Friday, 15 June 2018

Imagining the city as a garden (without cars)

Most of us will have paid a visit to one of England's stately homes and wandered round the gardens. Many of these gardens are designed as a set of distinct spaces - 'rooms' - each with a different sort of planting. This allows for (given enough space) everything from formal box hedge gardens though ponds and cottage gardens to the walled kitchen garden or the long vista of a herbaceous border. As you move round these gardens you'll see that each 'room' is designed to give the visitor a tantalising glimpse of the 'room' beyond.

We need to begin thinking of our urban spaces in the same way. Not just to see these spaces as places of leisure and pleasure rather than work and commerce but to play the game of tempting the visitor from space to space using the same design ideas as the gardeners who laid out the attractions of our stately homes. Urban designers have already grasped the importance of water - fountains, pools, river banks - but the idea that city spaces should be intimate but linked is too often drowned in what are seen as essential, pragmatic things like bus access, traffic controls and the panoply of instructions beloved of the urban manager.

Part (but not all) of the problem is the car. We live in a world where people want to drop their child off right next to his school desk, where the prospect of walking 400 yards says "we won't park there", and where swooshing dual carriageways bang in the centre of town are seen as essential features of the civilised city. Now I understand the psychology of all this - we're lazy animals - but I don't see why we should make so much else less pleasant just to indulge this laziness. Especially when that laziness, combined with the mobile phone, is killing the traditional role of the town centre.

Kracow, probably more by luck than judgement, has most of the old city pedestrianised and surrounded by a circular park marking the route of the old walls. Visit Lucca (with walls designed by Leonardo da Vinci that form a strolling park around the city) and, although there's some cars, the bulk of the city is pedestrianised and blessedly free from the need to give over huge spaces to buses. Why do so many cities - like Bradford - persist in the myth that you can't get traffic out from the centre because then people won't visit. If you move the bus stops to the purpose built bus station, all of a sudden folk will stop coming because they've to walk that extra 400 yards?

If you get rid of the roads in a place like Bradford, you create the chance to start thinking of our city as a garden, as a set of rooms each offering a different experience - some formal, some laid back, some for kids, some for the old or cool, all for everyone. Right now - just as with so many other places - the visitor is put off by huge roads filled with buses, taxis, delivery vans and cars all that have to be negotiated. Let's stop all this and make our city and town centres places where people can dwell a little, stroll, meander, smile and relax; a urban version of the gardens at those stately homes.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I fear you may have sampled a little too much of those herbal substances, widely grown and available across your city, as it's clearly made you hard-of-thinking.
Pray tell us, what colour is the sky on your planet?