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Centenary Square, Birmingham, by G-Man (Wikimedia Commons)When the area around the former Bingley Hall in central Birmingham was redeveloped in the late 1980s/early 1990s, a new public space, Centenary Square, was included as part of the scheme. On completion, Centenary Square was used for various temporary exhibitions and events, although this had not really been foreseen at the planning stage. Not long after opening, Birmingham city council had to replace the paving in the square, as a result of this unanticipated wear and tear.

Although Centenary Square has continued as an event space, it’s never been entirely satisfactory in access, safety, or aesthetic terms, because of layout decisions taken at the time of redevelopment. The Square’s paved area is broken up by irregularities, such as the platform of the destroyed ‘Forward‘ statue, and footfall churns the grassed area into an unsightly muddy mess.

Upon its completion, Birmingham city council started to use the unnamed quadrangle in front of Millennium Point for events such as the annual Christmas lights switch-on concert. Millennium Point lies outside the traditional city centre, over a kilometre away from Centenary Square. Its shortcomings were laid bare on 14 November 2009, when a breakdown in crowd management led to a concert having to be abandoned after a few minutes. In 2010, there was no Christmas lights switch-on concert, the city council having been unable to identify a suitable location for such events.

In spite of all this, the council have switched on an unsolicited outdoor BBC/Olympic television screen at Waterloo Steps in Victoria Square.  Over the years, Victoria Square has been remodelled several times, and much of its area is now made up of a water feature, surrounded by steps. Is this consistent with safe management of large crowds? With a swing towards light touch regulation, health and safety seems to carry different weights at different times.

In Coventry, another outdoor screen is being set up on the wall of the Transport Museum. The space in front of the museum, Millennium Place, has an uneven surface. Coventry city council has decided that Francoise Schein’s world time clock would make the area unsafe for large crowds watching the screen, and wants to remove it. The BBC reported the clock had been covered over for previous events, at a cost of £10,000 a time.

The difficulties in Birmingham and Coventry highlight some local authorities’ limited capabilities in designing and maintaining usable public space.

Written by beleben

February 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm

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