Jonathan Schofield suggests a radical idea to improve a key part of the city after the latest farce over returfing
CHANGE the name, change the layout, change the nature of the place and move on. Piccadilly Gardens should go in its entirety and should be replaced with a modern, fully paved square with the trees retained and a new fountain that works and isn’t surrounded by a trench. To signify this complete overhaul, the name should definitely change. It’s not fit for purpose anymore.
The name Piccadilly was borrowed from London in the eighteenth century as Manchester began to flex its trading muscles and cravenly aped the capital. It has nothing fundamentally to do with Manchester. If the area had been named a century later then there was no way such an act of subservience would have been acceptable.
Nor is the word 'Gardens' now acceptable. There are no gardens. There is grass in various states of well-being, some hideous planters which hide drug dealers from the street and hide the statues from the ‘gardens’, an ugly fountain, and that’s about it.
“People like the gardens,” says Cllr Pat Karney. “I think a majority of Mancunians want to keep them. That’s what our consultations have said.”
What he probably means is that people over sixty want to keep ‘the idea’ of the gardens alive. They remember them in their manicured, floral heyday as the sunken gardens. It would seem while they want that gardens back they don’t want the one we have now. At the same time nobody who has been coming into the city centre since the eighties will remember the gardens with affection. They were a hub for anti-social behaviour then and they frequently are now.
Nostalgia is the only reason to keep the name and the bastardised current nature of Piccadilly Gardens. Nobody young would be sentimental about keeping them and not many middle-aged people either.
Piccadilly Gardens should be wiped from the map...
So if Piccadilly Gardens were to go, what should we call it?
This would be a powerful name for what should be a powerful central space. The model of St Peter’s Square could be followed. Manchester Square would be hard-paved, keep all the present trees and add some more, have lots and lots of seating, and be clean, sharp, elegant and befitting a twenty-first century European city. It would be defined by clarity not confusion.
The ridiculous planters on the Oldham Street side would be removed. The nineteenth century statues would be better revealed. The silly concrete wall would go. At the same time etched into pavement slabs could be the countless pioneering achievements that originate from Manchester. These would educate tourists and residents, building a sense of place and, for locals, pride.
I’d go further. This should be a popularist square as befits the Burger Kings and McDonalds that surround it. Walk round on a Saturday and it represents the diversity of the region better than any other public space. So I’d make it selfie central. I’d make a Liverpool’s Mathew Street of Manchester Square. Around the perimeter I’d create a clutter of Manc pop-cult hero statues of stage, screen and sporting arenas from all colours and creed. As a tour guide I guarantee this would bring extra tourists.
A statue of The Smiths would draw in thousands of yearly guests. What about a few famous Corrie stars: Hilda Ogden perhaps? Or Les Dawson? Jeez, let’s have Take That.
I am being deadly serious. Tourism can be serious and deep. Manchester does that well, with its existing institutions, the libraries, museums and galleries. But every city should have a location where it is a bit daft, a bit fun, a bit like old Belle Vue.
With all those ‘firsts’ to walk on and all the pop culture statues to gaze upon, along with the Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister Robert Peel and Queen Vic, this truly would be Manchester Square.
But where would the money come from? No idea. Some of it would come from not having to pay to re-returf the lawns every year, or re-refix the fountain. The statues could be crowd-funded perhaps. Either way what we have presently is patently not a gardens. It’s a mess. Nostalgia can be used as a euphemism for inaction. It can be used as an excuse not to lead. Manchester City Council is elected to lead the city, not respond to nostalgia in such a key area of the city.
Piccadilly Gardens should be wiped from the map. Bring on Manchester Square, I say.
Jonathan Schofield talks to Councillor Pat Karney about the latest embarrassment to befall Piccadilly Gardens.