Bee in the City, public spaces and what Deansgate could be

For those that don’t know, Bee in the City is a sculpture trail taking place across Manchester, summer 2018. It consists of over 100 giant and 130 medium bee sculptures that have each been decorated by different artists. It’s similar to the cow parade that visited Manchester back in 2004 (was it really that long ago?).

The worker bee has long been the symbol of Manchester, going back to the industrial revolution. It’s on the coat of arms of the city and can be seen on the streets, on bins, street lights and elsewhere.

The bee took on an additional significance following the horrific arena bombing on 22nd May 2017, which killed 22 people and injured many more. In the days following the tragedy, people were queuing up to get bee tattoos in support of the victims and bees were appearing as street art across the city. So it’s only fitting that this sculpture trail features bees.

22 bees mural on the Koffee Pot, a Manchester institution

As many families have done already this summer, we decided to head into the city, have a little tour of our own and see how many bees we could spot. Being realistic, we knew we weren’t going to spot them all, but we headed out with a map and the mobile app and see how many we could find. With the glorious weather we’ve been having, it meant walking the streets of Manchester on a sunny Sunday would be quite a pleasant experience.

We started off at One Angel Square, passed through the old Co-op building to Victoria Station and onto Cathedral Gardens. Stopping at Greengate Square, we carried onto Exchange Square and then along to St Ann’s Square and the Royal Exchange.

Our first bee at One Angel Square

We then headed to Deansgate and then over to Spinningfields. Passing over the Irwell on the footbridge, we stopped briefly on New Bailey Street and admired the new SuDS enabled planting before carrying onto the People’s History Museum.

The rather nice new SuDS enabled planting on New Bailey Street

Heading back across the river, we walked up to Museum of Science and Industry to see their bee and bee garden exhibition, which is worth a visit. From there, we walked to the Great Northern Square, which was busy with market stalls and kids playing in the giant sandpit, or dare we say beach? Maybe Ian Brown’s quote about Manchester having everything except a beach is no longer correct?!

The bee garden at the Museum of Science and Industry

We carried on up to St Peter’s Square via Manchester Central, to see the bees around Central Library. We tried a few different phones, but none of us could get the augmented reality bee to work in the app.

Bee in St Peter’s Square

After spending some time in the sun in St Peter’s Square, we carried on to Manchester Art Gallery, Albert Square and King Street. Passing through Market Street and Manchester Arndale, we headed onto Shudehill and up to the surprisingly quiet Mackie Mayor, where we found one final bee before heading in there for a well-deserved tea.

A relatively quiet Mackie Mayor

I must say, having the bees to hunt really did make it into a good excuse for having a wander round the city. Having a wander is something I’m happy to do any time, but it’s usually something the kids bore of quickly.

Having the bees to find and the mobile app to collect them really got the kids involved. It’s just one step away from Pokémon Go really.

Collecting bees on the mobile app

What I did notice while wandering, was how pleasant some of our new or recently improved public spaces are. We passed through quite a few, including Sadler’s Yard, Greengate Square, Exchange Square, Cathedral Gardens, Spinningfields, Great Northern Square and St Peter’s Square.

While Sadler’s Yard was quiet, it tends to be busy in the week with people working in nearby offices. Greengate Square was also quiet, though I’d expect it’ll become busier once the ongoing Greengate development completes as well as the work on Chapel Street.

The changes to the Corn Exchange and the removal of motor traffic from Cross Street has transformed Exchange Square. Since the renovation after the bombing, the Corn Exchange has struggled to find any relevance and this has impacted the whole area. Now it’s been transformed into a food destination, it’s attracting more people than ever. With tables spilling out onto the square, it feels livelier than it ever has.

The Corn Exchange and Exchange Square

There were plenty of people around Spinningfields, wandering through and enjoying the sun. Typically, this area is busier in the week and in evenings, but it’s now starting to draw people in at the weekends.

It was good to see Great Northern Square bustling with people. For too long, this area has felt like a desolate, windswept place. But with the busy market, beach and entertainment destinations, it felt much more alive.

As once said by Ian Brown “Manchester’s got everything except a beach”, not any more!

While I still think the Metrolink dominates too much, St Peter’s Square has been transformed from what it was. The relocation of the cenotaph and the choice of materials and street furniture has been a success. It’s probably the closest we have to a European style square, though it feels like it could do with some more destinations to attract people to hang around.

Looking out over St Peter’s Square

With all these new and improved public spaces that are reasonably well joined up, plus the news about Albert Square pedestrianisation proposals. It makes you wonder what’s going to happen with Deansgate.

Outside of peak hours, Deansgate is largely empty apart from rows of parked cars and the odd idiot in a supercar driving at excessive speeds. It’s unpleasant to walk or cycle down, due to air pollution and lack of safe space for cycling.

An empty Deansgate, but with so much space given over to motor traffic

Deansgate is crying out for most of the motor traffic to be removed (except for access) and parking replaced with wider pavements, trees, protected cycleways and priority at side roads to people walking and cycling.

Imagine Deansgate getting the Oxford Road treatment, but with safer junctions? Or even better, imagine Deansgate like Amsterdamsestraatweg in Utrecht.

Something else I noticed while wandering with the kids, was how much time you spend as a pedestrian waiting at junctions for the green man. Often, this is while the road’s empty and there’s no passing traffic. We need junctions to favour people over motor traffic. Hopefully, this is something Chris Boardman’s Beelines will address.

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