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Park Life: How Manchester's New Wave Of Green Spaces Will Change The City

Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, University of Manchester

Manchester invented the modern public park in 1846. But today central Manchester is about as un-green as you can get. With the exception of St John’s Gardens, the heavily trampled turf of Piccadilly Gardens, a small patch in front of Arkwright House and the new green space in front of Chethams College, you could walk from one end of the city to the other without seeing grass.

Yet the need for space to breathe has never been greater. Manchester is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United Kingdom, with a population predicted to rise to as much as 625,000 by 2025.

Developers are already pondering the future. In January Triology revealed a plan to re-green the square in front of the Great Northern Goods Warehouse as part of a £300M rethink. Trees would be the answer to the leisure scheme’s limited appeal as a public space, and help reconnect it to the city.

Sheppard Robson calculate that around £20M is being invested in three major new public park spaces: around 20K SF of open space at Circle Square, developed by Bruntwood and Select Group; another 20K SF at Noma, developed by Hermes; and a new re-greened university campus at Brunswick Street.

So where will Manchester’s green spaces come from, what will they look like and what effects could they have?

The High Line park, New York City

“Previously the architectural value of a development would have focused on the crown of a building — its towers, skyline, penthouse suites — but attention is now shifting towards the space at ground level and how publicly accessible realm can be designed and animated to maximise a development’s value, both commercially and socially,” Sheppard Robson partner James Jones said.

Allied London are among the developers adding green spaces, creating the Field at Hardman Square, Spinningfield. It is due to open later this year.

“Savvy developers, like Allied London, have seen the untapped value of creating a vibrant, welcoming space that helps generate the movement of people in-between their buildings and creating a place which people will want to use; all of which is, of course, music to any Local Authority’s ears,” Sheppard Robson partner Neal Allen-Burt said.

 “The very concept of what we imagine an 'urban park' to be is being challenged. Instead of confining an urban park to the parameters of an individual plot, new urban parks should be seen as nodes on a route; a collection of urban spaces linked by a common DNA. But, let’s take this one step further: What if instead we looked at the whole city as a single urban park with developments within it?” Allen-Burt said.

The Field & Hardman Pavilion, Spinningfield, Manchester

Can your really make the entire central area into one seamless park?

“We need to think creatively and use the unique spaces we already have to the very best advantage of the city as a whole,” Jones said. “This means linking Manchester’s main quarters as it continues to expand its boundaries. It means taking full advantage of future changes to transport — autonomous vehicles, such as driverless cars, for example will free up acres of new walkable, useable, city space. And it means creating pleasurable, inspiring, connected and safe places the people of Manchester can dwell in 24 hours a day.”