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Open Space in Central Manchester

7134 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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I look forward to Hardman Square either way, I think the public area will have to be of high quality considering Foster's designing the surrounding buildings. Spinningfields Square looks nice too (where the MEN currently are and the triangle hotel was/is meant to be). Coupled with the double height shopfronts, everywhere should look really nice and open.

We need some proper greenery somewhere near the Town Hall though. The current bit at St Peter's Square doesn't work that well. Hopefully a redevelopment of the whole square will happen some day. I'm sure the cenotaph and tramlines can be incorporated quite nicely into a plan. The buses can **** off and find a different way to Piccadilly, maybe up Portland Street. Then that could possibly lead to a pedestrianisation of Mosley Street. I don't know about anybody else but I feel the road destroys the street and ruins a possible nice entrance to Piccadilly Gardens.

Meh, I'm drunk.
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.
the cenotaph is looking greener right now, not a radical step but they've planted a couple of shrubs or something.
I fundamentally disagree. Im not really talking about cladding when I talk about the surrounding buildings, Im talking about form, massing and proportion and how well they enclose and help define the space. A space is defined by the structures that surround it. You can have the best designed garden in the world but if the buildings that form the backdrop to the space are inappropriate the space simply will not be as successful. Replace those office blocks in the background of those pics with Piccadilly Plaza and immediately the Peace Gardens would be a much, much less successful space.
Anyhow: get the garden right and whether the surrounding building "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.
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.
I realise this might have been a (deliberately) provocative comment for you Farsight.

I must also add that if you replace those nicely proportioned office blocks in the Sheffield pics with that messy jumble of narrow buildings directly opposite Piccadilly Plaza - all different heights and widths and all too lowrise for the sheer size of Piccadilly Gardens - you would similarly compromise the Peace Gardens.
Replace those office blocks in the background of those pics with Piccadilly Plaza and immediately the Peace Gardens would be a much, much less successful space
I disagree. Sat in the gardens your peripheral vision and what you know to be there through experience would comprise what buildings surround and define the space. As you say...
I beg to differ. IMHO the buildings aren't what you see. What you see is the gardens.
It's a jungle thing, buried deep in our reptile hindbrain
We like to feel safe in public spaces. People need clearly defined spaces and routeways. Its about proportion, legibility and context. Its psychology. Its urban design.




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.
Agreed. But you cannot properly enclose and define a space with, say a 30 storey needle like tower, a big gap then a big slab of a building suspended 20 metres above the ground (something akin to, say, Picc Plaza). Neither can you enclose and define a large space by building a row of 3 storey cottages. Its about proportion and whats appropriate for the space. Buildings matter and are as important when designing successful spaces, as the design of the space itself.
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:

But don't you see? The space that you create - green or otherwise - is literally defined by the gap between the buildings. The space and the built environment are mutually dependent and, in my opinion, equally as important.

Think of your favourite public square or public garden. What characteristics mark it out from any other space? The chances are that what is generally accepted to be the most popular and successful public space will be a perfect marriage of landscaping and building.

The picture you're posted above is a case in point. You could have the best landscaping treatment in the world but unless it is surrounded by well proportioned, attractive buildings that lend the space that all important sense of place and definition it will simply not be as successful as it could be.

Yes, I agree the landscaping and design of the space is important but equally as important are the buildings that surround it because as I say the two things are mutually dependent.
Of course buildings matter. But "defining a space" is much less important than the design of the gardens themselves.
Picadilly gardens seem to be blatantly designed to look good from above with little thought about what the square is like at ground level:




Yeah, looks great from the top of Sunley but I don't think the space works at ground level. Seems like it doesn't have the correct proportions or the vitality to be an urban square but with that much concrete it cannot be a park either:
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.
I'll second that, it looks hideous Andrew, I don't know one person in Manchester that actually likes it...a missed opportunity :bash:
I like how this excellent image shows exactly how Beetham (even though it is a good distance from Hulme) still manages to enhance the space by providing a better sense of 'enclosure' to it. As the Southern Gateway is developed, Beetham will be largely obscured from view but the effect will be the same. Better definition and enclosure of this space will enhance its sense of place, enhance its feeling of security and enhance its profile as a significant and attractive urban green space.

Can you imagine NY's central park without the skyscraper backdrop? It would feel like a completely different place. On a smaller scale, this is the effect Beetham and eventually the Southern Gateway / Central Spine developments will have on Hulme Park.

Sleepy One

A class photo and a point well made
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?



Read my posts above and the point I have made to you many times over now. Its a combination of the two - landscaping and the built environment combine to determine the success of an open space.

Get them both right and you have an uplifting place to be; Get them both wrong and you get Piccadilly Gardens.
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" ?
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