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Will The Grass Be Greener?

One topic that often raises its head above the city centre paving slabs is the paucity of green space in Manchester. While we are gradually seeing more tree-lined streets, the focal social space of Piccadilly Gardens remains one of the love-to-hate haunts for the area’s residents and visitors.

A study last year showed Manchester City Council’s green space at 20.4%. This isn’t too dissimilar to its peers of Leeds and Sheffield, but the map’s dearth of city centre greenness is stark.

Although many cities lack green presence to the scale of Hyde Park, there are existing green spaces within reach. Indeed, distances to Heaton Park, Debdale Park, Platt Fields or Alexandra Park are shorter from the centre than some European city-regions’ best known parks.

As it expands, the city centre’s issue is the interaction between existing green areas and its new noisy neighbours. For a relatively low density city, the spaces in between are too often given over to regressive land uses such as car parks. This is without looking at the ownership of the city’s open spaces, particularly the ‘malls without walls’ approach adopted by Spinningfields, as coined by the author Anna Minton in reference to Canary Wharf, and continually relevant as a distinction between genuine public realm and privately patrolled space.

Although officially undergoing an ‘extensive’ rewrite, the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’s (GMSF) compass point ‘gateways’ are attempting to masterplan wide areas with the aim of bringing back into use the city’s peripheral existing parks that have been long forgotten, neglected or underused. One of these is the Northern Gateway, whose footprint is already subject to development action close to the city. The proposal stretches along the River Irk Valley’s natural “green thread” from New Cross and Red Bank areas close to Victoria rail station all the way through to Queens Park at Collyhurst Village and Smedley Dip to Eggington Street. The project is labelled “the city’s greatest residential renewal project,” and it aims to achieve this by reviving redundant land that has lain vacant since demolition and clearance in the last century.

Once you cut through its development double-speak and city marketing jargon, the same threats and risks arise as with other city-led schemes. According to a Manchester City Council planner at a recent speakers’ event, the council currently spends under £2,000 per year on maintenance of its parks. Without further funding allocation, the proposed green thread would either be easily frayed or reliant on private maintenance – most likely via the key development partner, Far East Consortium. It remains to be seen whether this will fall into the trap of Minton’s aforementioned ‘malls without walls’ conundrum of illusory public realm with private policing.

While the concept of parkland-focused residential regeneration fits well with successful housing projects in other European cities, such as the medium-rise apartments built on the perimeter of Berlin’s revived Gleisdreieck Park, the issues of Manchester’s Cardroom Estate clearance en route to redeveloping New Islington are still fresh enough in the memory to be learned from the disruption caused to existing communities. The promotional blurb for the low-density Collyhurst Village area insists that the “aim for the project is to blend high-quality housing development with the existing family-focused community,” and therein lies the art and craft of planning liveable areas.

The GMSF’s vision look 20 or more years into the future, so these won’t be quick remedies, but with some utopian vision, there is potential to resurrect Manchester’s forgotten gardens, providing there is an inclusive, bottom-up approach. With consultation events underway this month (see below), now is the time to familiarise with the masterplan and make your voice heard.

The consultation events are:

Wednesday 15 August from 11am to 3:30pm at Yes Community Centre, 35-39 Southchurch Parade, Collyhurst, M40 7GE;

Thursday 16 August from 2:30pm to 7pm at PLANT @ NOMA, Redfern Building, Dantzic Street, Manchester, M4 4AH;

Wednesday 22 August from 2:30pm to 7:30pm at Church of the Saviour, Eggington Street, Collyhurst, Manchester, M40 7RN;

Tuesday 4 September from 2:30pm to 7pm at Abbott Community Primary School, Livesey Street, Manchester, M40 7PR;

Wednesday 5 September from 11am to 4pm at The Federation, Federation House, 2 Federation Street, Manchester, M4 4BF;

Thursday 6 September from 11am to 4pm at Aldbourne Close Retirement Scheme, 20 Aldbourne Close, Collyhurst, M40 8NE.

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