Park life - the spaces in between



By James Heather, Development Director, U+I

I’ve been reflecting on all things park related and the importance of open space since the Panel hosted by U+I and The Mayfield Partnership at international property conference MIPIM, Cannes.

One of our panellists, Maria Vassilakou, vice mayor and deputy governor of Vienna and a leading member of the Green Party in Austria, shared her simple guiding principle: if you create a city where children can play and where parents want their children to play, then you will create a successful city.

In practice, this means implementing policies that place people before vehicles and ensuring the right level of investment is made in the spaces in between our buildings: the parks, the pavements, the public squares.

Also on the panel, which was chaired by Place North West editor Jessica Middleton-Pugh, were Stephen O’Malley of Civic Engineers and David Rudlin, of URBED and the Academy of Urbanism. Manchester City Council Chief Executive Joanne Roney opened and closed the event.

Maria told the audience that designing urban centres with vehicles rather than pedestrians in mind displaces people and drives them to live elsewhere, hollowing out our cities so they simply become places to work and to conduct business, rather than places to live.

Expressing the view that if we can reclaim the street spaces taken by cars – principally cars which aren’t actually going anywhere for 90% of the time – we can create safe, adaptable spaces for people. And it’s in these spaces that communities can grow and flourish, as people connect, talk, fall in love.

The challenge for the UK and cities such as Manchester then is to give the same attention to the design and care of our public spaces as we do our buildings. The challenge is also to work out how to wean communities off the addiction of car use to liberate more of our streets for people.

But it’s not just about clean air and clean streets. And it’s not just about wellbeing, in Maria’s eyes. She believes the best performing cities in not just economic and business terms but also desirability will be those that offer a high quality environment where people can live, work and play. These cities attract and keep the brightest and best and create opportunities for all.

There are challenges, also, about how we manage our open spaces, with David Rudlin and Stephen O’Malley both pointing to the importance of communities as guardians of open space. And, of course, there are challenges in relation to how we fund maintenance and how we manage and curate private areas of public realm for a totally public audience.

There was an acceptance by the panel that the private and public sectors must work in partnership to ensure that quality is maintained and sustained not just on day one but for the future. After all, our public spaces are often the defining elements of our cities. We can look to history to see that public streets, squares and parks often follow centuries’ old patterns – reinforcing the need for us to focus as much as or more effort on the that surround our buildings

At Mayfield, Manchester, where U+I is leading a transformational £1.1bn regeneration project, the quality of public space – how it is designed and then cared for – will be a primary focus.

Our vision is to create an inclusive mixed-use community over the next 10 years which will include homes, offices and leisure and retail assets. At this community’s heart will be a new 6.5 acre park, with the River Medlock running through it. In total. over 13 acres of new public realm will be delivered.

The majority of the 24-acre site, which includes the landmark Mayfield station building on Fairfield Street and depot next to Piccadilly Station, has been unused for 30 years.

As we begin to breathe new life into the area, we will remember Maria Vassilakou’s guiding philosophy: create the spaces where children can play and you will create a successful community.

For The Mayfield Partnership and U+I this is about more than enlightened self-interest (the Park will lend tangible value to the offices and homes we want to build there). It is about ensuring that Mayfield can be an asset for everyone in the city, a place which is cared for but is genuinely inclusive and a place where our new and emerging community will be empowered to become guardians of the public spaces we will create.