Steps against the sea
This weekend, the seaside town of Margate used the We Will Gather movement and lots of Twitter chatter to encourage people to gather on the new sea defence steps to show our appreciation of this wonderful structure, and we joined in as part of our big Thanet weekend.
While I sat there, I was transported back to a presentation my boss gave at the RSA that discussed how he envisaged public space design. In the lecture, he referred to the coastal defences that our company had designed for Blackpool as part of a bigger regeneration effort that had subsequently gone on to win awards. The project had more than the simple objective of providing flood protection for local properties, but was seen as an opportunity to revitalise what was once part of the tourist mecca, but had faded into disrepair and lost popularity over recent years. Not all that different to Margate then!
My boss talked of addressing the socioeconomic impact of the project’s reach, reinforcing that the community was best placed to understand how a place works and was therefore the ultimate client that would judge its success. The practicalities of the coastal defence should look to improve not only flood protection and physical access but also visual links to the area. A place of ageing infrastructure and disinvestment had the ambition to become a centre for cultural and leisure pursuits; a place for people that reunited the focus of civic pride. The Blackpool coastal defences were seen as an integrated piece of infrastructure, art and public realm.
As I sat there, watching the children play in the sand at the bottom of the steps and exploring the rock pools that formed as the tide gradually made its way in, I realised that this was as much a part of Margate’s regeneration as the new Turner Contemporary has been. Everyone I have mentioned the steps to has remarked on how peaceful, how stunning, how pleasant they are. They lend a key link to the now revitalised old town district of Margate and provide a picturesque promenade walk from the clocktower to the Turner Art Gallery and harbour arm. They are ideally placed to sit and watch some of Turner’s sunsets and provide new opportunities for play and social gatherings.
In short, something that sounds so dull on paper, has integrated so seamlessly into its environment that it has become the new place to be and be seen. If Margate old town is the new cool, then this is its centre.Photo Credits (unless credited below, my own images) Collage 1: AECOM Technology; Kent Libraries & Archives; AECOM Technology; Own image Collage 2: AECOM Technology; AECOM Technology