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Open Space in Central Manchester

7132 Views 82 Replies 34 Participants Last post by  SleepyOne
A common complaint is the lack of high quality open space, particularly green open space in Manchester City Centre. Whilst the city does boast many well designed spaces there appears to be a general feeling that there is not nearly enough - especially given the dense and intensive way the city is developing.

The problem is exacerbated by the characteristically narrower streets in Manchester and the tightly packed central core. Added to this the extremely poor design solution afforded to Piccadilly Gardens and planning blunders such as the Arndale Centre extension which has grossly extended a much loathed shopping centre rather than persuing a streets-and-squares strategy.

Here is the council's response to the problem, prompted by a question posed by a member of the public on their website.......

I think we all agree that open space in a city is very important. The problem is that the tight grain of the City's historic street and development pattern coupled with high land values makes it impossible for the City Council to create new areas of open space in isolation.

However, particularly through our regeneration initiatives, we take every opportunity to add to open space provision in the City Centre and this has made a huge contribution to Manchester's renaissance.. The works in the City Centre Renewal Area, particularly Exchange Square and Cathedral Gardens, the Piccadilly Regeneration Initiative, Spinningfields, Great Northern and Castlefield have added considerably to open space provision in the City Centre. We will aim to ensure that future regeneration strategies at Southern Gateway and within the 'Arc of Opportunity' as part of Manchester: Knowledge Capital, make similar contributions.

In addition to this we have upgraded existing schemes and, through pedestrianisation, created areas such as St.Ann's Square, Albert Square, the Peace Gardens, Market St, King St, and Brazennose St. We also have a programme to upgrade existing green areas of the City Centre at Parsonage Gardens, Sackville Park and St. Johns Gardens. We take every opportunity to plant new street trees in the City Centre and attempt to accommodate them in new developments and to create walkways along our rivers and canals.

There are a number of large parks which are within easy walking/ travelling distance of the City Centre such as Hulme Park, Phillips Park, Alexandra Park, and Heaton Park, all of which provide quality resources for City Centre residents.

I think that the way we use the available space in our city is very important. We are attempting to reduce the amount of vehicles in the City Centre by encouraging modal shift to other forms of transport such as buses, walking, cycling and of course, Metrolink. If we are successful in these initiatives we should have a win/win outcome - a thriving, vibrant city but with more of our street space available for use as social space.

27 January 2005

What are people's ideas and aspirations in relation to this problem? Personally I would have liked the council, for once to take an intelligent, long term and strategic view and create a large edge-of-city-centre park like they have at Eastside in Birmingham. Unfortunately with projects like Eastgate set to send land values in Picc Basin skyrocketing and the failure of the council to undertake any kind of long term planning for the area, this opportunity may have passed us by forever. It would also be nice if they took more care with planning decisions which has meant our largest and most important piece of open space - Piccadilly Gardens is aflicted by the worst design solution in the city. Ill conceived and poorly excecuted. Clearly there is plenty of hard, careful work to be done.

So! Thoughts, ideas, opportunities please! We all want an uplifting, liveable city to be proud of. Urban design considerations and particularly the issue of quality open spaces urgently needs to be addressed if Manchester is to continue to attract people and prosper.
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My view is this: hang on to every scrap of open space you can. Do not sell it off for building on. Not unless somebody's going to pay you a fortune because they're going to build high rise so you can buy more and better land elsewhere. If you don't own the land but an application comes in that covers every inch of ground, turn it down. It's more likely to be low rise, and they'll tell you it's world class, but don't be taken in, just refuse it. Once it's gone you'll never get it back.
Mistakes and blunders get made by people who can't see, won't see what they're doing wrong, because they're people who think they know better. The arrogance and stupidity that built 1 Piccadilly will be repeated. That's how architecture is.

Students are fighting proposals to build the five-storey development on one of the largest green spaces on the campus. They held a protest on the site, off Oxford Road, near the junction with Booth Street, where they say an area the size of a football pitch will be lost if the development goes ahead. University bosses say it is part of a £300m plan to redevelop the campus and alternative areas of green land will be provided to compensate for the loss. Irony: The students were also objecting to plans to build a six-floor car park on top of an existing one. The university's Islamic society joined the protest, claiming that their prayer room will be demolished. Student Kate Kirkpatrick said: "I don't think anyone can fail to see the irony of building the environment department on green land. There's a consultation meeting next week in the student reading week when hardly any students will be here."
Oh I see. This time it's different. It always is. That's architecture for you. It has always had an arrogance, evidenced by meaningless phrases like "out of context" and "poorly defined", and the willingness to flick between "open space" and "spare land" at a whim. It's not different SleepyOne, it's the same. It's why yesterday's buildings are "hideous", and tomorrow's will be too.
That's a relatively recent building opposite the Town Hall, Accura. I seem to recall the site was empty for some years, and it was something of an embarrassment. How times change.
I think the right thing to do here is to try and de-urbanise it, and inject some rurality. With grass, shrubs, and maybe some stone walling or wooden posts and cobble or hoggin paths, and especially water, this could be a delight. The costs are relatively low, and some of the surrounding buildings might then escape attention. And owners and investors might feel more inclined to make improvements, ranging from cleaning and renovation to full-scale redevelopment. I can't remember what all the buildings are like, the only one in shot that's an eyesore is the pale brick one with the roof looming behind it. The others look OK, and the older one to the right looks interesting.

Whoa. No.

The simple answer is that the Sheffield gardens had a gardener involved. A beautiful garden has a 3D substance with height variations and varied and lush planting to give a feeling of enclosure/rooms/comfort. It's a jungle thing, buried deep in our reptile hindbrain. Like you said, oasis. A flat garden is one up from a wasteland, it doesn't cut the mustard. I don't know who's idea Piccadilly Gardens were, but the whole thing was all wrong. You don't sell part of your garden to flatten it. Anyhow: get the garden right and whether the surrounding buildings "relate" becomes academic. Those Sheffield buildings are not in harmony with each other, and whilst there's harmony between stone buildings and stone walling & steps, it isn't crucial. The first step is to fix that Berlin Wall, and make it like the walls in the Sheffield picture. And give somebody a damn good kicking.
Given the characteristics of the area as a major transport interchange, perhaps the best and most radical solution would be to remove the lawns all together and put some high quality paving down and resolve to create a proper, quality new green urban oasis somewhere else in the city centre.
I beg to differ. IMHO the buildings aren't what you see. What you see is the gardens. The buildings become mere wallpaper. But what's really important is having buildings abutting the lush interesting gardens to enclose them. Roads between gardens and buildings is what really screws up your relating.
Of course buildings matter. But "defining a space" is much less important than the design of the gardens themselves. What really matters is the topography, the features of interest such as stone and water, the lush planting, and the way the surrounding buildings are brought into the garden. Consider your back garden at home - there will be a planted border between patio and house, not some urban conjunction of brick and concrete. In this respect the most important factor for a succesful PIccadilly Gardens is the surrounding roads. I'd like to see the buses removed from in front of the Plaza, the tramline put in part into bridged cuts or tunnel mounds, palm trees, cafes, cobbles. Let's see how the space is then defined before giving up and concreting over the whole damn lot.
I've got a meeting now. But I would like to talk about something easier and cheaper, for experimentation, such as this from earlier in the thread:

Couldn't agree more Andrew. Far too bleak and concrete. And that berlin wall. Awful. Whoever thought that up should be stood in front of it and... No, put his poster up on the berlin wall so everybody knows his name and face.
Nice picture SleepyOne. I agree with what you're saying about "Better definition and enclosure of this space will enhance its sense of place..."

But what's the difference between the above and Piccadilly Gardens? Is it irredeemable buildings? Or is it contour and grass and screening trees versus a flat excess of concrete?

Let me rephrase the point I've been making in case you missed it:

The council don't own the buildings and they don't have the money to do anything about them. So they can't get them right. Whilst they might encourage change, this would take time, so in the meantime should they plant screening trees? Like on your Hulme Park picture? Should they try to do what they can with the landscaping? Should they try to get it right? Or should they do nothing to the flat bleak concrete wasteland they created out of Piccadilly Gardens because surrounding buildings don't "properly define the space" ?
That sounds good Griff. It doesn't sound prohibitively expensive to me. OK I don't know all the details and maybe they couldn't do everything, but they could do something.
Sounds good. Thank you for that response SleepyOne.
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