Uncertainty in Southampton

I was in Southampton the other weekend and, having battled the Boat Show traffic to get into the city centre, I was amused to suddenly find myself in the middle of a shopping mall, in the middle of a public consultation exercise regarding Southampton’s plans regarding the development of a cultural quarter. There’s a .pdf with an outline here.

Guildhall Square

Before going to Southampton I’d done a quick Google for “regeneration zone” and found a damning article about the city’s architecture. Read it; it probably applies to where you live too.

David Lloyd in The Buildings of England described the reconstruction as being akin to an “up-and-coming Middle-West town with planning controls and Portland stone”. While the gigantic ships, those ribbon-windowed beauties that inspired a thousand modernist buildings, sailed to New York from just a few yards away, Southampton channelled the spirit of Iowa.Owen Hatherley, Southampton: What’s next for this major port turned mega-retail park?

No offence to Iowa, I have never been there, but 3 shopping malls have been built off the high street in the last couple of decades, as well as huge retail parks spreading out towards the docks and it is all becoming rather soul-less.

Southampton from above

I grabbed a satellite image of the city centre and roughly marked out some different areas (click to embiggen). The yellow strip is what I basically think of as being the high street. It’s where all the shops are focused. Sort of. The ones that are in different buildings with bricks and stone and stuff. You know what I mean.

The brown area is a land of shopping centres and decorated sheds. I know a lot of that brown is car park, but that really is huge!

The area in white near the top of the image is the area ear-marked for developments. Actually, this is a bit misleading: there doesn’t seem to be a delineated area for redevelopment in the same way as for the Eastside regeneration area in Birmingham, but rather a cluster of projects in roughly the same area. Also in contrast to Eastside, stuff’s happening where stuff already is: already in the white area is The Mayflower theatre, the BBC’s Radio Solent offices, the library, the civic art gallery, the guildhall, university buildings

I did a few laps of the area with camera and GPS units. Here are a few of the resulting images:

Mayflower and scaffold

Southampton's creative quarter

Civic Centre and concrete

Southampton's creative quarter

the pits

Southampton's creative quarter

Cup of tea and a sit down

Southampton's creative quarter

The walk was an altogether different affair from what I’ve been experiencing in Birmingham recently. For a start it was a lot shorter (about 30 mins per lap, rather than about 90), but also because it already felt kind of vibrant. I’m sure the park helped with this, but also I think because of the presence of the students and, noticeably, the smaller, independent shops and restaurants that inhabit this area. I hope these stay.

The other thing that hit home as I walked around was that I really, really miss The Gantry theatre that used to nestle in the shadow of The Mayflower. I only saw a couple of productions there before I left for university and it closed in 2001. If I remember correctly it was the sort of space where, before you pushed your way through blackout curtains to go to into the main theatre area, you could buy a big plate of chilli and a beer. This really twists the knife.


Anyway, to lighten the mood a little, here is a .kml file of two laps of walking so you can have a zoom around and play with the GPS traces. (Right click and save as. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll need to download and install Google Earth in order to open this file.)