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Open Space in Central Manchester

7136 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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This morning i found another potential square which should be made into a green oasis,,,its the paved area facing Manchester House, all thats there now is 2 concrete benches,what a bloody waste,,,it would'nt cost the council that much to make this into a small garden area, and the trees would take the harshness off the surrounding buildings,,,,,**** it ,im getting on the phone to Charlie Dimmock,and GroundForce :)
Gavin - good point well made and illustrated. What you are essentially proposing is some form of 'shared surface' (see www.shared-space.org if you're as sad as me and are really into alternative forms of traffic management). You'll be pleased you know that Ancoats Urban Village is to become the UK's first area which introduces shared surface. It will use high quality materials (granite, yorkstone) and do away with all the usual street clutter. There will be no priority at junctions the pavements will be only slightly higher than the road and on the narrower streets the pavement will effectively be down the middle. All roads will be made narrow to slow traffic right down while at the same time all the confusing one-ways will be made two-ways. If you wander down Ancoats you will see the work on-site. A lot of time effort and persuasion went into to getting the City Council traffic engineers to agree to this (although they are still trying to water down aspects of it). It will be completed by 2008 and is another first for Manchester. It is pleasing see people on this forum effectively supporting thgis kind of approach to our streets.
I discovered a wonderful little park, I never knew existed, on saturday I was avin a mooch at Beetham and a gander round castlefield. I a spotted a little square place with a statue/plague. says that there was once a church here and 10,000 bodies lay around these parts.

its down one of the streets between that Auzie pub and castlefield. some nice Georgian Houses around there too.
and some quite nice probably 80s development, lined with lovely trees in blosom.
me bird loved it.

I was feeling great, ..........then found a parking ticket on me feckin car...bastards.
You mean this?? :) If so I totally agree.

highriser said:
This morning i found another potential square which should be made into a green oasis,,,its the paved area facing Manchester House, all thats there now is 2 concrete benches,what a bloody waste,,,it would'nt cost the council that much to make this into a small garden area, and the trees would take the harshness off the surrounding buildings,,,,,**** it ,im getting on the phone to Charlie Dimmock,and GroundForce :)
That space could be used better, I agree.
Highriser, you need some counting lessons mate, I can spot at leat 12 of the buggers!
Thats the one Accy,,,you know what i mean?
It would make area miles better , landscaped , with more trees,,,
And frozen you cheeky runt, i meant to put 12 (oops missed the 1 out) :)
but i'll do the lessons anyway 1 2 3 4 er 5 6 7 :)
yeah something green and pleasent would be nice there
chasedwar - the little park you discovered is St Johns Gardens and I work in one of those Georgian Town Houses - they are HUGE inside.
This sqaure isnt too bad. Its not that it needs grass IMO, more that it needs to be linked in better with the surrounding pavements. ITs basically a traffic island on three sides.
What annoys me most about this area is not the sqaure being 'isolated' as such but the link between the excellent Caltrava bridge and the manchester side.
On the Salford side its wide and opens out to form a nice public area. On the Manchester side its a nice wide path and then it almost apologetically narrows and shifts to the left to make way for a couple of parking spaces.
Compulsary purchase comes to mind.
This is what i've been saying for a while. The Council needs a strong commitment to qaulity public space with the cash to back it up.

yeah walk past this Monster on a rainy day and boy.... it really get's you down :( ...

The slab's when wet turn a distastefull, 60's manchester shade.... :(
went into town for the 1st time in ages today, and couldnt help feeling it is very claustrophobic, and that there is a total lack of open space in the centre. I know that if i had bought a swish city centre apartment that i would want there to be a park or some sort of reasonable opne space within a short walk of my residence. I think manc needs a city park (i'm not talking huge here, just the size of 1 or 2 football pitches). it doesnt even need to be slap bang in the centre, it could be on the city centre edge.
The wonderful bridge to a half arsed footpath is a wonderful point Gavin.
This Motor St square, Lincoln Sq, Stevenson Sq, St Peters Sq - all 4 of them get 4/10 could do a lot better.
i suppose we sort of have hulme park
dannyb said:
I think manc needs a city park (i'm not talking huge here, just the size of 1 or 2 football pitches). it doesnt even need to be slap bang in the centre, it could be on the city centre edge.
I suppose that's no more a city centre park than Platt Fields is though to be fair.

Middlewood locks would've been perfect for such a scheme. Ah well, cest la vie and all that shit.
You could have the best designed space in the world here but it still wouldn't be totally successful or particular popular if the surrounding buildings are of poor quality.

Just look at it. The definition of the space is not reinforced by the surrounding buildings and what buildings do overlook the space are, in the main, of poor quality - in particular Bruntwood's Alberton House and Manchester House. You also have Albert Bridge House aligned at a pecular side-on angle to the space. All this, combined with the poor landscaping treatment and the poor linkages with Calatrava's bridge make for a very poor urban space..... an urban space which shares many of the same flaws with Piccadilly Gardens.

In exactly the same way that buildings are enhanced by their landscaping; open spaces are enhanced by the quality of the built environment that form the backdrop. This is why this particular space and Piccadilly Gardens will NEVER be successful unless there is some radical remodelling of certain buildings in the area - and of course much better landscaping.
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.



This will please SleepyOne,,i've found this newly landscaped area just after the carpark infront of the CIS, just before you get to the Green Quarter,,its called Angel Meadow :)
Cheers for the pic highriser. Yes its a nicely landscaped piece of open land but again, as were talking about a space in a very urban setting it is imperative that the built environment that frames it is of high quality - complementing and enhancing the space.

Unfortunately this space is bordered on one side by one of the most cheapest and ugliest looking apartment blocks I've ever seen. I believe its called Angel Meadows. Truly a symphony of ugliness and the thing unfortunatley only serves to compromise the experience of what is otherwise a nice and very welcome urban park.
Right, time to bring this thread back to life. Since Manchester is probably undergoing an unprecedented amount of development it is vitally important that the spaces and streets we act out our every day lives are positive, attractive and uplifting places to be.


In that respect I thought id like to draw attention to an example from across the Pennines in Sheffield which to my eyes is the perfect example of how to create a major new public space. Its the perfect marriage of excellent landscaping and well considered new buildings that manage to enclose and define the space properly. Compare and contrast with Piccadilly Gardens.


I dont know who designed the Sheffield gardens but I do know that the office buildings in the background were designed by the same firm of architects who failed so badly with an equivalent building in Manchester - 1 Piccadilly Gardens. Cladding aside, the Sheffield buildings are vastly superior in respect to their relationship with the space they help define. It actually looks like architect and landscape architect worked together rather than on different planets here in Manchester






















  • Look at the solid and substantial appearance of the stonework within the gardens.
  • Look at the clever use of water throughout the gardens.
  • Look at how the areas of grass are used by people to sit on rather than to walk over and churned up.
  • Look at the well defined pedestrian routes.
  • Look at the central water feature and how it acts as a focal point rather than some kind of after thought.
  • Look at the lush planting
  • Look at surrounding buildings and how they help define and enhance the space and contrast with Piccadilly Gardens where they only serve to confuse - relating poorly to both the space they border and to each other.






It has to be said though that a new space that is every bit as good as Sheffields Peace Gardens is our very own Cathedral Gardens as it succeeds in the very ways that I've listed above. This state of affairs begs 2 questions....

1. How did we therefore manage to **** Piccadilly Gardens - own most important, well known and most visted space so badly
2. How can it be improved?

The answer to 1 is can only be answered by the council officials.
I have a few suggestions for 2:

  • If it is possible - fill in and pedestrianise the section of roadway that leads off Portland St to serve Oldham St and Lever St (pedestrianising the section of the roads up to Dale St).
  • Following said pedestrianisation, extend the gardens closer to the building line
  • Raise the lawns and emulate the substantial style of stonework and soft planting as per Peace Gardens
  • Create more intelligent pedestrian routeways through the gardens
  • Bring forward the development of better considered new buildings (or improvments to existing buildings) in the gardens to better define the space, giving it a better sense of enclosure and a better sense of place. In other words improve the urban design.
  • Restrict ground floor use to pavement cafes and food or lesiure outlets only to give the gardens a better defined purpose and profile.
  • Provide more articulation of the landscape i.e. different levels and gradients
  • 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.
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