Kate Feld, over at The Manchizzle, posted a really interesting round up of some of the key topics from the Future Everything’s City Debate recently. A lively debate ensued in the comments, particularly around the subject of city centre parks and playgrounds. Kate and most, but not all of her commenters, agreed that park and playground provision in the city centre is inadequate. When it comes to playgrounds it’s impossible to disagree – there simply aren’t any. But what about parks? There are some in and near to the city centre, but are there enough? Furthermore, are the parks which do exist in, or very close to, the city centre, any good?
I decided to set off for the city centre and bring you a round up of what I could find. I have to say that, whilst I am the first to sing the praises of parks in Greater Manchester, which I think are outstanding on the whole, I found a pretty mixed bag. Finding information on our central parks is no mean feat either. Some of them aren’t even listed on Manchester City Council’s own website. It takes a determined Parklover armed with a dog eared A-Z to seek them out.
There’s a promise of an urban eco park, Cotton Fields, as part of the New Islington regeneration project. There was a great article about the Ashton Canal at The Shrieking Violet recently, which discussed this new development. I understand that this is currently delayed, when I hear any differently, I’ll pay a visit and report back
I spotted on my map a good sized area of “public open area” very close to Piccadilly Station. It’s nestled in between Ashton Old Road, Pin Mill Brow and the River Medlock to the North. I approached from both Aden Close and then Lime Bank Street. I didn’t get very far though. Why? Because, despite the fact that I’m pretty intrepid and regularly run through woods and along trails, I felt completely unwilling to go in there alone. No doubt I felt more reticent as I wasn’t in an area I knew, but this area is very closed off. You can hardly see what’s in there, it’s surrounded by tall trees and bushes. It looked very pleasant beyond the leafy railings, but this strikes me as an area which could be made much more off, perhaps along the lines of Clayton Vale. It’s not much further on down the road from here and if I lived in the city centre and wanted some woodland experience, I’d be inclined to bypass this nameless “open space” and go there instead. If anyone out there uses this space and can tell us about it, I’d love to know that it’s a wonderful, safe place to visit…
I never knew this existed until I spotted it recently from the metrolink on the way from Bury, going into Victoria Station and decided to investigate. The history of this area of Ancoats is fascinating, do have a look at this comprehensive history of the area and its regeneration from the Friends of St Micheal’s Flags and Angel Meadow. The Charter Street Ragged School and Sharp Street Ragged School buidlings still overlook the park. Clearly alot of community effort has been put into the transformation of this area, although I have to say when we visited, there were rather alot of weeds and piles of bottles and disposable barbeques aroud the litter bins. This may well just be down to the recent beautiful weather – I have visited other parks recently which are usually pristine, but have had overflowing litter bins due to everyone going park and picnic crazy in the sun. It could do with a bit of a spruce though. It could also do with more people in it. This place is a good size, and just a few minutes walk from Victoria Station and the Northern Quarter. (If you’re approaching with children, I’d advise coming via Shudehill/Rochdale Road rather than Corporation Street like I did. Trying to cross the A665 at this point with a child was rather more stress than I would like.) However, who knows that it’s there, other than people living in the adjacent flats? There is no signposting at all, such a shame. Some signposting from the Northern Quarter would be a great idea, as would some more planting.
There are 2 parks in Ardwick which could be classed as city centre-ish.
Ardwick Green Park (Ardwick Green)
This is really pleasant with a very nice little playground. Leafy, relaxing (apart from the A6 whizzing past) and somwhere you’d be happy to spend some time. There’s a good looking pub, The Church Inn, on the Green, but sadly it looks like it’s closed at the moment and is up for auction. If anyone knows anything about this, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll update.
Gartside Gardens (Kingcardine Road, Ardwick)
I have to admit that I didn’t stop here for long; the adjacent car parking spaces are pay and display, so I jumped out of the car to snap a picture and have a quick nose. I could see a fair amount of green space and some ball courts, but no playground. I tried to find out from the Manchester Council website, but it’s not on there, which is disappointing.
Now we’re talking. This fabulous park was developed in 1999 and is symbolic of the regeneration of Hulme and Moss Side, as space it occupies was formerly the high-rise Hulme Crescents. It’s been recognised as an example of excellent practice by CABE.
This space is open, welcoming and user friendly. From Stretford Road, you are drawn in by a cobbled area inlaid with metal slabs which have a People’s History of Hulme inscribed on them. A grassy knoll is behind this, as well as teeny toddler area with flower springies. Over Royce Road is much more green space, along with a well lit and attractively furnished path taking you to a great adventure playground. Beyond this is a BMX track and skate ramps.
It’s a great park and justifiably well used. Couples sunbathing, groups working out with a trainer, mums with toddlers on the playground, and local schoolboys on their lunch hour were all enjoying this space. Well worth knowing about for anyone living in the many apartments in the Castlefield/Deansgate area.
Obviously this can’t be described as central Manchester, as it’s actually in Salford. However, I felt this deserved a mention as it’s only just outside the ringroad. This has that holy grail of a children’s playground, albeit in some need of an update. It is also handily placed just behind Salford Museum and Art Gallery, which is a brilliant place to visit, with or without children.
INSIDE THE RINGROAD
Now we’re onto the parks and green spaces which can truly describe themselves as city central. They’re all pretty tiny, describing themselves as “gardens” rather than “parks”, but what can they offer residents, workers, children, tourists, and shoppers in search of a leafy fix?
Castlefield (Liverpool Road)
Interesting from a historical perspective, as it is the site of Roman remains, which you can read about on information boards, as well as explore. This is a pleasant and well maintained area, although currently it’s somewhat marred by being the entrance area to the “Hyundai Fan Park” i.e. the large screen showing football matches.
Very pretty and well kept gardens, there are lawns, trees and attractive planting. A lovely place to sit and chill out if you work nearby, or have been visiting the nearby MOSI.
There are two grassed areas in the brand spanking new Spinningfields business, shopping and leisure area. One has a big screen which is currently showing World Cup football and also Wimbledon. It’s worth knowing that they regularly have film showings, including a Saturday morning Family Film Club. This sounds great for kids, with films such as Madagascar being shown free at 11 on Saturday mornings. The green is surrounded by family friendly restaurant chains such as Giraffe, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Wagamama.
This family friendly feel brings me onto the second spot of green at Spinningfields. As you can see from the photo, this is currently fairly redundant. It strikes me that this would be a great place for a playground. It’s a couple of minutes walk from the People’s History Museum in one direction and MOSI in the other, two of Manchester’s biggest family magnets. Small people live in and visit Manchester, it would be lovely for them to have somewhere central to let off steam.
This has a great location for weary shoppers. I recently had a little shopping time-out here with CJ during a shopping trip. Just off Deansgate, it’s an excellent place to have a sit down, grab some lunch, or let your little ones have a run around. CJ found herself a quality stick, courtesy of one of the trees here, so she was very happy.
Again, this is a compact, leafy hideaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. There’s a statue of Alan Turing and also this lovely sculture commemorating those who have died of, or are suffering from HIV and AIDS.
The most central of all Manchester’s green spaces and hugely popular at all times, let alone the sunny June day when I visited to take a photo. Grass was barely visible, partly because there were so many people sat on it, and partly because the heavy useage has taken its toll. The best thing about Piccadilly Gardens is the lawned areas and, particularly, the fountains. These are always popular with youngsters, daring each other to run through, and with small children daring themsleves to paddle. The approach from Market Street is really atrractive, with the statue of Robert Peel and bridge over the fountain. My criticism of the redesign though, is that there is too much concrete. Aprroaching from Piccadilly Gardens bus and tram station, as many visitors will, you’d hardly know there was a park there. I actually like the overall design. However, this is the biggest park, garden, green space, call it what you will, that we have in central Manchester. As pleasant as it is, more grass and less concrete would have been welcome here.
If you come into Manchester from Victoria Station, this will be one of the first things you’ll see. Between Cheetham’s and the much-missed Urbis/future football museum, with a fountain, undulating landscaping and a tinkly stream which sometimes has water in it, this area is now well known as a hangout for goth and emo type youths. I feel about 100 years old typing that, but there you go. If you’ve been past, you know what I mean.
This is a new business/retail/leisure area which you can see from Whitworth Street West, through the railway arches. At the moment, the green space here is best described as “barren”, but it’s clearly not finished yet. It will apparently have “Europe’s largest living green walls” which sounds intriguing.
In conclusion, there are probably more green spaces in the centre of Manchester than most people realise; some are small but beautifully kept, some are larger and under utilised. There are one or two hidden gems. Workers wanting somewhere green and pleasant in which to eat their lunchtime butty are far better catered for than children. Hopefully in the not too distant future, there will be some more, very welcome additions to Manchester’s green spaces – watch this space.