city centre. I think it would be a good idea to redevelop the social housing so that new and better designed parks can be created.

Here are some examples of poorly used green space in social housing areas.

There are more green deserts just outside the ring road too. Lots of potential.
Postwar housing built on an interpretation of Le Corbusier's theories but really poorly executed. There are obvious elements to his theories that were executed and disastrous (elevated roadways arrgggghhh) and then other elements were poorly executed. One of those was the green spaces around blocks. We started building blocks closer together than Le Corb proposed so that space received less light and felt more claustrophobic. Also parks became secondary to providing car parks at tower blocks - whatever was left over from adding tarmac was grassed over with little imagination.

There's a mantra that loosely goes "people move through negative space, people dwell in positive space". Unfortunately we didn't quite understand that enough back in the 60s and 70s.

It's funny to see City Centre Gardens mentioned here as it is really a happy accident. It was all going to be built on as part of the Civic Centre scheme until World War II broke out. It really suffers from a lack of connectivity with the rest of the city centre - Baskerville House, library and the Rep form a barrier against it and turn their backs to it. If there were several clear pedestrian connections and some activity facing on to it, it would be much more popular I suspect.

Also for anyone particularly nerdy about public spaces, there's an interesting documentary from the 70s called 'The Social Life of Public Spaces' or something to that effect that goes into that almost scientifically analyses successful and unsuccessful open spaces in New York.

· It's Sting. So What?
33,094 Posts
Just thinking how you could extend City Centre Gardens to create a large park from Cambridge Street to the canal on a small budget.

Ideally you would take down the 4 tower blocks but with some creative landscaping and design the towers could be left alone and incorporated into the park. The additional park space could be created by landscaping over the towers access roads and parking areas. Planting of tall shrubs and trees could be higher around the towers so they would blend in to the park landscape and still feel private to the residents. Free parking could be offered to the residents within one of the council run car parks on Brindley Drive so residents would not lose out.

I would only remove the low rise social housing block on Kingston Row meaning a small number of residents would need rehousing as a result. Maybe 20-30 I would guess?

To part of Cambridge Street I would create a service road for the buildings facing Centenary Square with remote controlled barriers at both ends. Remove the roundabout to make the park a little bigger and resurface the service road by continuing the paving scheme from Centenary Square.

The main entrance to the park would be from the passageway between the ICC and Rep Theatre and also directly from the canal network.

So if all this was costed I don’t think this would be a great deal of money to achieve. I will leave this with someone in the council to do the Cost-Benefit Analysis.
It depends what you consider to not be a great deal of money, especially for a cash strapped council. The cost of demolition and rehousing alone would be a substantial outlay.

I think resurfacing Cambridge Street would be a major positive impact though. Referring to jd88's response about the pedestrian connections, I didn't just mean physical but also psychological. It's amazing how a patch of tarmac can completely change the route someone walks.

But also there's little visual connection from Centenary Square and Paradise Forum - if you don't know the park's there, then there's little chance of you stumbling on it as there's nothing else immediately facing on to it that will draw you there.

As for the New Street station voids, covering them was explored in the early stages of the New Street project but was largely abandoned due to cost and logistics. (Remember the little bridge extension to the Hill Street entrance could only be installed at Christmas when the trains weren't running and had to be delayed by a year because it was too icy on the scheduled day)

The voids are a hangover of the various iterations the station has gone through over 150 years whilst retaining the street layout. It would be nice if they could completely move the station to the HS2 station site but I try not to dream too much :)

· It's Sting. So What?
33,094 Posts
Thanks Ell those pics really show how much space is available between the towers to extend the park.

Thinking about D Badgers suggestion of “repurposing the tower blocks completely” the towers could be refurbished including making the changes already discussed to landscape and extend the park boundaries. After the refurbishment the towers could be used as an additional athlete’s village during the Commonwealth Games to support the venues in the city cetre and when the games are over used as serviced apartment hotels with profits going directly to BCC.

Alternative accommodation for the tenants of the towers could be offered at Icknield Port Loop which is just a short distance away although some of the tenants who have purchased their apartments may need paying off.

I have worked out that there are approximately 65x 1-2 bedroom apartments per block. So that would be 260 apartments in total. Charging a nightly rate of £100 per night would equate to £26,000 per day (£9,490.000 per year) before running costs are taken out.

The current selling price of an existing apartment located in the towers is 90-100K.

With regards the voids at New Street Station. I was thinking about this further after reading some of the comments made above and I see no reason why the 2 large voids off Navigation Street to the west could not be filled in now. This would still leave 1 large void west and 1 large void east of the station left alone for ventilation purposes.

JD88, I joined SSC as I have a creative mind and this site gives me the opportunity to express my thoughts and ideas. If Andy Street is reading my posts and wants to hire me to take my ideas forward then great, I’m in. Otherwise I will just stick to the site and not get involved in the nitty-gritty. Having said all this I’m always happy to brain storm ideas, offer support and advice to any fellow SSC member. I’m partial to Costa so if you are around Selly Oak anytime in the not too distant future then send me a private message and I’ll happily forward you my contact details.
Ah nothing like repurposing public housing for corporate means in a city desperately short of social housing to ignite a scandal. Don't get me wrong, the ambition is admirable but it's hugely unlikely due to a whole host of factors.

The only reason why these blocks would be demolished (which is so much more likely than conversion) is if there is an inherent issue with them that makes them unsuitable for habitation. Given they were recently extensively refurbished, that seems way off (although there is a running joke that refurbishment tends to mean they're 5 years from demolition).

Their demolition would also have to be done with a view towards catalysing the regeneration of the area. But as we can evidently see, this area is in the final stages of regeneration. There would be minimal economic benefit to the area in relation to cost as far as BCC would be concerned.

Rehousing is a nightmare at the moment. It can take many years from condemning a tower block for demolition to finally rehousing the last residents in a city like Birmingham. Multiply that by 4 blocks and it's a monumental task. If we were actually building social housing it would be substantially easier but we're not and it's unlikely we will be for some time.

And regarding the voids, the main reason it can't be done now is cost and logistics. You are really looking at many millions of pounds. The small void was comfortably covered over because it caused minimal disruption to train operations and, obviously, it was small area to cover.
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