Birmingham is creating its first park since Queen Victoria was on the throne. Graham Young inspects progress on a new oasis in the heart of the city
The relentlessly wet weather in 2012 could hardly have been more challenging for the already under-pressure construction industry.
But in Birmingham, work to complete the city’s first purpose-built park for 125 years is bang on target regardless.
To help gauge progress on the ambitious development, the city council’s project manager Jim Wilson and Wates Construction project manager Aidan Smith took me on a walk around the embryonic site.
Steel capped boots – tick. Hard hat – tick. Hi-vis jacket – tick. Protective glasses – tick... never have I been so well protected for a simple walk in a park.
First, though, there was an opportunity to put Eastside’s strategic importance into perspective.
And that meant heading up to the roof of the nearby four-star Hotel La Tour.
It’s the bird’s-eye view from this new vantage point on Albert Street which illustrates the park’s purpose.
Looking from here towards Vauxhall and Duddeston, you can see the bulky 21st century monolith that is Millennium Point to your left.
The Jennens Road complex is now bookended by the Matthew Boulton campus of the Birmingham Metropolitan College and the Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) on its city centre side and by new buildings going up for Birmingham City University (BCU) further out of town.
To the right of Millennium Point, which includes the Giant Screen Cinema (formerly IMAX) is what is fast becoming Eastside Park itself.
To the right again, The Woodman Pub (now owned by the City Council so hopefully to be saved) and Curzon Street Railway Station.
Roman-inspired and the world’s oldest surviving piece of monumental railway architecture, Philip Hardwick’s Curzon Street building received its first train from London on September 17, 1838.
Disused since the year England won the World Cup in 1966, it’s a miracle that the Grade I listed edifice is still standing 46 years later in a city that is not only forever on the move in one respect but seemed rooted in old ways while allowing the Edwardian Island House next to the Hotel La Tour to be flattened earlier this spring.
For both Mr Wilson and Mr Smith, the contrasting positivity involved with masterminding such a significant park project has been a really enjoyable experience.
If a somewhat challenging learning curve, given that nobody is still alive from the Victorian era when Jim says Highgate Park was the last major park to open in Birmingham.
Mr Wilson’s background is in the housing department while Mr Smith trained in joinery after leaving school and was most recently working on a very urban project like The Cube next to the Mailbox.
Both men have enjoyed getting their heads round the challenges of how to prepare urban, post-industrial land for new shrubs and trees, walkways and even an underground drainage system that will soak up water at times of heavy rain.