Wayne Hemingway - My top 5 public spaces in the world

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:11 18 November 2014

The Comedy Carpet opposite Blackpool Tower

The Comedy Carpet opposite Blackpool Tower

Archant

Columnist Wayne Hemingway celebrates his favourite five examples of generous public spaces, including one right here in Lancashire

It’s in the vast majority of people’s DNA to respond positively to generosity. For many of us the generosity of Victorian public parks or spacious town squares with their clock towers and meeting places give us places and spaces that enhance our lives, allow us to meet friends, engage with family and watch the world go by.

But we seem to be entering a new age of generosity where a generation is turning its back on the greed and destructive privatisation of public space that came out of the 80s. Remarkable examples of beautiful and truly generous design are popping up all around the world.

By generous, I mean places designed for people to use, enjoy and improve – at no cost and for no profit. Here are five examples of which I am a big fan.

1 Copenhagen Harbour Baths, Denmark form part of Copenhagen harbour and are in water that only 15 years ago was heavily polluted and posed a serious health risk. Today, the water is clean for swimming and the harbour hosts five pools, two of which are for children, and three diving areas, catering for more than 600 people at any one time. This is a remarkable area filled with leisure activities for all age groups and it cost just over £0.5m. It is staggering what can be achieved for what is, comparatively, an affordable amount for most cities.

2 Magdeburg Library, Germany is an open air 24-hour free library which is completely accessible to everyone. No registration is required, the 70,000 books are borrowed on an honour system and it is staffed during the day by volunteers. To do things like this, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and if you do, people will respond positively. In this case the benefit of being created by the community really works.

3 The array of activities on offer at Merida Youth Factory, Spain is staggering, ranging from rock climbing to dancing. A skate park winds through the plazas connecting the buildings (almost all the ground is actually skateable), and there is a concert stage, lessons in street art lessons, circus training and, if you head indoors, music and dance. And the whole place has Wi-Fi. This is such a draw for kids of all ages. The design is just brilliant – modern, vibrant and fresh and the place itself is so colourful and open it stops it turning into something shady or dangerous. This is as good as it gets, a purpose-built modern version of a youth club.

4 Stormwater pipes are a common sight through cities in India. In Surat they had the ingenious idea of covering one end of the pipes with coloured cellophane. When the evening sun filters through, beautiful and colourful patters are cast. It needs only the smallest budget – and some creative thinking.

5 Blackpool Comedy Carpet was created by artist Gordon Young, is a celebration of comedy on an extraordinary scale. Referencing the work of more than 1,000 comedians and comedy writers, the carpet gives visual form to jokes, songs and catchphrases dating from the early days of variety to the present. Sited in front of Blackpool Tower, the 2,200m2 work of art contains more than 160,000 granite letters embedded into concrete, pushing the boundaries of public art and typography to their limits.

The Comedy Carpet is a remarkable homage to those who have made the nation laugh, it is also a stage that celebrates entertainment itself. More than anything else, I love how many mentions I have seen in the press. If there is one thing Blackpool needs, it is positive press.

This is urban design and art in the landscape working together in a seamless and perfect fashion. It celebrates kitsch, history and modernity, and has something for all tastes. Visitors love the Comedy Carpet and they cannot stop photographing it and talking about it. Just look it up on Twitter or flickr or Google images, it is staggering how many images you’ll see. Bingo: success.

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