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A New Green Urban Park for Nottingham - a New Central Park - a Forest of the Imagination

Rick Hall has been thinking about the creative possibilities for the future of the Broadmarsh area of Nottingham

A time to rethink

The pandemic and its consequences have given us the opportunity to rethink our priorities. The development of the southside of the city has been a long time in coming; and just as the plans are being realised a major partner and location has gone into administration.

This in itself is both an opportunity but also perhaps a signal that the development of the Broadmarsh, even as a refreshed location for a mixed economy of retail and leisure, was teetering on the edge of viability even before COVID19.

The evidence is anecdotal – but nevertheless suggests that people in lockdown have welcomed the opportunity to rethink their personal as well as the city’s priorities; more shopping and leisure online, reconnecting with the natural environment, appreciating the quieter, less polluted centre and neighbourhoods. Yes, there have been many downsides, and people have missed social congregations, pubs and restaurants; but will they want to return to a second mall when Victoria Centre is itself under pressure, not to mention Debenhams, Bridlesmithgate, Flying Horse Arcade?

And Broadmarsh, even refreshed was only likely to attract retail tenants that are found elsewhere in the City... would the ‘convenience’ of finding a second Wilko, Poundland or Ernest Jones in the southside development really sustain the economic viability of what has always been regarded as the #2 shopping mall?

New priorities

There is broad and substantial support for the new policies for the City, notably CN28; but also:

• the development, support and encouragement of small and independent retail, hospitality, digital and creative and making businesses;

• housing including cheap and affordable homes, but also solutions to the homeless challenges;

• new skills for future employment;

• economic recovery through culture and digital technology;

• inward investment through a wider range of purposes and opportunities in the city centre (winter wonderlands, the beach, light night and markets);

• education for a global studentship;

• and progress towards Nottingham as a Child Friendly City.

Let’s list these and explore how a different kind of Central Park for Nottingham could contribute towards these new priorities.

This is not an attempt to create a master plan into which every solution is squeezed.

Urban Greening and CN28

Urban parks are shown to improve both the environment and the well-being of people. And yes, pocket parks are one form of these; but the impact of a substantial area of green natural environment so close to the city centre would be dramatic. A wildlife corridor, a ‘forest of the imagination’ between the Market Square and the New Library, could become an area for education and the study of wildlife and the natural environment, for research and conservation, air quality monitoring and bio- diversity. (Nottingham took part in the international City Nature Challenge this year for the first time).

Part of the corridor from the Market Square to the New Library (including Listergate) could be enclosed to create a Winter Garden... (it doesn’t have to be as grandiose as Sheffield..)

How the environment and wildlife area is developed and maintained could be an opportunity for apprenticeships and employment. (If this employment was extended to some of the city centre homeless community, the sense of ownership could also ensure cleanliness and general day-to-day maintenance).

Support and encouragement of small and independent retail, hospitality and making businesses.

The site area is large enough to accommodate a Box Park, and if this was located towards the south eastern edge of the site, this would link well to Nottingham College and have a relationship with other similar businesses to the east of Fletchergate, in Hockley, the Lace Market and Sneinton Market. Box Parks are a growing commercial enterprise, mixing food outlets with small creative businesses in popular locations. They also have the advantage of being modular, pre-fabricated and quick to install.

They encourage new independent businesses because overheads are relatively low and they create a buzz of hospitality and vibrancy reflecting the cultural diversity of users and consumers.

City Centre Homes

A small number of pre-fabricated modular apartments could also be accommodated in the northern edge of the site where the slope of the landscape offers a vertical perspective. If designed and constructed off-site and installed sympathetically to the other landscape features of the Central Park, these could be reserved as units for homeless people looking to move on from hostel accommodation. It has been done – here is the latest example from Cambridge.

Platform in Central Park – economic recovery through culture and technology

The New Urban Green Park offers further opportunities for integrating a cultural landscape and a platform for art installations and performance. With theatres, cinemas and concert venues also having to rethink and reconfigure their audience accommodations, there are opportunities for creating small outdoor (or under temporary shelter) platforms and screens. The Platform in Central Park would be programmable by all the City cultural organisations working in collaboration. Temporary art installations could be commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary (think 4th plinth commissions); digital projections and VR could be commissioned by Near Now at Broadway and the University of Nottingham Virtual Reality Lab (and Light Night); studio scale performances could be produced by the Playhouse and Nonsuch; music from the Concert Hall and independent producers like I’m Not From London; spoken word performances by the City of Literature. There would be opportunities for other programming by other cultural traditions, celebrations and festivals (the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity for example – declaration of interest). And children could also have a regular ‘Take- over’ of the Platform.

Child Friendly Nottingham

The benefits of urban green spaces and closer connections to the natural environment are especially impactful in the social and educational development of children and young people – not least in their mental health and well-being. And yet as we emerge from the life-changing pandemic, once again the interests and opinions of children are relegated to after-thoughts. Here, with an opportunity for a major rethink on the urban landscape of the City, we should be working with the Primary Parliament, Youth Cabinet and Youth Council to seek their views and more importantly their ideas. The southside landscape after all includes the best Children’s Library in the country, and the area leading there and around could be such a rich resource for their study and imagination; as well as an opportunity for children to develop their confidence in engagement, and creative production knowledge, experience and skills.

In the city of Ahmedabad, children take part in an initiative called aProCh (a Protagonist in every Child) with initiatives that include Parents of the Park and City as My Landscape.

How to do it. Other examples. Who pays? Is it economically sustainable? Legal considerations.

I am not competent to comment on the legal extractions of lease agreements and administration requirements. I’m sure they present several barriers and impediments. But if the rethink is to mean anything, then reviewing and going back on agreements with partners no longer afloat must surely be possible??

The financial considerations of such a rethink would be the main focus of a feasibility study.

Who pays? and is such a scheme sustainable? Again I am not an economist, but a scheme that is less dependent on major retail clients and commercial leisure interests, but more amenable to smaller independent (home grown) businesses must have some advantages and economic benefits.

Redevelopment of a heritage site (in places, with access to caves and ancient routes to the Market Square) may attract support from a combination of civic heritage, environmental foundations and Heritage lottery funding. Cultural partnerships for programming of the Platform in the Park could be attractive to funders (Arts Council, AHRC) as research into a different technological future of audience engagements and participations. Commercial partners are not my expertise. (see feasibility study)

Modular prefabricated units like Box Parks and housing are cheaper and more sustainable and environmentally friendly than conventional construction methods.

Other illustrations and examples

Helsinki (of course) and Berlin have urban parks for mixed purposes (including leisure and hospitality). Sheffield Winter Garden. Ahmedabad. Singapore for re- wilding of urban features, Seoul and the Highline and Sustainable South Bronx in NYC..

other research here and here and here.

and consultations and calls for proposals...

Bath has a Festival each year – The Forest of Imagination designed by architects Andrew Grants Associates.

The Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park has commissioned Augmented Architecture to explore virtual connections to the natural environment.

And for community engagement and consultations we at Ignite! have worked with Catherine Greig and make:good, her architecture and urban design practice ,on projects at the Stephen Lawrence Centre (young people’s programmes - My Space, My City, My World) and there is none better on community participation and consultations...

Thanks, if you have, for reading this submission. We'd like to hear your thoughts and suggestions so please do comment here, or get in touch via email.

Rick Hall Ignite! July 2020


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