Setting the scene
Many have already blogged eloquently on the topic of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen , and I will direct you to their works in a moment, but I feel moved to add my first meagre contribution to the body of work in the blogosphere on this subject so here goes … and as this is only my 2nd blog entry, and I cant get the spellcheck to work so don’t expect any fancy formatting or anything like that folks.
I guess many of you wont do that yet, so to recap a bit Union Terrace Gardens (UTG) is a park in the centre of Aberdeen that occupies the western slopes of whats left of the valley of the Denburn between Union Bridge and Rosemont Viaduct, the base of the valley hosts the Aberdeen – Inverness railway line and the Denburn dual carrigeway. The road and railway are unsightly but I suppose they are important pieces of infrastrucrture but the most striking feature of UTG for me is that it nestles right in the heart of the city with mature deciduous trees and interesting topographic variations coupled with sweeping vistas to Her Majesty’s Theatre, its like stepping out of the city centre … while staying in the city centre, if you see what I mean. You can see a selection of photos from UTG here.
I have used and loved these gardens for as long as I’ve known Aberdeen – they are one of the defining features of the city, a unique green oasis in the very heart of the CBD, a tranquil green lung where you can go to think and breathe or just eat your piece at dinner time. Sadly there are no catering facilities there and the once magnificent toilets were closed in 2000 and decay unused (check out some pics of the bogs here ), so the council haven’t exactly done much to encourage people to visit the park.
I suppose its easy to say its not used much – there are no tickets sold for it, no shopping centre “footfalls” to report but what price can be put on the changing scene through the seasons seen by people just passing or by the lucky ones who marvel at Peregrine Falcons flying over the gardens? (In 2007 the RSPB even had a falcon viewing site next to the Robert Burns statue so that the public could watch falcons train their young! – most cities would love this sort of thing and be proud of it.)
Following CONsultation, City Council vote to raze gardens
Anyway, there was a proposal to raze the gardens and replace them with an open square covering a “civic space”, this was called The City Square Project, backed by ACSEF who used public funds to promote this project as the only option for the UTG area in a “consultation exercise“. In response, sites like I Love UTG and Compare The Square presented other options. The public decisively rejected the ASCEF “vision” of a bland concrete desert but ACSEF then rejected their own consultation and, with the backing of the local media, told anyone who cared to listen that the world would effectively end if their City Square Project didn’t get the go ahead. Aberdeen City Council bought it hook, line and sinker and so we get to where we are today.
The Aberdeen Civic Society Newsletter of June 2010 has some very interesting stuff to say about the whole situation and the potential financial implications for Aberdeen.
What do you do? Have a picnic in the park!
On 12th June, over 1,000 people attended a mass picnic in the park, here’s a nice video that gives a feeling for the event (there are several more on-line too). While we are on about videos check out Sergeant Squirrel’s Save The Gardens Band here – this one always makes me smile.
A Councillor Speaks
Full marks to Councillor John Corall for speaking to citizens at the UTG picnic, as at least he had the decency to come and discuss things. How many of the other city councillors who voted against UTG attended? If they felt strongly enough to vote against UTG then surely they can defend their actions to their constituents?
Watch the video of Cllr Corall here
This has been commented on elsewhere (see the Friends of UTG Facebook group) but there is a point I’d like to raise here. 2 minutes and 58 seconds into this video, the Councillor states “our bus station, even our new bus station is absolute garbage and not fit for purpose” … hold on, hold on, what was that? surely I must have misheard, maybe those vuvuzelas have made me go deaf? no, rewind, it is “our bus station, even our new bus station is absolute garbage and not fit for purpose” that would be the new bus station that Union Square Developments built in 2007 and handed over to Stagecoach in 2008, the plans for which were presumably approved by Aberdeen City Council? Now Aberdeen’s population – or bus network / usage – hasn’t rapidly expanded since these plans were approved so what’s going on here? If our council planners can’t ensure a bus station is fit for purpose how can they possibly contemplate a massive scheme like the City Square Project?
Oh, and by the way – Councillor Corall also mentions low participation in the consultation process (03:20 into the video) something many ACSEF-backers have mentioned since the City Square Proposal was decisively rejected by the public in the consultation, but lets not forget that ACSEF made a press release on Feb 23rd 2010 trumpeting how high participation in the consultation was “Participation in City Square Consultation Set to Beat Other Major Scottish Projects” .
Catchphrase : This Time. This Place. This Generation.
With Aberdeen on its knees financially – as a result of the failure of successive city administrations to handle city finances – and council elections not due till 2012, developers know that there is a limited window in which to grab choice public assets for private profit.
Developers will always covet public open space especially when it is the CBD, and while UTG represents the jewel in the crown, it is potentially only one of many civic sites that may be up for transfer to private hands via a “City Development Company”. When its gone, its gone.
Might be the last to enjoy this vital urban greenspace if people stay silent.
Oh, the irony of it all!
At 12:58 on Friday at 18th June 2010, Aberdeen City Council tweeted “Do you have a garden worth shouting about? Enter the Aberdeen In Bloom garden competition!”
Thousands of people think the city has a garden worth shouting about – UNION TERRACE GARDENS – Maybe at This Time, in This place, This Generation will be able to prevent Aberdeen, City in Bloom from becoming the City of Gloom.