On the day of the launch of a private-sector led design competition to re-shape the public realm space of central Aberdeen via a scheme which has as part of its parameters the destruction of Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens, we're delighted to be able to offer this alternative conceptual report into a vision which would retain Aberdonian's beloved city centre garden, and make the best possible use of the existing assets on the other side of the Denburn Valley - "Belmont Street Gardens", if you will...
|Belmont Street Gardens|
A couple of weeks ago, we laid out the beginnings of our vision for an alternative to the existing monolithic all-or-nothing take-it-or-leave it proposal for the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens and the east slope of the Denburn Valley opposite. That monolithic proposal was once know as the "City Square Project". Following public outcry at the very idea of destroying Union Terrace Gardens, the promotors of that project now wish it to be known as the "City Gardens Project". You can see what the PR gods have done there. The project is being promoted on behalf of local tycoon oil-man billionaire Sir Ian Wood by local development quango 'ACSEF' (Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future).
|Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.|
Union Terrace Gardens is NOT the problem.
|Denburn Dual Carriageway|
Plus somewhere to put the bins.
|Existing covered section - alienating.|
We are concerned that ACSEF's top-down agenda to impose one single expensive solution to what they perceive to be Aberdeen's town centre problems runs the risk of putting all our civic eggs in one heavily-indebted basket. We prefer a more iterative, yet paradoxically much bolder approach, and have so proposed that that the underused Denburn Dual Carriageway (which so blights the valley) be abandoned, ploughed up and turned into a single carriageway 'woonerf' with streetscape initiative build-outs, planting, street furniture, kiosks; all the usual stuff you might see in the centre of any similar-sized town elsewhere in continental Europe.
|Human scale - places of refuge and community|
St. Nicolas Street - outside M&S
So, with our woonerf proposal in mind we re-examined the material on the City Gardens Project website. Once or twice in the past we've raised specific concerns about some of the aspects implicit or explicit in the material on the site, but over the last few days, we had the chance to examine in detail the presentation material on their website, specifically the input of Charles Landry (author of The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators). You can download this material here:
- Designing Places (pdf) Interesting to note that the foreword is by Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald)
- Designing Streets (pdf)
- Civilising the Streets (pdf direct download)
URBAN DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS - A SOLIPSISTIC SOLUTION ONLY TO THEMSELVES
|Where is everybody? No pavements, no cyclelanes.|
Em. No cars, either.
MOTORCENTRIC "OLD THINKING"
Charles Landry said that "old thinking" is exemplified by attitudes and policies where the "car is king" whereas "new thinking" is partially characterised by urban planning policies where "the car is the guest". This, of course, is an explicit re-statement of the philosophy behind the Woonerf concept which we propose. In his presentation, Landry says that this "new thinking" based on "shared space" where the person - the pedestrian - re-captures the city from the car, helps create the acme of a city which can compete on 21st century global terms - a "humane city" with "distinctiveness" where people have a sense of ownership, where delight and enjoyment, participation and familiarity are encountered within human scale, liveable environments; "great places". It strikes us that what Landry said in his presentation stands in stark contrast to the irreversible monolithic single building (for that is what it would be) which the City Garden Project proposes.
|Belmont Street - the car is a "guest". Can you see it?|
THE HAPPINESS AGENDA
Please excuse us while we quote the current Prime Minister, David Cameron:
Too often in politics today, we behave as if the only thing that matters is the insider stuff that we politicians love to argue about - economic growth, budget deficits and GDP.
GDP. Gross domestic product. Yes it's vital. It measures the wealth of our society. But it hardly tells the whole story. Wealth is about so much more than pounds, or euros or dollars can ever measure. It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB - general well-being. Well-being can't be measured by money or traded in markets. It can't be required by law or delivered by government. It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture, and above all the strength of our relationships.
Improving our society's sense of well-being is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.
|An existing garden off Denburn Road|
|An existing garden off Denburn Road|
From "Designing Places":
The most successful places, the ones that flourish socially and economically, tend to have certain qualities in common. First, they have a distinct identity. Second, their spaces are safe and pleasant. Third, they are easy to move around, especially on foot. Fourth, visitors feel a sense of welcome. Places that have been successful for a long time, or that are likely to continue to be successful, may well have another quality, which may not be immediately apparent – they adapt easily to changing circumstances. Finally, places that are successful in the long term, and which contribute to the wider quality of life, will prove to make good use of scarce resources. They are sustainable.
Sustainability – the measure of the likely impact of development on the social, economic and environmental conditions of people in the future and in other places – must run as a common thread through all our thinking about design. Thinking about sustainability focuses in particular on promoting greener lifestyles, energy efficiency, mixed uses, biodiversity, transport and water quality.
|A cantilevered cafe over Denburn Road,|
looking across to Union Terrace Gardens.
We will integrate this.
From "Designing Streets":
The process of street design offers an opportunity to deliver far more to our society than simply transport corridors. Well-designed streets can be a vital resource in social, economic and cultural terms; they can be the main component of our public realm and a core element of local and national identity. Well-designed streets can also be crucial components in Scotland’s drive towards sustainable development and responding to climate change. Attractive and well-connected street networks encourage more people to walk and cycle to local destinations, improving their health while reducing motor traffic, energy use and pollution.
|Discovery, delight, access|
|Bustle in heritage.|
|Serenity and refuge|
|The east-end of The Green as it is today. It just stops.|
Dual Carriageway, then loading bay. Then Railway Station.
But no access. We will fix that.
|Nooks and corners add interest and intrigue.|
|In the grounds of the Grammar School|
Indeed, once our scheme is up and running, seamlessly connecting the Green with the Railway Station; with Union Square and St Nicholas Street; with St Nicholas Churchyard and Belmont Street with Union Terrace Gardens - all at pedestrian scale with charm and delight around every corner - who would ever want to take their car all the way into the town centre ever again?
|Just needs a bit of care.|
|ALREADY part of this beautiful vista seen from Union Terrace Gardens.|
As part of our researches, we found that there's another woonerf already in existence in the Denburn Valley which could serve as a precident for our proposals. It's at Rubislaw Den South, very near the home of Sir Ian Wood, oil-man tycoon and backer of the City Gardens Project. It's lovely.
|Existing Denburn Valley woonerf.|