Gardens, park or wasteland? How to design public spaces the public respects

David Rudlin_index

Manchester has a once-in-a-generation chance to create a new city centre park, says David Rudlin

Put three or more people in a room to talk about public space in Manchester and it won’t be long before Piccadilly Gardens comes up. The same is true of a pavilion on a beach in Cannes, even if the conversation is slightly more surreal. This was my first Mipim for more than a decade and I was invited to take part in a panel discussion in the Manchester pavilion to discuss what creates a good park. The focus was U&I’s Mayfield development next to Piccadilly Station which will include Manchester’s first new city centre park for more than a century. The question for the panel, which included James Heather from U&I, Stephen O’Malley of Civic Engineers and Maria Vassilakou, deputy mayor of Vienna, was what makes a good park and how should this influence the design of the new space?

Piccadilly Gardens is one of Manchester’s main public spaces. All Mancunian life can be found here: office workers and shoppers, buskers and chuggers, gangs of kids, rough sleepers and people who have taken spice. As the journalist Jessica Middleton-Pugh who chaired the debate pointed out, none of this is the problem. This is Manchester in all its grit and glory. The problem is the failure of the space to contain this urban life. The fact that the grass is worn away in summer and churned to a quagmire in winter, that the pavements squirt water up your leg on the rare occasions when it rains, the grim brutalism of Tadao Ando’s pavilion, the erratic functioning of the fountain, the sheer wear and tear of a space unable to cope with the level of footfall that it attracts. What can we learn from this in planning a new park in the city?

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