In my recent piece on New Year resolutions, I suggested that Birmingham should resolve to create a major new park as part of the markets redevelopment. Now, a petition calling for this, organised by CityPark4Brum, has achieved 5,000 signatures, and people are continuing to sign. It’s great that thousands of people can see the need and the logic for the park. Somewhere though, in the corridors of power in Birmingham City Council, there is a handful of decision makers on whom everything rests. In addition, the Metro Mayor, Andy Street, could exercise his influence to help sway things the right way.
Why should he, and they, agree to the request? As money talks, let’s start with that. Most major cities in the world have such a park, some of them very famous, and none more so than New York’s Central Park. It generates $1 billion a year for the city. The site in Digbeth is much smaller, at the most it is 14 hectares (20 football pitches) which is about 4% the size of Central Park. In proportion though that still comes to tens of million pounds per year potential economic benefit. That should make Andy Street and the City Council sit up and take notice.
There are other imperatives apart from money. Birmingham does not have such a city centre park, or indeed any major natural feature, such as a large river or a dramatic escarpment. The tiny park proposed in the development is smaller than the cathedral green. What is needed is the boldness and imagination that brought us Symphony Hall, the Commonwealth Games and the new library. An environmental ‘big idea’ is long overdue. Here is the opportunity; it is not likely to recur any time soon, it’s now or never.
With 2,000 new homes being part of the development, the site being a few minutes’ walk from the Bull Ring and New Street Station, and the river Rea corridor close by, residents, visitors, and local wildlife would all benefit. A park would also go some way to addressing the overall lack of such facilities in the Digbeth area, as highlighted in the Council’s own Parks and Open Spaces Strategy. This calls for two hectares of open space for every 1,000 residents.
Finally, as a park would be widely welcomed, politicians might like the idea of receiving praise rather than the more usual brickbats.