Today’s blog post is not really about planning as such, or architecture or urban design.  It is more about how the temporary or permanent use of a building, place or space can be aesthetically and emotionally transformative when used in a totally unexpected, exciting or adventurous way.

Having just experienced an amazing Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol I thought it only right to ponder on how great it is to be able to use places and spaces in totally unexpected ways.  For instance who would have thought that Park Street could be used as a ‘Park and Slide’ – artist Luke Jerram did.   

As part of Bristol’s Make Sunday Special programme and the Bristol Art Weekender Luke Jerram designed and installed a 95m waterslide down a length of the street, with the remainder closed to traffic and open to thousands of people.  Literally – just take a look at the photos on other news sites, blogs, twitter etc. No doubt a considerable amount of planning (not necessarily town planning!) went into this event and I am sure there was migraine inducing bureaucracy to deal with. But as a local who was there with my family I would say that it was definitely worth it. Although my four year old son thought Robin Hood and his merry mob on College Green were far more impressive 😉

Bristol received international coverage as a result of this brilliantly bonkers idea and the Council is garnering local respect for embracing unexpected ideas. Hopefully this means that not only will individuals become more ambitious but perhaps the city too. This could mean that professionals working within the built environment, on both sides of the fence, also become more ambitious about the buildings, places and spaces that they seek to create.  I am thinking here as much about the plans and aspirations for parts of the City that have been identified through the Local Plan process and the Enterprise Zone for redevelopment as individual, private client led development. But that’s for another blog post.

The successful regeneration of places and spaces has to transform lives not only as places to live and work but importantly to enjoy.  Think of recent projects like the High Line Park in New York, perhaps the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. Depressingly I can’t think of many successful new or regenerated places in Bristol –  my favourites include Paintworks, Arnos Vale, Temple Meads. But I can think of many more dreary retail parks and campus style development that need cars to access and move between.  

So what is my moral of this story?  Well for starters we should always have ambitious plans for spaces, places and buildings – think Thomas Heatherwick, Dan Pearson and Joanna Lumley’s idea for a garden bridge, the annual temporary art pavilion at The Serpentine.  We all deserve to live in places that are always getting better and moving forward. To have buildings, places and spaces that are designed to be the best that they can be, aesthetically beautiful, adventurous and exciting, responsive to context and neighbours, that retain older buildings where possible and don’t demolish for the sake of it, possibly with the flexibility of wider uses in mind, although you can’t expect buildings to be designed for alternative uses – can you?  

I also think that we should always allow the seemingly bonkers ideas of creatives, including architects, urban designers, landscape designers as well as our free thinkers to flourish and influence our daily lives.  It is so much more exciting than the mundane and the mediocre, of which we already have so much.