One of the hottest debates in our home city of Manchester is the future of Piccadilly Gardens. This once sunken oasis of urban greenery and brightly coloured flower beds, has become an eclectic mix of architectural objet d'art, with no real purpose or link to Manchester’s rich heritage or community.
The gardens have become a breeding ground for crime and anti-social behaviour over the last decade, and is fast becoming an embarrassing black mark on the amazing city we proudly call home. Surely such an essential and unique space within our ever expanding city should play a bigger part in the usability of our urban landscape. The objective should be to create an important community hub, not just for Mancunians but for tourists visiting our great city.
With this in mind we decided to apply 60 mins of design thinking to give it a Truth Makeover.
As a resident of the city ourselves, one of the main points of frustration is the increasing level of traffic caused by excessive layering of public transport options. The use of buses, free shuttles and the Metrolink all penetrate deep into the heart of the city, creating unnecessary traffic chaos when combined with private vehicles. We would pedestrianise the whole gardens leaving only the Metrolink, and moving the buses and taxis to the area between Piccadilly Station and the new Mayfield Depot development. This concept is created with this in mind.
A park with a purpose.
We would expand and consolidate the whole square into the Gardens and create ‘pockets’ of activity - each with a purpose that will provide opportunity and encourage a sense of community. It will also be a celebration of our historic past and bright future.
1. The Centre Stage.
The centrepiece of the whole gardens is the round stage. This intimate covered bandstand style structure is surrounded by modern concrete benches, each named after famous Manchester musicians, comedians or poets etc. This would be a forum to allow unsigned talent to showcase their abilities and perform in public. It could host debates, poetry readings and one-man plays. It would bring people together and unearth new talent, something Manchester is already famous for.
2. The Rolling Hills.
Based on the hills surrounding the city, these 10ft mounds made from artificial grass would create a rolling landscape that would create a natural amphitheatre surrounding the stage. People would sit and eat lunch whilst listening to the performance. They will add a texture and form to the current flat space, that currently hosts a muddy lawn of hard-to-maintain grass and the money pit that is the fountain.
3. Revolution Walk.
This paved pathway would be Manchester’s version of the Hollywood walk of fame. Each slab would be individually etched with the names of people who have made a significant contribution to putting Manchester on the map. It would feature inventors, engineers, musicians, scientists, local heroes, architects, etc. There could be an awards every year with a people’s vote to select the next addition. It would create a sense of pride and be a reason for tourists to visit the gardens.
4. Slider Way.
This food oasis features local street food traders selling freshly cooked food from their own slider vans. Think Mackie Major or Hatch on wheels. Diners could then eat at the long tables, or on the Rolling Hills – weather permitting. Think Christmas market atmosphere all year round.
5. The Long Tables.
These long concrete benches and tables holding 50+ people are designed to encourage integration and togetherness. A place to sit with fellow Mancunians or visitors to our city. It is a place to meet new people over a cheap meal. We love the way stockbrokers sit and chat baseball to construction workers over a hot dog in the square near Wall Street in New York. People finding a common ground over food creates a real sense of community and equality.
6. She’s a Waterfall.
If Manchester is going to have any type of water feature it has to be a Waterfall. Inspired by the Stone Roses’ track of the same name, this tunnel of falling water would invite you to walk through it to enter the gardens from the Portland Street corner. It could be designed by a local artist and become a living sculpture, that changes colour and form. It should be interesting enough to draw people to the park in its own right.
7. Food Market.
We would create a small produce market for local producers to sell their goods. Fresh breads, cheeses, local beers or simply fruit and veg. It could be daily, weekly or monthly. It could also house a small makers’ market, art fair, or Christmas Market.
8. Cotton Meadow.
The current bus station is replaced by this long strip, filled with wild flowers and cotton plants, hinting at our industrial past. Inspired by Manhattan’s High Line, you can wander through the 100 meter overgrown sweet smelling meadow as a way to unwind having departed the Metrolink on your way to work. It would also create the perfect environment for our iconic Manchester bees to thrive.
We do thing’s differently here.
It is often said that we do thing’s differently in Manchester. Well the gardens are certainly a different way of doing an ‘Urban Park’, but not the creative, vibrant and ingenious Mancunian way you might expect. We believe these common-sense changes will create a more vibrant inclusive space that will revitalise the reputation of the area. It would also give the gardens a purpose day and night, increase the footfall and make them safe again.
This isn’t the only solution, and we only spent 60 minutes, but with some creative thinking, and the right investment and sponsorship we could really make the gardens great again.