The Hole That Cost a Mint

Tagged as: economic_crisis environmentalism free_spaces social_struggles
Neighbourhoods: bradford

As a responsible citizen and commentator your correspondent felt compelled today to visit the recently opened "Temporary Bradford Urban Garden"  which we last reported on in February [1], when plans were about to be unveiled for the opening up of the space.

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Click on a thumbnail for a slideshow view

Disappointingly the "urban art" which was to be installed in the massive interior space has not materialised. This must be particularly wounding for the fund-a-rama arts types who would have been expecting a handy bundle of the people's cash in exchange for their "light sculpture of illuminated sea creatures" and raised stage and seating area :[2] ("Original vision from Autumn 2009" - F***book link - you do not need to be logged in to view this - the other pics on the page are usefully captioned and make reference to the depressing Council disclaimer notice "Access to this land is with the consent of the Council only. Such consent may be withdrawn at any time". Well, thanks a bundle guys.)

As might be expected the local press coverage of this unfolding slow-motion disaster has been basically useless. Once in a while someone will write in a letter questioning why (for example) Westfield are pressing ahead with their Stratford development which has (allegedly) less pre-let units than their Bradford triumph, but generally the approach is to regurgitate the press releases and ask no questions.

Consequently we don't really know if Westfield have figured out yet that they will never build this thing. While the pretence prevails we still have a massive hole (no sea creatures!) and something that reminds one of the Berlin Wall, only made out of plywood (costs must be cut!).

Behind its forbidding presence the hoarding conceals both an idea and a reality, and draws a modest veil over the gaping void between the two. Like the old East a plan is in place which promises all kinds of benefits to those who must pay for its execution, and a rubble-strewn reality is in place to remind the sclerotic old politburo of free-market consumer evangelists that they are in possession of a busted flush. Perhaps - both here and there - if the high-priests of these respective ideologies had not lined their own pockets quite so fulsomely over the last couple of decades of each of their experiments the crash landing would not have been so abrupt.

Contrary to the declarations of my respected friends, I suspect we probably will "pay for their crisis" [6]. The titans of free market ideology already have us paying for the CCTV that follow our every move, and the batons the cops raise against us when we murmur in protest. They're not going to go soft when then cash taps finally run dry.

Returning briefly to the press coverage, one is inevitably reminded of this fine article from Bristol Indymedia [3] concerning the press response to the Cabot Circus development (a similar scheme, except that it actually got built). And as much as it pains me to offer a link to Y**tube [health warning], here's an interesting interview with a local about the pros and cons of that development [4

But what did your correspondent find when visiting our own local mega-shopping-development-cum-urban-garden? Well, fair's fair, there's some nice identikit wild flowers. The maroon hoardings have been repositioned and painted a new and different colour. Whoo hoo.

A number of signs refer to the place as "Bradford Urban Garden" (not least the F***book site linked above) but elsewhere the word Temporary is prefixed clumsily onto the name, and other signs warn of the deep excavations behind the hoardings and, elsewhere, encourage us with the words "This is temporary garden open for all to enjoy". I think I get it, temporary and dangerous, but enjoy it somehow.

A few folks were enjoying the space, though the the slivers of greenery that bound the concrete crater on two sides are relatively narrow, and are themselves widely intercut with various kinds of hard-standing and (apparently) a turning circle for diggers and so on. The stage, seating area, film screen, garden and picnic area, solar lighting and five viewing areas were not in evidence, though in two places it is possible to peer into the zone through meshed portals in the boundary.

Most people in the area today were simply crossing from one side to another by a marginally shorter route, now that the perimeter of the exclusion zone has moved back a little. It's not clear if the visitor figures match up to those in what appears to be the official account of the project: [7] though this website does claim/reveal/assert (whatever, how can one know?) that following the project on 31st October... " what has been dubbed an ‘art attack’ took place which saw the addition of cartoons and poems to the hoardings surrounding the site. The work of an informal coalition of local artists and activists, known only as ‘Spartacus’, the hoardings featuring the name of the developers was also changed to ‘Wastefield’"[8] ..."a meeting was held between representatives of Westfield, Bradford Council and Fabric to explore alternative uses of the site." Which indicates an intriguing turn of events where a zero-cost citizen initative has been transmuted into a £300k "temporary" project for those who know better than the rest of us. And that's not including the cost of painting over the comments on the "democracy wall".

Still, better to put £300k we don't have into the pockets of local bohemians (to do the heavy lifting) and arts supremos (to sell our ideas back to us) than £300m on a shopping centre we don't need. I'm not sure the pension funds will can take much more of this kind of thing.

A drinks license application has been posted up for the requisite 28 days so presumably the programme of entertainment is about to begin. Your correspondent will put on his Johnny Greenwash arts-dude outfit and get lined up for some of the public-arts moolah sloshing about, before the last dregs go down the plug hole, and will report back accordingly.

Meanwhile, can we suggest that with the installation of some portaloos and plenty of robust fencing this area might be an ideal location for a static gathering of some type, possibly as soon as next week [5]? Better yet, given the absence of illuminated sea creatures we could perhaps unlock the gates and allow the crater to fill with the beer-fuelled self-appointed guardians of englishness, and we locals could take turns peering through the meshed portholes at the strange characters within, moving about like sun-burned jellyfish seeking another can of lager and someone a bit different to themselves to shout at.

Well, it makes about as much sense as the rest of this craziness.


Arts for the Urban Garden

Artists have until this Friday (24th Sept) to submit proposals for some sponsored art, with funds coming from those nice Santander people

(Did someone way artswash?)