Birmingham's Brindleyplace is to go head-to-head with Borough Market in London and St Stephen's Green, Dublin, for the title of The Great Place in the Urbanism Awards, the "Oscars" of the design world. Joanna Geary looks at the nominees.


Named after the 18th Century canal engineer James Brindley, the development of Brindleyplace started in the mid-1990s.

At the height of the city's industrial past the land was full of factories, but from the 1970s started to fall into dereliction.

In 1993 the site was purchased by Argent Partners which commissioned a small group of up-and-coming design practices to work on the development with masterplanner John Chatwin.

The first phase, The Waters Edge - a canalside scheme of shops, restaurants and bars -was opened in 1994. The last phase was completed in January 2004 when the final buildings for the Royal Bank of Scotland Group were finished. The estimated £400 million redevelopment created a site which is now home to more than one-million square metres of office space, 140 town houses and apartments, 100,000 square foot of shops, bars and restaurants, a hotel, the National Sea Life Centre, a health club, the Crescent Theatre and two leading art galleries.

It is designed around three landscaped squares - the central square which includes fountains and a coffee shop, Brunswick Square and tree-lined Oozells Square which is home to a number of high-class bars and restaurants.

Be in Birmingham, the official website for the city, describes it as "vibrant, lively and colourful - morning, noon and night". The site, which covers 17 acres, is also located next door to the International Convention Centre, Symphony Hall and the National Indoor Arena.

"I think it is one of the nicest places to have a drink in the city," said 26-year-old postgraduate student David Longden. "It's airy, open and has a good atmosphere. It's a good place to impress people who haven't been to the city before."

Gary Taylor, director of Argent, said he was "absolutely delighted" it had been chosen among such distinguished company. "Ours is the biggest urban space short-listed, and it's great to see that Brindleyplace keeps getting mentioned more than ten years after we started the thing," he said. "I don't think it's the architecture, I think it's the combination of buildings and public spaces that make it so special. The fact there are green spaces as well as the right combination of bars and restaurants, that's the charm of it."

He said that last Wednesday, the day the judges came for a site inspection, an elderly couple stopped to tell them how it had taken them three hours to get there from Birmingham New Street.

"It was a perfect sunny day, showing off Brindleyplace in the best light, and I thought 'oh, no'," said Mr Taylor. "But then they explained it had changed so much since they had come years ago that it had taken them all that time because they had stopped to look at so many things. It was a great testimony to how the location has changed."


One of London's oldest wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, Borough Market was established by an Act of Parliament in 1756 and is administered by 21 trustees who have to live in the local community. It covers an area of 4.5 acres.

Operating in the early hours of the morning, the streets used to be quiet and empty during the day.

But not any more. Known in its heyday as London's Larder, the capital relied on Borough Market for its essential supplies. It is now being reborn as a retail centre in addition to the trade activities.

Visit London describe it as a "gourmet's paradise" offering "top quality produce and artisan foods from all over Britain and the continent".

Waterloo-based patisserie Konditor & Cook has a presence, alongside Neal's Yard Dairy, with high quality bakers de Gustibus also operating nearby.

The phenomenal success of the two-day Food Lovers' Fair in November 1998 led to the establishment of a weekly Borough Food Market, now operating every Friday and Saturday.

"It's a bit of a trend setting place," said Gill Green, a 35-year-old managing director of a design company and a regular visitor to London.

"In recent years it has become a 'middle-class person living on the Thames' sort of a place.

"It is an expensive and exclusive place, but still keeps that market feel.

"It's a great place to buy new and different food. Four years ago they were selling fresh smoothies, well before they caught on elsewhere."

Traders participating in the markets include Utobeer, Turnips and Spanish food importer Brindisa.


Described by the Dublin tour-ist board as "an ideal place to rest after a days shopping in town", the park at the top of Grafton Street is a peaceful green in the heart of the Irish capital.

The 22-acre park, which includes a fountain and lake, was enclosed in 1664 and laid out in its present form in 1880.

It is dotted with memorials to several eminent Dubliners, including the famous bust of James Joyce that faces his former university at Newman House.

"It's a real place for families," said 24-year-old legal assistant Alison Geary, who has just returned from a year working in the city.

"Because it is completely enclosed, it is very peaceful. You feel you're in a country park even though you are still in the heart of the city.

"It's great for picnics."

In 1877, Parliament passed an Act to reopen St Stephen's Green to the public, at the initiative of Sir AE Guinness, a member of the Guinness brewing family.

He later paid for laying out the Green in approximately its current form, which took place in 1880. The Guinnesses had a mansion on the Green, Iveagh House, which now houses the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.

Ms Geary, who now works in London, said all of the locations up for the award had their own strengths.

"I've been to all three and they are very different places. I wouldn't know how you would judge between them," she said.

"If you could spend an afternoon in St Stephen's Green, have dinner at Borough Market and end the day with drinks at Brindleyplace, I think you would have a pretty perfect combination!"


* The annual Urbanism Awards are run by the Academy of Urbanism, an independent body of 100 members which seeks to promote lessons about good urbanism and best practice

* The annual are based around four categories -- European City of the Year, The Great Town, The Great Neighbourhood, The Great Street and The Great Place

* Ludlow in Shropshire has been shortlisted in The Great Town category, where it is up against St Ives in Cornwall and Lincoln

* The nominations were drawn up following a public consultation process across Great Britain and Ireland, with members of the public voting for their favourites

* The results of the contest will be announced at the Dorchester Hotel in London in November