Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A hole in it

Another short 'news item' which appeared in Newcastle City Council's house journal City Life which I noted with interest appeared under the heading 'Ouseburn Parks Project'. The article describes 'detailed plans' which have been drawn up by consultant landscape architects for the 'Ouseburn Parks, a 2 mile long stretch of green space including, the article lists, Jesmond Dene, Heaton Park, Armstrong Park and Paddy Freeman's Park. All are situated along the course of the Ouseburn as it flows south into the River Tyne.

I must have missed the 'regular consultations' to which the article refers. I may not have received the relevant issue or issues of City Life in which these consultations were advertised; nor have any leaflets popped through the door. The only document I have seen is one I picked up, the over elaborate 'Visit Ouseburn' folded leaflet which gives details of the many (good) cultural activities housed about the lower end of the Ouseburn 'area'.

It may seem like carping but the leaflet barely mentions (I am being generous) the amenity of the area and nothing about wild life. The City Life article is much more alarming. It speaks of 'the next exciting phase of the project, which will see works commence on site.' What does this mean? Works sounds ominous to any with a memory of Newcastle City Council's record of destruction since the sixties.

I have a problem with 'projects'. They anticipate and impose ideas, sometimes at great initial outlay and then fail to support with long term maintenance. Newcastle is littered with the remains of 'projects' which wilted after the first funds ran out.

Given that the same City Council had a 'project' to turn the Battlefield City Stadium 'site' into a car park attached to a private office development (thereby allowing the said offices to double in size at no extra cost to the developers) as recently as 2002, I am not sanguine about the branding of Ouseburn as a means of protecting all the sites along the Ouseburn. (See logo below. Is the whirlpool device a signal of a fear of vacancy?) Neither do I welcome such devices as 'way markers', especially ones that simply replace distraction for imagination. Why should there have to be a 'project' to give open space an identity? Might it not have one already, less glamourous than television 'make-over' garden shows would have it, but still a sense of place. I have seen a lot of such 'exercises'.

I once went round an exhibition of competition entries for a national campaign to 'restore' a set of areas such as the Ouseburn catchment with a friend who had studied sculpture. The designs were all of the 'feature' and 'way mark' identity crisis kind. When we emerged he turned to me and said "I saw nothing which beat a tree." The prevailing passion is that everywhere must be put to a defined use, for a purpose, a given activity – it is that fear of vacancy again. Why not stop for a moment and look at what is there?

Photographs from top:
Former Reg Vardy showrooms with developers display. There are several vacant office schemes in the city already, some recently completed, others old. ("The wrong sort of offices" personal comment by NCC official to author, 2002.)

Overview of the former Vardy site with Battlefield City Stadium in background.

New Ouseburn trail map. Note 'anarchist' addition.

Close up of the Ouseburn 'logo'.

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