Driving back from Middlesbrough to Manchester the other day, I needed some help getting from A to B (or M to M?) from my travelling companion. Like many other towns and cities, the space between them is non-descript; a dull collection of homogenous retail parks, scruffy industrial units and waste land, interspersed with new-build box flats.
What became apparent was how quickly this unremarkable landscape changes. It had been about 10 years since my passenger had taken this specific edge-of-town route and there were very few landmarks that had stood the test of time for even a decade.
This meant navigating the space very difficult. Not only was there probably nothing much worth remembering in the first place, these sort of developments aren’t designed to last.
CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) have criticised these type of out-and-edge-of town developments, saying they are soulless and don’t contribute to longer term economic sustainability.
They recommend that developments should be:
• Accessible by a range of modes of transport including foot, cycle, public transport and car
• Visually pleasing and contributing to the quality of the wider public realm
• Supportive of a mix of complementary uses
• Minimising energy use
• Adaptable to changing occupier requirements
• Actively managed to maintain quality
Although these recommendations were made in 2006, I am not sure if they have had much impact. Just in terms of accessibility, a fairly recent trip to our local Planet Sofa, Settee Whorehouse and Chair-bed Universe put me and my brother’s life in jeopardy as we tried to walk (i.e. not drive) between them.
Within half a mile or so we had to cross six lanes of traffic, clamber over wasit-high railings, try not to fall down a six-foot deep and two-foot wide hole in a pavement that wasn’t cordened off and walk over a roundabout.
Also, there is no way these places are ‘visually pleasing’ or that anyone in their right mind would say that they contribute to the wider public realm.
The number of ‘to let’ signs is probably a factor of how unadaptable the units are, so they are empty until they are pulled down and something equally crap goes up in its place and those of us without SatNav get even more lost.
Places are important, but so are the spaces between them too.