Piccadilly Gardens is located in the heart of Manchester city centre. The city's largest open space has the potential to be a welcoming beacon for visitors and an uplifting retreat where workers, shoppers and locals can spend quality leisure time away from the fast pace of our thriving metropolis.
On paper, this vision of a peaceful haven is already in place. Water fountains, grassy areas, fringed by cafés, bars and restaurants should make it an ideal setting to relax and meet friends. The reality is that the area is a bleak plaza with little aesthetic appeal, safety or welcome.
Tadao Ando, an internationally-acclaimed Japanese architect, designed the grey concrete, bunker-like walls and pavilion that surround a large part of the area in a 2002 makeover of our public space. Manchester never embraced the stark and minimalist design from the beginning and it has continued to uninspire over the years since. Today, the fountains are switched off and the grassed areas are threadbare. Anti social behaviour and crime are on the up. The drab concrete boundaries have never looked less welcoming.
The irony and the point of major criticism levelled at these planning mistakes is that Piccadilly Gardens were once a jewel in the city's crown. The sunken gardens and overall design of the area rivalled that of any other European city. By the late 20th Century, the gardens had become known for it's colour and tranquility. Many of us remember this space before it was ripped up. The council told us that it was for the better as it had become a hang-out for drug dealers and petty criminals rather than an urban oasis. Guess what, we've still got the same, if not worse problems! At least back then we had a public space to be proud of. Any change that has so far been suggested by the council includes further retail development which is probably the reason why the gardens disappeared in the first place as large chunks of the area have been sold to private developers.
I'm heartened that the Manchester Evening News has stepped in and after the paper's long criticism and calls for positive change have gone a step further by launching a petition aimed at restoring the gardens to their former pride.