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Photo: The Wildlife Trusts
What the Broadmarsh area of central Nottingham could look like if the Wildlife Trust’s post-Covid wildscape plan gets the go-ahead.

Although headlines tend to feature the thoughts of leaders with limited imagination, that doesn’t stop other people from thinking. Stories like today’s make me happy, whether or not the ideas ever are fully implemented, because it’s reassuring to know there are always people working on creative solutions to problems.

Phoebe Weston writes about a UK mall at the Guardian, “An empty 1970s shopping centre in Nottingham could be transformed into wetlands, pocket woodlands and a wildflower meadow as part of a post-pandemic urban rewilding project.

“The debate about Broadmarsh shopping centre, considered an eyesore by many, has rumbled on for years. This year it was undergoing a [$116 million] revamp by real estate investment trust Intu when the firm went into [bankruptcy]. …

“As retail giants such as Debenhams and Arcadia Group falter, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has come up with a new model of inner city regeneration: urban rewilding.

“The trust wants to bulldoze the already half-demolished Broadmarsh building and turn it into [6 acres] of scruffy green space at an estimated cost of [about $5 million]. The designs were created with Influence Landscape Architects and could set a precedent for what to do with the growing amount of vacant retail space in other cities. …

“Ponds surrounded by reeds, crocus meadows and wet grasslands would attract butterflies, dragonflies and a range of birds including reed warblers and black redstarts, according to the Wildlife Trust, which is calling on people to back its green vision. It will put its plans to Nottingham city council in the coming weeks as the authority canvasses views on what Broadmarsh could become as part of a 10-week consultation process.

“The proposed scheme would run counter to the conventional idea of urban parks and instead hark back to what Broadmarsh would have looked like in centuries gone by.

“ ‘Often open spaces in cities can be manicured and a bit formal,’ said [Sara Boland, managing director of Influence].

‘The idea of this was to have more rewilding, restoring, protecting [so] the zones we then developed were about foraging, pond dipping and protecting species.’

“Nineteenth-century maps helped architects get a clear picture of what this part of Nottinghamshire once looked like – a fertile garden area covered in fruit trees. Old street names include Pear Street and Peach Street; those fruits would be grown in the park to reflect its heritage. Crisscrossing the park would be walkways based on centuries-old street layouts.

“Nottingham Wildlife Trust has long wanted to create green corridors in this area of the city to connect it to Sherwood Forest to the north. It has put up nest boxes on many buildings close to Broadmarsh to encourage black redstarts, which used to live in the city but are now rarely seen. …

” ‘Over the past 20 or 30 years … we’ve submitted ideas for roof gardens and new avenues, all sorts of greener features,’ said Erin McDaid, head of communications and marketing at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. ‘We feel this could be a real opportunity for the city to stand out from the crowd as cities across the UK look to recover their economies and find a new direction for urban centres.’ …

“ ‘Anyone coming into Nottingham on the train would have to pass by [Broadmarsh] before they reached the city centre, and it was just this horrible, ugly building with no windows. It was very unwelcoming,’ [Nottingham resident Ewan Cameron] said. …

“David Mellen, Nottingham city council leader, said the conversation about the Broadmarsh site had captured people’s imagination. He said: ‘It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine a significant space right in the heart of one of the country’s core cities.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Aventura Mall
Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches are among the impressive works of art at Miami’s Aventura Mall.

When Suzanne was a toddler, I loved going to the mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, so she could run around. Even today, I may go to a mall for my walk when the weather is bad. But on the whole, I avoid the typically oppressive atmosphere of malls. This one in Miami would have to be an exception. It’s a real art gallery.

Alexandra Peers writes at Architectural Digest, “About a dozen years ago, [real-estate developer Jackie Soffer] began buying artworks for the 2.8-million square-foot Aventura Mall, one of the largest in America. …

“A few malls have art, a very few have good art, but almost none have the button-pushers and immersive installations that the Aventura Mall features. Artists on view include pioneers or buzzy contemporary players like Louise Bourgeois, Wendell Castle, Lawrence Weiner, Julian Opie, and Daniel Arsham. There’s a 93-foot-long slide by artist Carsten Höller, who had another one in London’s Tate Modern museum.

“At first glance, it all seems highly unlikely, but — much like Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking Bellagio Hotel, which signaled to a certain set that the luxury property in Las Vegas had Picassos — the art immediately and wordlessly brands the shopping center.

” ‘Mall has slightly negative connotations,’ Soffer notes, but in Aventura, given its size, longevity (it opened in 1983 and has expanded repeatedly since), and events program, it means to be ‘a real community center.’ Plus, the art is an audience attraction — and great selfie bait.

“[Soffer] concedes that there’s also a popular and much-photographed ‘Love’ sculpture on New York’s Sixth Avenue, near the Museum of Modern Art. But she brags happily, ‘That’s red and blue. Ours is a red, blue, and green artist’s proof!’

“Not all the mall’s retail-art mash-ups go smoothly, of course. One October, sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, a series of Easter Island–style heads atop a plinth of weathered wood, were installed in a gloomy corridor. A few weeks later, a store tenant asked when the Halloween decorations were being taken down. He found them ‘scary,’ given their tucked-away locale. It was a classic case of bad placement, laughs Soffer, who adds that the works have been moved to a wide-open area and are quite popular now. …

“Perhaps the biggest surprise of having the art collection in the mall, says Soffer, has been the unexpected number of adults, rather than kids, who want to take pictures with the pieces. An outdoor fountain of spouting bronze gorillas and animals by The Haas Brothers is, if anything, even more popular when bad weather forces the mall to turn off the water—because fans can get much closer to the figures.”

See more of the art here.

Photo: Leo Diaz/ Aventura Mall
Carsten Höller’s Aventura Slide Tower.

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I often think that malls today are wasted space. Public places sheltered from the elements, they could be used so much better than they are. When Suzanne was 18 months or so, East View Mall was my favorite place for having her work off steam. She loved toddling up and down the aisles and looking at all the sights. Everyone fussed over her, which meant her sometimes wall-climbing stay-at-home mom enjoyed much-needed adult conversation.

Lately, if outdoor walking is too wet or icy, I may choose to take my morning walk in Providence Place. I think other people could consider the mall for walking and toddler entertainment. And malls themselves could promote more uses since they must now compete with online shopping and a renewed preference for small boutiques. Cities could help malls fund certain public activities.

I was quite surprised on my Friday walk to find a traveling exhibition of elaborate Lego creations in Providence Place. Lego is advertising itself while also sharing a little history of government in the United States.

So as unnerving as it was to see our beloved Independence Hall surrounded by flashy clothing stores and run-amok consumerism, I’d rather feel the inspirational vibes from Independence Hall there than not.

In addition to Philadelphia’s most beloved landmark, note the Supreme Court, the Statue of Liberty, and a gigantic recreation of the Rhode Island statehouse. These photos represent only a sample of what is there until the show moves on to another state capital. Meanwhile, there is also a nice Lego play area for kids to make their own constructions.

(Isn’t it funny how a Lady Liberty made of Legos makes my fuzzy photography doubly pixilated?)

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