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  • Lawrence Bailey

Taking those first steps again

Have you noticed that you never see an artist’s impression depicting a new development where the rain is coming down sideways?

It’s funny that. Especially when you think it’s just those kind of weather conditions you’d most associate with South Wales in the winter months (or even June for that matter).

I know I’ve made the point before but it does irk me how designers seldom make allowance for wet weather when it comes to urban projects.

There’s currently a lot of debate going on around the country about pedestrianisation. Some want to the see it expanded as a means of boosting footfall. Meanwhile, a number of market towns who had previously paved over their main streets are seriously talking about digging them up again.

Their view is that this will re-instate ‘passing trade’ for retailers, if combined with free limited-stay roadside parking.

I’m fairly neutral when it comes to preferences. Where I do take a view though is in believing that the ethos behind pedestrianisation should be ‘pro-people’ rather than just ‘anti-car’.

I really do despair at what has happened to Swansea in recent times where thriving thoroughfares with once busy frontages become an empty windswept expanse - and, yes, I’m talking about Princess Way.

Compare that bleak space with the people-friendly street layout created when College Street was first paved over in the 1980s.

OK, we had different shopping habits in those days. We smoked more. We often bumped into people we knew. We didn’t walk around with our eyes locked on our phones.

Even so we still want somewhere to sit, plus free (and secure) wi-fi and preferably in a smoke-free environment. We’d also like to have a café nearby and some toilets, please.

The next part of the city due to undergo pedestrianisation is Wind Street. Plans are well advanced I’m told - but not too advanced I hope so that a basic factor is left unaddressed.

Proposals were put forward a few decades ago to regenerate what was then a rather rundown part of the city by creating a street ‘cafe quarter’. This would see patrons sat under awnings and engaging in people-watching and what-not.

Crucially, the proposals included stepped platforms and decking at different levels along its sloping length so that glasses and crockery didn’t slide off the table outside each establishment. It also added, in my opinion, a permanence that did much more to enhance the location than putting bollards at each end of the street.

Of course, all these discussions happened before development and licensing rules in the city went adrift and the place got overwhelmed by punters in search of Happy Hour offers. All that could now change however.

There’s currently a lot of energy going into new developments in Swansea. They are going to transform the face of the city. What’s important is that just as much energy is expended in making the place somewhere for folk to work, visit, shop and stay.

The emphasis has to be on people as customers rather than award-winning architectural triumphs or greening gimmicks.

So, before we regard pedestrianisation as an answer, I think we have to first ask if we fully understand the question.

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