This evening I attended a lecture held in Cowdary Hall at the Aberdeen Art Gallery titled Regenerating Aberdeen: A Vision for a Thriving and Vibrant City Centre. It was great to see the hall more or less entirely full to capacity. The event was chaired by the Principal of Robert Gordon University Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski. The panel of four speakers included a number of those who were involved in developing the report including Professor Richard Laing and Dr. David McClean. The photographs below should give you some sense of the event and the very much appropriate location.
The discussion paper centred around three distinct principles: 1. Connectivity, 2.Multiplicity of use and finally 3. Adaptability and coherence. The presentation was punctuated with a number of photographs throughout showing elements from cities around Europe. Copenhagen for example featured a few times, I had visited in 2005 myself and was amazed at just how easy it was for cyclists to get around. It was very much a city where the cyclist had the right of way, and I could see myself interested in using this form of transport given the priority given to cyclists. In most other cities I wouldn’t even consider it for a nanosecond as a viable option.
The paper also proposed ten priority action points ranging from creating links between Union Street and the Harbour to Restoring city squares such as Golden Square, Bon-Accord and the Castlegate.
One thing I found perhaps surprising was a limited mention of Aberdeens 2017 bid for European Capital of Culture. According to the news of 20th Feb Aberdeens team of five was appointed. Just a few days later on the 28th Feb the bid was lodged. Today it was announced that Aberdeen and Dundee would be the two candidates from Scotland. I have been to a number of cities that have held the title of Capital of Culture in recent years and each one was a joy to behold for visitors / pedestrians. The following are some of my own thoughts and comments for how life could be breathed into the city bearing in mind the ever approaching 2017 deadline.
One city I visited was Sibiu, which held the title in 2007. It was the summer of 2006 however when I visited and was really amazed by the sheer number of people throughout the city that were doing work to the squares and buildings. The best way of describing it was a veritable army at work. Never a time before or since have I seen so much work being carried out at such a rapid rate. The evening that I arrive in Sibiu I was treated to an outdoor concert in one of the squares. You will note from the images below the use of an easy to erect staging area and the myriad of market stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. The atmosphere was really quite amazing, especially with the concert ending with a fireworks display. Another interesting feature was the use of projections on the walls of the buildings surrounding the square (Piata Mare (Grand Square)).
With the demolition process of the Old City Council building just commenced, the transformation of this area into a civic square could be of tremendous benefit to the city, allowing functions such as that seen in the photographs above of the concert in Sibiu to be held. Further just like in Sibiu the surrounding buildings could become a platform for projected imagery, in particular Marischal College. Also the opening up of this area would bring a new lease of live to Provost Skene’s House. Those who like photography would also benefit from being able to photograph Marischal College directly face on and take in the entire facade, rather than all the photographs you currently see taken in a side on manner. It was mentioned that the arrival of the Olympic Torch was a great event for Aberdeen, and brought out the crowds by the thousands. Perhaps a plaza in-front of Marischal College could be a good venue for such future gatherings!
With a square in place capable of hosting a reasonably good sized crowd one could look at linking it with the other open areas of the city, perhaps by forming a thoroughfare or link via Neitherkirkgate through to the Kirk of St Nicholas on to Little Belmont Street and eventually linking up with Union Terrace Gardens. One one then have a haven of substantial area right within the heart of the city centre. Planting of course could help take toxins out of the air and create a set of lungs for the city centre.
What is a city of Culture without a viewing platform allowing one to readily get a feel for the cityscape. Plans for a 40-meter big wheel at Aberdeen’s Castlegate were dropped back in 2009. Perhaps the “new plaza” in-front of Marshall College could be a potential place, allowing for some spectacular views of the second largest granite building in the world to be captured. Would also make for a wonderful high rise platform to gather photographs of various events and concerts that could potentially he held in the square.
Some of the following images should give a sense of what Sibiu was like in the summer prior to becoming the Capital of Culture. Its interesting to see the work being done to the square, the planting and the revamping of all the facades of the surrounding buildings. Clearly this is a city well underway in preparing itself for the year ahead.
It may have also been interesting to hear about how the Expansion of Aberdeen Harbour into Nigg Bay would effect the city. What would be the effect on traffic, how could the city take advantage of the additional cruise ship visitors. Another interesting element to factor into the equation is the Western peripheral Route and the new Business Park and Hotels being developed in Dyce.
The hosting of a very active programme of summer festivals in the lead-up to 2017 could also bring out the crowds. Some film festivals as well could perhaps help enhance the cultural aspects of the city. Earlier today I hosted the what I believe to be the first collaboration between RGU and the Belmont Cinema, by organising a screening of the videos some of the 4th year computing students produced for one of the modules I was teaching in the previous semester, focused on Audio and Video Production. Perhaps more collaborations such as this can enhance cultural elements !
In Ireland both Cork (2005) and Dublin (1991) have held the title. Cork like Sibiu in the pictures above undertook a tremendous renovation project to the main street and surrounds in the years leading up to 2005. The amount of traffic going down the main street has been greatly reduced and a great deal of pedestrianization established. To say the city saw an immense transformation would be an understatement. The city of Linz held the title in 2009, in the lead-up its electronic arts museum moved to a much larger space and is a fantastic attraction for the city. The city also features a wonderful pedestrianized area, tram system, and a spectacular view overlooking the entire city and a really interesting modern art museum.
The city of Aberdeen has many other attractions that should be fully exploited such as the potential heritage centre at Rubislaw Quarry or the renovation taking place at Duthie Park. Speaking of Duthie park, right next door to the east lies the home of Aberdeen Model Railway Club. Expansion of the park to the east to take in the Railway Club area would be of tremendious touristic value. Along with a number of carrages that are being restored is one of the last remaining turntables in Scotland (see here for further images of Ferryhill). The new build at Riverside East, Garthdee Campus is also a great asset to the city along with the new Library at Aberdeen University. These buildings again can provide the photo enthusiast with some great views of the city.
One may find the following paper “European Capitals of Culture as Incentives for Construction of European Identity?” to be of interest. It identifies all the previous cities since 1985 and up to 2015 that have or will hold the title of European Captial of Culture (see page 5).
I could of course go on with further ideas and suggestions, but its getting late in the evening now and will be demonstarating the setup and use of the Libec Swift Jib to students early in the morning. Thanks to all those who presented and the interesting Q&A session afterwards.