Joining the dots - Interconnect Birmingham

The Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the 23rd March saw a presentation on the Interconnect Birmingham Project which looks to be an exciting attempt to rectify the numberous complaints from citizens and businesses for a clear mapping and improvement of the public realm.

Interconnect Birmingham is a project to develop a strategic framework for the delivery of improved streets and spaces in Birmingham’s extended city core, accompanied by accurate information to assist wayfinding, linked walking and public transport networks, and interpretation.

Work took place in 2007 with a scoping document by Bristol based consultancy City ID and subsequently Project Development Plan in 2008 but the needs of the plan have been strengthened by the Big City Plan and comments which have emphasised the need to improve the public realm and the legibility of the city.

The aims of Interconnect Birmingham are that by May 2010 it will have produced:
• Research to inform movement and spatial network development in the city centre.
• Rationale and development direction for a Streetscape Strategy and Manual for the
City Centre.
• Visual identity scoping and conceptual development.

The project also aims to build an alliance of key partners including Network Rail,
Centro, BCC, Business Improvement Districts, Marketing Birmingham to enable improvements to the public realm and legibility to be coherant. Part of the piloting of a design programme will be "design (detail and artworking), manufacture and installation of pilot on street wayfinding products dovetailing with Centro's SuperStop project and programme and wayfinding for and within the Colmore Row and Retail BID areas".

The report to the Regeneration Committee explains the need and benefits of the project reflecting on the increased benefits of people spending more time wandering through the city with more cafes and events together with giving the city a direction to it's placemaking especially in light of the network of major developments that can be tied in within a connected city realm.

Following a number of successful regeneration projects in the city centre our research shows that the experience of residents and visitors is positive. There is, however, a recurring complaint about poor signage, orientation and way-finding – echoed by recent evaluation from delegates to the Conservative Party Conference. Concurrently, the public realm, which at key moments in time has thrust Birmingham to the cutting edge of public open space and urban realm design, for example with Victoria Square, Brindleyplace and the in-fill of Masshouse, has become dated or has not yet fulfilled its potential.

Our streets and spaces provide a running commentary about how we value our city and how important we think this public space is; the most liveable cities are walkable cities. If the streets and spaces that weave between landmark developments are tired, cluttered or obscured, the memory or function of the beautiful new-build will last only a moment, and the overall impression of the city will remain tired and forlorn. Studies have demonstrated that people value well-designed and maintained streets, and that high quality streetscapes and public realm can add economic value as well as offering a higher quality of life to residents, visitors and business.


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