A civic heart for Drymen: the potential of the Square

by 4 November 2015blog, small towns, street design, working with communities

The Square and the Garage site - the civic heart of Drymen

Summary:

The Square in Drymen – actually more like a small village green than a square – has the potential to become the civic heart of the settlement. But a civic heart is not a physical construction – it requires civic activity. At the present time a range of factors stand in the way of this. The Square is dominated by parking, over-designed roads infrastructure, poor surfaces, tired landscaping and has a ‘seen better days’ look about it. The garage site is another factor and is the focus of the study.

There are positive uses around the Square – a hotel, butcher’s shop, library, café/bars and a cycle shop yet these activities are restricted in their relationship with the Square. They are pushed back to the edges of the space instead of being foregrounded as key generators of activity. The bus stop – a positive facility – is the accidental centrepiece of the space.

Fixing these issues is relatively easy although there is always some resistance to change in communities like Drymen and perhaps timidity about future proposals. Some people even think the Square is fine as it is, while others are more concerned with its appearance than its performance as the civic heart of the village.

There is a strong desire to get involved in the future of the Garage Site and a will to move things on from the current impasse. The focus of our report was on the steps that might be taken to achieve positive change towards a civic heart for Drymen.

Introduction:

We were commissioned by Drymen Community Development Trust to inform its future role and action in relation to revitalising the Square in the centre of Drymen. The team was led by Nick Wright Planning with Nick Allan Associates and Brian Burns Associates.

The Development Trust owns the public space that forms the Square (i.e. the central grassy space and the private road on three sides). It commissioned this work in order to:

  • help progress development of the privately-owned ‘garage site’ which fronts onto the north-western corner of the Square – a 330m2 site or thereby incorporating a prominent derelict group of former garage buildings which the local community wishes to see redeveloped or brought back into active use
  • establish how the Square, which is within the Trust’s ownership, might be revitalised as the heart of the local community
  • consider options for the future of the separately owned and managed Village Hall, which lies north of the Square on Main Street

drymen-square-future-use-and-activity-matrix
The Development Trust’s interest in improving the Square and the garage site stems from local concerns that the derelict garage site detracts from the vibrancy and appearance of the Square – and that appropriate re-development, combined with enhancements and greater activity in the Square itself, could re-establish the Square as the heart of the village.

WMUD’s involvement was in:

  • specifying a range of uses for the garage site and how these might turn the Square into genuine civic space and the active heart of the village
  • establishing design parameters for a new development that would ensure positive change in the Square
  • suggesting alterations to the design of roads around the Square that would complement and support these new uses

The aim is to help re-establish the Square as the heart of the village and the garage site occupies a prominent position on the Square. The Development Trust also wishes to investigate how the Square, which is within the Trust’s ownership, might be revitalized as the heart of the local community; and the impact that redevelopment of the garage site and revitalization of the Square might have on another community-owned asset, the Village Hall on Main Street.

Taken together, the aim of these related investigations is to help re-establish the Square as the civic heart of the village.

The garage site is clearly a difficult site to develop, as suggested by the length of time that it has stood unused since the garage ceased to operate. There are a number of challenges and constraints to be overcome including financial viability, undefined contamination risk, vehicular access and sensitive visual location within a Conservation Area.

The report underlines the need to secure estimates for the abnormal costs associated with developing the site (particularly demolition and remediation) and a reliable valuation of the site in order to allow development proposals to move forward with some certainty.

The outline feasibility of redeveloping the site for a range of uses has been explored through discussions with potential owners and operators and non-intrusive analysis of the site and context. A number of options are considered in the report.

From the Development Trust’s viewpoint, the preferred option is for the development of the site as a new library, relocated from the existing leased library premises on the south side of the Square, together with other community/visitor facilities and housing.
Drymen workshop
The report also emphasises the potential of the Square to function more effectively as the heart of the village through various physical and organisational changes, many of which could be done incrementally and at modest cost.

This report is intended to be the catalyst which brings the various parties together to progress the preferred option for the garage site. These are principally the landowner, local authority, the Development Trust, the Community Council and the National Park Authority as planning authority. It is also intended to trigger the Council’s consideration of relocation of the library to the garage site – the ‘preferred option’ described above.

Beyond the report

We made a number of suggestions and proposals for Drymen Square that didn’t make it into the report. In terms of uses and facilities, the village seems to need a hub which is a community resource and workspace. The Square could be a base and digital information point for exploration of the surrounding National Park. It could have a completely different environment in which the balance between vehicles and pedestrians was more in favour of the latter – changes which would facilitate positive change rather than a bit of resurfacing and some new bits of landscape architecture. It could be the base for social enterprises, smart public transport and much more. The following images show some of these proposals together with more general imagery of the space.