Coventry is undergoing around £40m worth of public realm work in the build up to 2021 and beyond! (Yes, 40 million actual pounds, who would have thought it!)
“What a waste of money!?” “Take our bins more often!!!” “Students!!!” “There are no shops!!!”
These comments are not inventive, inspired or even accurate but they are regularly spaffed out (technical term) onto the internet as hard fact by people yearning for their youth or for a mystical period of time when Cov was “better” in their “day”. The capital costs being utilised in the city are exactly that – capital funded projects by private developers, grants and other council budgets that have nothing to do with the operational running of services. If you want to moan about the councils service offering then do not direct it at the regeneration work in the city centre.
For example the precinct is being re imagined in a way in keeping with the original idea of a shopping area – with some questionable amendments of course… #ThisIsCoventry after all.
Back to the Future of Coventry:
Coventry was a medieval power house but by the turn of the 20th century the city centre was becoming crowded with vehicles and Victorian slums. This needed sorting out and the council took action in the 1930’s (Yes, pre war!!!) to appoint a City Architect and a team of people to design a city fit for the new century and beyond. A 29 year old Donald Gibson (Later Sir!) was appointed to lead this fresh team of enthusiastic architects inspired by Scandinavian modernism and Le Corbusier amongst others. Plans were drawn up before the war to clear away the old and build a modern city but like all things they needed a catalyst to get going. This was a slow process until November 1940 when the Blitz cleared the way for the plan to be re imagined and implemented.
The team set about making models and public exibitions to promote the post war rebuilding of Coventry – an example of a place rising from the ashes of war – a phoenix if you will?
Thanks to recent diligent work by local councillor and historian Roger Bailey there is an almost certain link between the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna and Coventry precinct too. Amarna was a place where long precincts were common and a sense of community was drawn from ponds, plants and sculptures. The lily flower in flowing water was a big part of this Egyptian utopian image alongside column sculptures. These were included in early sketches as shown below…
Much of this ideal was taken forward into the creation of the first pedestrianised precinct in Europe! Covered walkways, pedestrian access to all areas without the risk of vehicles, public art, toilets and a range of shops and services were created thanks to the vision of Sir Donald Gibson and City Architects department – later carried forward by Arthur Ling and Terence Gregory. In a fun fact discovered by Coventry Society Chairman Paul Maddocks, the temple in Amarna is the same dimensions as the precinct! The precinct is just one example of this post war planning and all of Coventry was given the same energy and modern edge with the Cathedral also being built for the future alongside parish churches, schools and new housing developments in ever growing suburbs.
Sadly by the late 1980’s much of the original vision was discarded in favour of West Orchards; modernising and altering an area that had stood for some 30 years. It was tired and much of the “improvements” only downgraded the area – trees were replaced and flower beds removed as well as other odd additions such as raised beds on Smithford Way. (Why?!?!?)
The new plan incorporates more water and plant life as well as a lot more tress of different varieties than ever before! There will probably be changes to the below images as the developers recently learned of this Egyptian link and could even add some features into the design!
The plans keep being amended but the latest images show public art podiums, ponds, flower beds, trees and a general tidy up of the main shopping precincts!
What can you spot in the image above? The Naiad! That is right… George Wagstaffe’s original beauty that is currently on display in Friargate will be returned to water for the first time in decades – what a sight that will be!
But why stop there? Other tired areas are also getting some much needed TLC thanks to grants…
Another historic area going back centuries this area has been tired and neglected for some time but all that is changing with water features and plants being added to liven up the area next to The Wave and Christchurch Spire!
More to come…