Parks, Open Space and Urban Regeneration

HAZEL CONWAY looks at the varied rôles which parks and gardens can play in the regeneration of urban landscape.

Mile End Park
Mile End Park

The rôle of parks and gardens in the regeneration process can take many forms: parks can

The parks at the centre of this process can be new, or historic.

New parks and landscaped open spaces can lie at the heart of the regeneration process. In London one of the largest new parks to be created recently is the 22-acre Thames Barrier Park (2000) in LB Newham.

Docklands Development

This park was one of the key components of the London Docklands Development Framework. It was created after an international competition was held in 1995 for the design of a park intended to increase the development potential of the area. This was won by Alain Provost of Groupe Signes, Paris, and the architects Patel Taylor of London. The design focuses on the drama of the Thames Barrier and features a sunken green dock which provides a microclimate for the rainbow garden.

Regeneration Case Studies

Crystal Palace Park, Sydenham was Joseph Paxton's greatest public park. When the Palace burnt down in 1936, the blaze was visible across London and beyond.

Crystal Palace fire 

Since then the park languished and alI attempts to restore and revive it failed. The recent good news is that the Masterplan by Latz and Partner has now been accepted and the intention is for the regenerated park to be the focus for the wider regeneration of this part of south London.

Another major area of regeneration is King's Cross, with the canal crossing the site, and the exciting legacy of major Victorian buildings that stored the food and fuel coming into London. Then there is the big question mark that still hangs over the riverside site of Battersea Power Station.

In the North East the restoration and regeneration of Mowbray Park, a Victorian park in Sunderland, was the first step in the revival of the city and acted as a spur to wider regeneration. The magnificent glasshouse, bombed in WW2, has now been rebuilt alongside a new café and visitor centre, and the whole park has become a lively and well- used place.

Lister Park, Bradford, another major Victorian park, lies at the centre of a large Asian community and is the site of the annual Mela. As part of its regeneration, a new Mughal Garden (2001) was created. This and the conversion of Lister Mills has led to the wide regeneration of the area.

The Pavilion of Remembrance at the riverside end of this commemorates local people who lost their lives in WWII. The green dock calls to mind the redundant docks of this area of Docklands. But in fact this area was the site of chemical and dye works and an armaments factory. So perhaps one should be wary about the messages that some post industrial landscapes may give. To the west is a development of new residential property. Access to the park and loca I area has benefited from the new Pontoon Dock station on the Docklands light Railway.

Another recent park in Docklands is Jubilee Park, Canary Wharf (2003), a private park designed by Jacques and Peter Wirtz. This is the largest of the five air rights parks over the underground station. Its bold organic forms contrast with the geometry of its surroundings. The park features 166 dawn redwoods, a miniature landscape of hillocks, pools, fountains and weirs, lit by underwater lighting. It is beautifully maintained and tellingly, patrolled by security guards, so that it can remain open day and night.

Mile End Park, LB Tower Hamlets, stretches south from Victoria Park. Formerly a derelict piece of land, its regeneration in 1998-2002 included a green bridge (architect: Piers Gough and an earth-sheltered Ecology and Arts Pavilion. Its completion has brought with it the development of new properties alongside the canal, increases in property values, and new viable businesses.

After the Olympics

Many of the future major regeneration proposals for London either have parks as their central focus, or as their legacy. We are promised a major new park comparable in size to Hyde Park as part of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics. However, as yet, it is impossible to judge to what extent local communities are likely to benefit.

In the Thames Gateway there are plans for a massive expansion of jobs and housing, within a green grid that places landscape at the heart of development. The timescale proposed is some 50 years. The recent London Parks & Gardens Trust conference entitled 'Thames Gateway: New Lives, Old Landscapes' examined the historic environment and the proposed open space strategies.

Further afield in our major regional Victorian cities we see examples of the beneficial effects of parks on the regeneration of urban landscape. An international competition for the regeneration of Manchester's city centre, after the IRA bomb in 1996, was won by EDAW. Within the masterplan two new public spaces have been created. Exchange Square (2002), designed by Martha Schwartz Inc., provides a focus of activity with the surrounding shops, restaurants and cafés. The design is on two levels connected by gently graded ramps, whose curved walls provide seating and incorporate lighting. The rows of palm trees, 10 metres high with stainless steel trunks and artificial foliage of a yellowy green colour, planned for the southern edge of the square, were with public consultation, replaced by windmills. The change illustrates how important it is that the regeneration process includes the public in the debate at every stage of the design process.

The brief for Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester which opened in 2001, was for a total redesign of this important central area of the city, so that it would be safe and pleasant to use both day and night. The design by EDAW and Tadao Ando Architects consists of a large area of grass, with trees around the periphery and an interactive fountain court. On one side the space is shielded from the tramway and bus station by a curved wall, there are benches to relax on and generous walkways. The clarity of its design is in stark contrast to its architecturally and physically busy setting, and on clear sunny days it is crammed with office workers, shoppers and tourists.

Sheffield's £41M Heart of the City project includes the Millennium Gallery, a temperate winter garden, and the redesigned Peace Garden directly in front of the Victorian town hall. The bronze water vessels set on plinths on top of the stone staircases have been designed to evoke the pouring of molten metal and the significance of Sheffield's rivers. The water tumbles down the cascades and re-emerges in the central Goodwin fountain in 89 six-metre-high jets. Around are dozens of new trees and herbaceous borders which provide year-round colour.

Overseas Examples

Parc de la Industria The regeneration of Barcelona has included many parks, such as the Parc de la Industria, pictured here.

Overseas too we can find examples of the impact of regeneration on urban landscapes. During the past 25 years Paris has created some 170 new parks. They have been built over railway stations, on redundant railway viaducts, over motorways and canals, and are the central focus of important regeneration schemes. The largest of the new parks to be developed in the last 20 years is the Parc André Citroën. This was created as part of the urban regeneration of SW Paris, which includes housing, offices, and light industrial development on a site alongside the Seine, previously occupied by the Citroën car factory. An international competition, held in 1985, was won by two teams with very different approaches. Gilles Clément and Patrick Berger formed one team; the other was led by Alain Provost.

The London Parks & Gardens Trust is concerned with all aspects of London's historic green space and, as we all recognise,, history begins today. The Trust is therefore concerned not only with the conservation of historic green space but also with what is going on today and what is planned for the future.