Resolutions and Wishes for 2013


It’s the start of the year so after finishing off the Twelfth Night cake and putting the Christmas decorations back in their boxes I’ve started to think about what I’d like to see in the public realm this year.
1. Fewer grandiose works of public art and more temporary and fleeting works of art.

I’ve grown tired of great chunks of bronze and stone; big statements that dominate space that limit interpretation and bully the surrounding space. Public spaces that respond to change and people need a flexible approach. I was impressed by this temporary and touching piece commissioned by Burnley Borough Council from Kevin Carter with quotes from Burnley residents in response to the question: “What is your first thought when you think about your neighbourhood?”

And the extraordinary light works in York where last year the makers of the works filmed dancing visitors and projected their images onto the walls of the Abbey.
We need more art than has this sensitivity and lightness of touch, art that animates space, rather than shouting at it. 

2. Flexible spaces

Public spaces should have long, sustainable and flexible lives. A flexible space isn’t one that it is dull and empty. Spaces become empty because their designers only thought about a narrow range of uses. Think of all those urban piazzas with a shallow amphitheatre for performance that have no performances; fountains that don’t spurt, or blow spray sideways across the natural pathways and bleak windswept squares with seating that allows you to look at the local bookies, but not have a conversation.

In 2013 let’s make public spaces that have the right infrastructure for a myriad of uses, and allow people to put out chairs, plug in speakers for an entertainment, and move things around with the seasons, passing fancy and changing needs. And more trees. A lot more trees. Trees with fairy lights, trees in avenues and trees for shade and shelter.


3. Local spaces

I want more spaces that belong where they are made. We need spaces that are made of local materials, especially re-used local materials, but more importantly, reflect the place they inhabit. For instance; where it is hot and dry fountains that cool the air have purpose and beauty. In the UK’s damp climate fountains are largely inappropriate and scarily ubiquitous. Pools, rills and waterfalls are more naturally our thing.

Let’s have less of this…


And more of these pools and rills in Sheffield.


4. Better conversations with businesses, residents and visitors
All too often conversations between developers and residents, businesses and visitors are a protracted, frustrating and painful game of ping-pong, with each side lobbing back advances until someone gives up or is outmanoeuvred. Rather than start with a fully formed design and then set it out to be knocked down, it would be better to start with a set of objectives that can form the basis of a conversation with everyone before design starts.

Everyone means everyone, not just the members of amenity societies (valuable though they are) but also shopkeepers, office workers, children, visitors. To have those conversations we’ll have to have to try a different approach. Public meetings are an opportunity for the opinionated to bully the less decided, and postal surveys have low returns. Maybe the low returns to postal surveys are because most people genuinely don’t care that much, or don’t believe their views will be heard. I think a mix of exhibitions, conversations with small groups and sample surveys might be a better way of getting real understanding of what matters to local people, and would give the developer a solid basis of local opinion on which to base their brief to the designers.

Happy New Year!