The Regenerated City Centre – A first impression

CovSoc committee member, Peter Hunter, takes a walk around the new city centre and gives us his impressions. Peter writes:

I took a stroll round Coventry city centre this Sunday morning (13/06/2021), just looking to enjoy Coventry on a sunny summer day and take a look at the ever – changing centre. Here are my thoughts along with photographs focussing on just a small area, Upper Precinct into Broadgate, down Hertford Street into the open space at the bottom of Hertford Street outside the Central Hall – Christchurch. What do you reckon?

It was the Upper precinct that prompted today’s stroll. I’d read that the landscaping works were almost complete and I was keen to take a look. Honestly I was hoping to be wowed by this. Whilst I’m a critic of some things that the City Council are doing / planning in the city centre, I do appreciate the Council’s commitment to creating a more vibrant centre and their ambition for the city. I appreciate how difficult this task is, particularly now, when the role of city centres is changing so dramatically and so quickly. Some things the Council will do will work well, others maybe not so well. The first thing to note about today’s stroll was that the City Centre had a real buzz about it. It was warm and sunny and there were plenty of people about even though it was a Sunday. The newly landscaped – not quite finished upper precinct was a focal point for that sense of life and vitality. Lots of people sitting on the low walls surrounding the newly landscaped area and kids playing in the fountains. So, in terms of creating a lively vibrant area – full marks! 

The Upper Precinct

Looking at the same area in design terms, I have to say, I was disappointed. The area felt busy and cluttered, it felt to me that there was too much of the same thing going on – lots of low planter beds soon to include water features. I felt the area lacked any sense of scale. Nothing was above three feet in height and there was absolutely no shelter or shade. The area cried out for significant trees or even for the shade provided by the bridges that were there previously. It was hot by 11.00 this morning and I’m sure it’ll be cold and bleak in the winter. It seemed to me that the upper precinct area had been designed with an absolute focus on getting these glitzy water features in place – and the design completely ignored the location. There was no relationship between what had been created and the space in which it sat. No relationship to the 1950’s precinct of which this is the heart.

So my summary critique of the upper precinct. In terms of function – yes it was delivering a lively dynamic place. Regarding form, I felt that the City Council’s ambition was let down by the designers. From here on, the stroll was remarkably positive. Getting rid of the ramp and the jewellers at the top of the precinct has left a simple, clear, uncluttered space running into Broadgate.

The Upper Precinct running into Broadgate

The proportions are just right. Full marks for delivering a simple space with a great vista towards Broadgate and the Cathedral beyond. Broadgate now has a canopy of colourful hangings suspended from wires. I have to say I’d been sceptical when I’d seen photos and videos.

Broadgate

In reality I think this works brilliantly. I’ve always felt that Broadgate was too open and featureless in its latest incarnation. That has been fixed by these hangings which transform the space . It almost feels like it has a ceiling. It’s a great lesson in what imagination and a few thousand pounds can create. Full marks.

And Hertford Street had a good vibe to it. At the top of Herford Street there was a collection of food stalls, many of which had no doubt been temporarily  moved up from Smithford Way whilst landscaping is going on. However, the grouping of the stalls along with outside seating in the triangular space at the top of Hertford Street worked well. Again a sense of life and activity. As we continued down Hertford Street, we came to the covered area which has been decorated in a range of vibrant, outlandish colours.

Hertford Street

I’d not seen this previously. My last recollection was of this area being run down and dull. Now it is transformed by the use of colour and an outdoor seating / eating area. Again a great example of what transformation can be achieved at relatively low cost. It will be interesting to see how the area fares, with much of it due for demolition in the City Centre South scheme.

Finally at the bottom of Hertford Street, there is a landscaped play area outside The Central Hall / Christchurch – this is known as Dresden Place.

I have to say I was blown away by this. In terms of urban design it is everything that the upper precinct isn’t. It has variety. There is lots going on in a small area, seating, play area water features all adjacent to the new Dhillons Bar in Christchurch. Most importantly there is a variety of scale. Particularly there are mature tress providing shade. Again there was a sense of life vitality plenty of people, kids and a buzz about the place. I looked across wistfully towards Bull Yard. Losing Bull Yard in the City Centre South scheme still feels like a missed opportunity. If the dynamic use of space that exists in the area at the bottom of Hertford Street could be expanded across into Bull Yard…… but maybe the vibrancy will be delivered by City Centre South’s pavilion building which is planned to occupy the space.

Landscaping in front of the Wave

So in summarising my stroll – lots of positives. A sense of getting the answers right from the very top of the upper precinct, through Broadgate and down Hertford Street. A sense of missed opportunity in the main upper precinct area – not bad – could have been better.

What do you think?

All photos by Peter Hunter

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