When the protective fences are taken away from the replacement lawns at Piccadilly Gardens it probably won't be long before they alternate between mud pits and dust bowls. We should get rid of them and allow Piccadilly to be what it should be, the main square of Manchester.
The City assures us the repeating pattern of new lawns and expensive replacements won't happen this time. They say, 'an environmentally-friendly irrigation system will keep the grass lush. Specialist contractors will maintain the gardens.' They've also 'introduced design features encouraging people not to take short cuts', while 'attractive raised edges have provided extra seating and widened paths'.
Very nice, but this is Confidential's prediction. If it's a hot summer the lawns won't last until winter. They'll be a mess and an embarrassment. Admittedly the 'green roof on top of the pavilion building which contains Caffe Nero' looks intriguing but nobody will be walking over that. To have a properly viable, user-friendly civic space for Manchester - a quality all major cities need - the lawns have to be ditched.
"Council officers and others repeat that people ask for more green space in the city centre," says Phil Griffin, Manchester's premier architectural commentator. "But they're asking the wrong question. Of course people will say yes to that. The question should be do you want Manchester to have the equivalent of Grand Place in Brussels, Trafalgar Square in London, Red Square in Moscow or Piazza del Campo in Siena? None of these have greenery. It would get in the way. We need to think of the way people actually use city squares not be so parochial."
And this is the key.
Manchester is confusing squares with parks and coming up with a compromise that pleases no-one. Given the nature and location of Piccadilly Gardens we should forget they ever were gardens (they've been rubbish as that for two decades) and redesign the space with hard paving throughout plus lots of really good seating.
The city has done very well in ticking all the right boxes over the last decade: Concert Hall, Convention Centre, Arena, Art Gallery and so forth. But we still haven't got a major civic space like every other major European city. Piccadilly is too small an area for an adequate green space, it can never be a city centre park, but it is big enough to be our Piazza del Campo. Let's go down that road rather than up the garden path.
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