Hull’s public realm is the face of the city

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Published: Friday 10th March 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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Anyone who’s been in Hull city centre over the last year will know about the public realm works.

The most obvious sign of the works taking place is the orange barriers, which turned the streets into a brightly coloured maze for a while.

But how much do you know about this enormous undertaking and the effect it will have on Hull?

Last night an event took place at Fruit. Public Realm is the Face of the City saw four professionals come together to talk about the developments, and the impact they’re already having on our hometown.

First up was Garry Taylor, City Manager for Major Projects and Infrastructure.

He began by saying that “our city is going through a renaissance,” which was then followed up by plenty of evidence.

Garry’s job is to oversee the £20 million construction, demolition and regeneration projects throughout the city centre.

Rather than looking at each area as separate, such as Queen Victoria Square and Whitefriargate individually, his team adopts a holistic approach.

“The mission is to stitch the city together through public realm. This will play a major role in sustaining and growing the city centre for years to come.”

In the process, 7,500 jobs are being created whilst shaping the city centre into a destination not only for commuters and tourists, but also long-term residents.

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“We’ve always been a city of many towns,” added Garry. “A medieval street plan combined with pre- and post-war expansion that couldn’t be filled due to market failure created empty pockets of space.”

“Public realm links all of these areas together and creates a natural flow through the city centre. Similarly, newly opened spaces encourage exploration, and new amenities lead to stickability.”

The concept of “stickability” is very straightforward, with the aim being to give people a reason to stick around in the city centre.

Next up was Andrew Price from Re-form Landscape Architecture. His talk looked at the smaller features that make a huge difference.

Working across 14 streets and multiple public squares, this side of the public realm works forms a spine through the city centre.

Stretching from Paragon Interchange to the Fruit Market, his team’s job is to uncover the beauty of the city.

“We do this by exploring assets,” explains Andrew. “Through relatively small additions, people are driven to discover more and appreciate existing buildings.”

Excellent examples are the dancing fountains being installed in Queen Victoria Square. Once operational, they will create a focal point and play area, surrounded by the impressive Maritime Museum, City Hall and Ferens Art Gallery.

Meanwhile, the mirror pools in Trinity Square will only be around 4mm deep. Their function is to reflect the incredible Holy Trinity Church and invite people to look up at its centuries-old architectural character.

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Dr Kevin Moore followed up with insight into how the Humber Bridge is to be turned into a major tourist attraction.

Formerly of the National Football Museum in Manchester, Dr Moore is now the bridge’s first CEO. His passion for cultural tourism revolved around how cities themselves are a form of culture, which allows reinvention by any means they deem suitable.

A good example was Barcelona, which originally didn’t mention Gaudi in its tourism literature. Once the architect was included, people flocked from across the world to see his creations that had been in place for decades.

One of Dr Moore’s top points was that Hull people are proud yet talk their city down, and the city itself is split against itself. We need to overcome these barriers and appreciate Hull for the cultural hotspot it is.

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Last but by no means least, Andrew Knight amused the audience with true tales about cities with limited vision.

He began by pointing out that the Hull 2017 website is as much the public face of the city as the city centre itself. Both express a clear identity and sense of possession, so we must put as much effort into maintaining our digital character as we do our streets and buildings.

Andrew then delved into the exciting world of Look Up, which includes the 75-metre Siemens blade cutting through Queen Victoria Square.

“We’re already screwing up the relationship with the public realm spaces,” he laughed. “All art is about interruption, combining big scale with intimate scale and presenting an opportunity to be bold.”

His conclusion that art is about taking risks and being committed to quality was very inspiring. He also emphasised how essential it is that Blade and other installations are temporary:

“If something is only around for a short while, people want to touch it and say ‘I was there’. It becomes part of the city’s legend.”

So the next time you’re in the city centre, think about how your route through the streets has changed and your experience along with it.

From accessing areas to appreciating something you’ve never noticed before, the public realm works are about celebrating our city centre and using it to the full.

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Published: Friday 10th March 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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