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Keep the grass off

Jonathan Schofield and why the new lawns at Piccadilly's so called Gardens don't make sense

Written by . Published on April 16th 2007.

Keep the grass off

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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35 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Rob AdlardApril 16th 2007.

I have been writing on my own blog for many months about Piccadilly Gardens with comparisions of public spaces in other cities.The simply truth is that it shows the lack of ambition for our city, and awareness of great city spaces by our pedestrian city council. They seem intent on making our city look provincial instead of world class.Great squares around the world are not lawns! In keeping the the thoughtful planning, all the litter bins are currently the wrong side of the fencing so that nobody can put anything in the bins there. Many of the comments here are interesting and I agree with - the function of all our public spaces could be better - why is it so hard for people to see that our spaces look different and function less well than many European city squares that we've all surely seen and know well.

RichardApril 16th 2007.

The Gardens were re-developed not so long ago at huge expense - who on earth approved construction of a replica Berlin Wall along one side. Ugly cement structures, pointless fountains and lots of tramps - one of the worst things about Manchester!

CarolineApril 16th 2007.

I've travelled to lots of European Cities and Manchester is the only one where you see and hear screaming kids running through the water fountain and an abundance of towels, toys, drink cans, food etc strewn everywhere - this just does not happen! I say keep the grass - you can get really good artifical grass, expensive Yes, but if you compare the cost of replacing it year after year and let parents take their kids to local pools (they need the custom to keep them open)!

KeithApril 16th 2007.

James, I'll try to get it translated for publication on Liverpool Confidential

AnonymousApril 16th 2007.

Unlike most of you, I remember Piccadilly when it WAS the largest public square in Manchester, with beautiful sunken gardens, grand statues, places to eat your lunch and frequent events. If we want to return to this and the original public square dimensions - No 1 Piccadilly would first have to be demolished (a building which did not feature in the original revamp proposals )

CharlieApril 16th 2007.

I definitley agree that they should do away with the grass. Last year there were that many people playing football on it that you couldn't enjoy it anyway. It just got spoilt and looks scruffy because of it. I think a compleltey paved area would look great, with a good amount of benches it could look so much better.

JakemonsterApril 16th 2007.

I spend most of my time in the desert where I work - green your damn right you should keep it, get rid of it at your peril. In fact, get rid of the cars, rip up the streets and grass the lot, add a few trees and Manc will be a much nicer place to come home to.

Mama LynneApril 16th 2007.

I say keep the grass. On a summer day, when the fountain is working (I mean, splashing) it is great to see all the kids (most under 40!) enjoying the tiny bit of green in the middle of this concrete city. Why not use some of the money raised from parking charges to ensure the place is kept clean and tidy?

BenApril 16th 2007.

I couldn't disagree more. Manchester doesn't have enough green spaces and we cannot lose one of the few available, accessible grass areas we have.

KellyApril 16th 2007.

Keith, if you hate northerners so much why don't you bugger off back down south and leave the city to the 'locals' who enjoy living here? Keep the gardens! As a 'local' living in a small city centre flat (far removed from your lush suburban villa in oh, say, Altrincham), the gardens is the only place I get to see any greenery. Manchester needs more green spaces and fewer southerners trying to change the city.

MorrisApril 16th 2007.

It took most of the last century for cafe society to reach London, but now it has, it has improved London enourmously. Coffee, cakes, ice-cream, hot food, locally owned cafes and no pubs and soon Manchester can join in too

BenjiApril 16th 2007.

It doesnt matter where you go, you get the smell of tramp and half naked scallies...

JamesApril 16th 2007.

Hey Keith, tell that to Liverpool ;)

AnonymousApril 16th 2007.

They should just build on it, its a pointless bit of land. the gardens have always been the grottiest part of the city centre, and I dont like to sit in a square enjoying a coffee or a beer when my view is Primark. Hardly continental.

Jason GatesApril 16th 2007.

I like it green. Keep the grass!! Keep it down by Urbis as well - it's a great place to sit and watch the world go by on rare sunny days in Manchester!

KeithApril 16th 2007.

I agree that the grass in most public squares / gardens in England let alone Manchester ends up looking tatty but if the grass is taken away what will it be replaced by, chewing gum dotted, cracked paving stones interlaced with tarmac? The best way to turn any Manchester square in to Piazza del Campo is to leave the grass and take away the locals. When will people realise that you cannot create a culture by re designing a public place. The culture is the mindset of the people living there and English culture is not to wonder around squares stopping off for a coffee or an ice cream while people watching

CazApril 16th 2007.

We should definately keep the grass. there are too many paved areas in manchester and not enough natural land left. Why do you all have such an aversion to the colour GREEN and instead worship miserable GREY paving?

BarryApril 16th 2007.

The square looks better than it ever did but must we have the urchins washing in the fountains?

AndyApril 16th 2007.

We have a proper grand square - Albert Square. A great setting totally underused. Gardens all the way for me I am afraid. Formal squares only work when surrounded by important buildings where people come together during civic occasions - ala Traf Sq. Leicester Square has small gardens in the middle and that works great. If the lawns can genuinely be designed to withstand the footfall, on which the jury is out, then they should stay

Posh..April 16th 2007.

The Piccadilly area of Manchester is such a let down to the rest of the City.. yes we all love the idea of sitting on the grass in the summer eating our lunches but do any of you really want to share your lunch with the smell of tramp hanging in the air and watching scally kids with no tops on run screaming through the fountain! It's certainly not my idea of a relaxing lunch!

AnonymousApril 16th 2007.

I like the grass. Keep it, but myabe put up signes stating that sunbathing is forbidden. This is the case in France for Example, and grass is always green and clean in such like squares. The question is really: do the people of Manchester want to keep it green or trample all over it ;-)

Super KentApril 16th 2007.

Grass and Feet... don't go together! Go the Trafalgar Square route, add some tubs of shrubs, bring back a few trees, and ban the sale of gum in the city centre! And fine the dimp-droppers, those selfish stink-weeders who think that any street is there as their own personal ashtray!

JamesApril 16th 2007.

Totally agree, a proper square would be great and hopefully cure the area of its scallyus sunbathyus problem in the summer months. We'd need an decent monument in the middle of it mind, and no - not a statue of Gordo.

TimN4April 16th 2007.

Never mind Portuguese blokes, how about getting Mark Kennedy to cover it with mosaics instead?? Give the council a chance to get it right and have this discussion next autumn.

StephanieApril 16th 2007.

Being a Landscape Architect my professional point of view is the grass does not work and never really will. The space is overused - which is a good thing - shows that it is an accepted and popular space. Replace the grass with a decent material like timber decking. Check out Schouwburgplein/Rotterdam. It might look a bit stark at first - but I have been there a few times and it was always busy and a great stage for urban living. Still Manchester needs a decent sized inner city park!

Dean YoungApril 16th 2007.

Finally this issue has been mentioned by the local media. I am a Landscape Architect and in the 1st year of university, practically on day 1 you are told that grass at the same level as adjacent footpaths in heavy pedestrain trafic areas is wrong. All you get is worn out grass and mud, and this is exactly what we will get as soon as the fences are taken down. What a great image to convey of Manchester, especially considering we spent £12m on it originally.

SimonApril 16th 2007.

The whole area should be paved with cafe/bars with outside seating. People are wrong to say it's not the british way more and more of us prefer to sit with a coffee or cold beer and watch the world go by even more so with the sun beating down. Its time we followed the continental lead.

pgApril 16th 2007.

Well, thats yr opinion and we're all entitled to have one - however, I disagree with yours. Why should we have to "fit" in with all the other squares world wide, and why shouldnt we have a green space? Yes, the area may well get a battering over the summer, but thats not an excuse never to have green space! And get real: the amount of damage done to the gardens in past years has been confined to the edges, usually by those too lazy to use the paths. If that's the price to pay for Picc Gardens, then it's one I'm happy with. Long Live the Gardens!

EloiseApril 16th 2007.

What? You all want more concrete? No thanks, the grass is essential and I dont care what amount of work that takes quite frankly. Manchester has very little green as it is. The gardens were packed last year and I didnt see any bad behaviour on my many lunches outside, probably due to the police on horseback being there. I was there nearly everyday.

PaulApril 16th 2007.

I totally agree with the article - that area is a complete embarrassment to the city. it is one of the first things people see when they come off the train and into the centre. i thought the ice rink made it look cheap and disgusting too over Christmas. Never mind piazza del campo - take a leaf out of costa del sheffield's book!

SharonApril 16th 2007.

When Primark was Lewis's, I worked there and it was a pleasure to sit and eat your lunch, looking at the gardens. It is a rarity in the centre of Manchester. Why do we want to be a clone of London? We have other concrete seating areas elsewhere for the people who prefer that. And the spot near Urbis is great, especially for the teenagers and students, its somewhere to just be and daydream and meet up with friends. Why does everyone want to make everywhere the same. Manchester has character and diversity that makes it stand out from the hoards of sameness. It needs to retain that.

AnonymousApril 16th 2007.

What I want to know if why the Council had to mess with Piccadilly Gardens in the first place. My parents, who are both 70, remember, as I do, how beautiful the gardens used to be, the grassed areas were not destroyed, the flower displays, fountain and bandstand also didnt fall into disrepair. Why try to mend something that isnt broken? Use our money for desperately needy and essential projects, one of which is the shambles of public transport Manchester has

POGGIEApril 16th 2007.

What will we call Piccadilly Gardens if there is no grass??Perhaps we could bring over some Portuguese geezers to create a fantastic public square using "calcadas", the little stone mosaics, like they have in Lisbon & Porto.

ChrisApril 16th 2007.

Get rid of the bus station and expand the park!

A CollinsApril 16th 2007.

Keep the grass. Why would you want to have more bland, monotonous, grey space? Pointless article.

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