Putting the 'Public' in Public Realm

How do you create a place which has meaning for a wide diversity of cultures, ages, and personalities?  Are gathering, socialising spaces more important now because we live even more isolated lives?  As house sizes diminish in width, height and breath does this mean we yearn for space and light?  Where space has become branded, gated, controlled and borrowed, - then where is our space rather than second hand space?   Our space in our city?  Something that is unique and special and belongs to us?

City Park brings such a space to Bradford.

As David Barrie has said  ‘A place is an experience, and not a brand’.  Recent reforms in the planning system provide ‘establishing a strong sense of place’ as a key objective (NPPF) – and the high profile Portas Review promotes the imagining of ‘new social spaces that give a sense of belonging and trust to a community’. Progressive urban planners suggest more diverse use of the built environment, including the decommissioning of Main Street as a retail centre and its re-commissioning as a social one – the return to the idea of an Agora.

Water has always been at the heart of Bradford’s heritage – even Bradford itself means broad ford.  The textile industry which made the city famous was also dependent on water.  
Back at the beginning of the Yorkshire Forward Renaissance Programme Will Alsop working with the Town Team at that time, created a future vision for Bradford which included flooding the area around the town hall creating what he termed a Mirror Pool.  Now around 10 years after that point, Bradford has its Mirror Pool.  It is a direct evolution from that original vision and is the largest (4000sq m) man made water feature of any UK city.  It contains more than 100 fountains including the tallest of any UK city at 30m.  It is highly adaptable and the depth can be altered or the water completely drained away to provide a 2.5 hectare events space.  It sits at the heart of the civic centre of Bradford.  The flexibility of the water feature allows a totally transformational and adaptable space.

The park provides a much needed focal point for the city allowing everyone to enjoy the scene, children to play, people to sit and watch the world go by, everyone to experience walking through the causeways – the modern day fords- and at night the laser light projections, and mist effects transform the area into a magical and dramatic scene.

City Park is a new destination for Bradford, which aims to attract economic regeneration in the same manner that the Peace Gardens has done so for Sheffield, by attracting businesses and visitors and therefore new jobs and prosperity.  The new business district quarter lies adjacent to City Park in the overall vision.

In the Yorkshire Post this week (Wednesday 25th April) there is an article about the ongoing ‘Meanwhile Projects’ in the City – which was based on ‘an opportunity to put arts and culture into the empty spaces of the City’. These empty spaces being stalled developments and buildings laying empty or defunct. One of these transformations involved the Westfield Site, and grant funding was secured leading to the launch of the garden in 2010. Since that time, the garden has enjoyed a continual series of events bringing visitors into the city.
Seymour says ‘We believe that the arts can be a catalyst for regeneration and social change’.  It may not be the long term aspirations for those particular spaces and places,  but, in the meantime, enlivens and activates what otherwise would be a dead and closed zone.

In Amsterdam there is a planning regulation that all offices must be within a short walk of a green or soft landscaped public space.  (Maximum distances are given). Studies have shown that this has a positive and beneficial effect on the quality of life of those living and working in the city, such that it has been proven that physical and mental health improves, happiness and overall well being.  If Amsterdam can manage this in such a dense urban area then it should be an aspiration for towns and cities across Britain.