Designer's vision to breathe life back into the city
Today, in the first of a two-part series, urban designer Gordon Gibson unleashes his wish list for Wales’s second city. CHRIS PEREGRINE reports...
URBAN designer Gordon Gibson cares passionately for his adopted city.
"What more could any city ask for than our bay, our river?" says the Scotsman who first came to Swansea 40 years to study at university and has stayed on ever since.
He is absolutely right, of course.
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Our positioning is one most other UK cities can only dream of. Yet still, revitalising it in the middle of a recession is not a quick job.
Neither is it going to be easy or cheap.
For urban regeneration to take place, and the area to become somewhere people want to live as well as work in, tens of millions of pounds will also be need to be spent. Or does it?
For award-winning Scotsman Gordon who is a former lecturer in urban design at the old West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, says he believes there are some key projects that could take off without necessarily having to spend a fortune. Now he is using his professional expertise to point the way forward for Swansea
"For 70 years since the terrible destruction of the Blitz, regeneration strategies have sought to change our city rather than rejoice in it," he says. "What more could a city ask for than our bay, our river, and, before the war, a cultural and retail richness to be proud of?"
He has come up with 10 projects, nine of them at relatively low cost, to build on the city's rich resources and heritage.
Mr Gibson thinks they would give the private sector confidence to invest and develop.
He says: "They are projects that foster confidence by demonstrating that we love our city, we believe in it, and are willing to commit our resources to it."
On both sides of the Tawe, open up wide river parklands, with walks, play areas, plantings, wildlife and cycle routes, from SA1, the Tawe Bridges and St Thomas, up though the historic Copperopolis sites to the communities of north Swansea. Plan for quality public space, inviting residents of Hafod, St Thomas, Plasmarl, Morriston and, yes, those up and far away as Ynystawe and Clydach to enjoy their river again. Overlooking that, certainly at the city end, establish homes and businesses, four, five, six storeys high, providing commercial return for the underachieving New Cut, with streets linking towards the city centre. And, on the eastside, a commitment to re-enliven the former thriving St Thomas frontage. Give it a new life facing parkland and river.
Plan now for a direct link, over the second Tawe Bridge, from Delhi Street in St Thomas to the Kingsway. All our new road systems have under-achieved. The Dyfatty, Orchard Street, Princess Way axis took life from High Street and restructured the city only to be closed (pedestrianised) to little tangible effect just a couple of decades or so later. Now is the time to see that backbone complemented by a cross-town axis, focused on the Kingsway. This is not new 'big roads', this is people space on people connectors.
No more talk of supermarkets, malls and car parks by our river. Right next to the riverside parks, let us start to realise real social and commercial value and potential. This is a job for the private sector and yes we may need to wait a little while for the market to recover, but right now we need some simple requirements to ensure city streets, buildings with doors, windows and ground floor activity. The barren Parc Tawe was always a short-term answer to a long-term issue — how to deal with the reclaimed area of the old north dock and the "island" between it and the new cut (the current river). The retail park there is in the wrong place, cutting off the links between east and west. Redevelopment there can also ease the gradient up Welcome Lane towards the heart of the city, making that crucial link between east and west.
Like Bart Simpson, another "under- achiever and proud of it", the latest traffic system, hated by everyone from traders to pedestrians has to go. The solution is to come, not from the traffic engineers but from city designers, people who can humanise the Kingsway, make it into people street, with a wide, perhaps covered walk along the middle, with kiosks and new street-life. Provide new incentives to boost the retail offer on the Kingsway frontages, killed by the dominance of motor vehicles and planning strategies to move the city centre away from its heart. A good model is, as before, Las Ramblas in Barcelona, which, by the way, also accommodates cars and loading. That axis from St Thomas to St Helen's Road and the Guildhall is one of the great understated assets of the city, bringing our communities together.
The heart of the city, the old Kingsway Roundabout, outside the Dragon Hotel. At the centre of it all, the city centre space with no name, the very centre of our city, lost to people, and to names, because it has been taken to be a traffic junction. No more. Let it be our "central place" like it wants to be, with a name. Maes Abertawe? Not left-over space after the roads are built; central place, people space. Town-scheme type encouragement should be given to the buildings all around. One can be comfortably replaced, others upgraded. There's a place for a big retailer, a civic building, entertainment, all sorts, to complement the hotel and apartments; positive development we all believe in. What a boost that will be to the retail sector in Princess Way, College Street and High Street, and to the city.
Tomorrow Gordon Gibson's five other suggested schemes.