Regent Gardens, Kirkintilloch: a community-led redesign

2 April 2020 | blog, landscape, public realm, town centres, working with communities

regent-gardens_currently and the subject of the community-led redesign
Introduction

East Dunbartonshire Council appointed a team led by Kevin Murray Associates, with WMUD and Benton Scott-Simmons to work closely with Kirkintilloch Community Council (Your Kirky) to capture aspirations for Regent Gardens from as broad an audience as possible and to undertake a community-led redesign of the gardens. The engagement process examined the role the Gardens have in the town, its connections with other places in the town centre and the types of activity that should take place there.

Background and context

The Gardens successfully host the Christmas Light Switch-On and Kirkintilloch Canal Festival activities but could potentially become a more flexible space, hosting a more significant range of events. At the same time, Regent Gardens is a vital breathing space for the town centre, providing a place for greenery, rest, social interaction and memory.

Regent Gardens sits at the heart of a network of spaces in and around town centre that plays a role in the community and civic life of Kirkintilloch.

kirkintilloch---civic-spaces

This study analysed ideas and aspirations into a series of high-level design studies, culminating in a brief for more detailed design work and subsequent implementation.

Community Engagement Process

The community engagement process began with a light-touch event in November 2018 at the Christmas Light Switch-On. This event was an opportunity to work alongside Your Kirky’s other engagement activities and to let people know that a discussion around Regent Gardens would be coming in 2019.

The community engagement developed a further understanding of Regent Gardens through the Kirkintilloch Town Centre Masterplan and Your Kirky Town Centre Consultation and Community Action Plan. Taking points that had been raised previously as the starting point, the team sought further clarity initially through a prioritising and ideas exercise, followed by a more detailed discussion around specific issues.

Priorities and Ideas: this stage of the engagement began at the Kirkintilloch Gala day, with a quick survey that people could complete while they were out enjoying their day. The top three priorities, by some margin, were:

  • space for entertainment, markets and events
  • more seating and picnic benches
  • children’s play

Testing Workshop and Engagement: Before taking these concept designs any further, an invited group met to review and test the ideas. 

kirkintilloch-gala-day-2019

This workshop allowed for some light refinement of the concept designs before taking these to the Kirkintilloch Canal Festival. The team had a stall in Regent Gardens and sought views on the concept designs. Over 110 conversations took place and highlighted that there was general agreement on the proposal for a flexible space, but that there were elements that needed further engagement and reflection.

Defining Elements: This third stage of engagement sought to clarify specific elements of Regent Gardens. Questions included preferred types of seating, whether there should be a canopy or not and the extent of grass and planting versus hard surfaces. This stage again had a very high level of response with 495 people taking the time to give their thoughts.

Across the whole engagement, there were over 1,200 responses, an incredibly high number for the population and reflects the success that the Your Kirky model is having in developing a highly engaged and enthusiastic public. 

Priority Outcomes 

Previous engagement provided a list of thirteen content ideas and themes. The priority attached to these themes is as follows:

community-led design-content-priorities

Concept Design

In response to these priorities, the team produced a series of concept designs. Regent Gardens could provide flexibility within a single space through its division into zones of use that allow it to be used in part or as a whole. However, the sloping site is a barrier to unlocking the desired degree of flexibility. Creating a level central platform would allow more natural use of the space. The top (west) section of the Gardens is reasonably recently and is of good quality, with thoughtful planting that is maturing well. The lower part of the Gardens would then need to step down, providing the opportunity to create additional seating on stepped areas, modernised planting and a more intimate events and performance space. 

The concept also considers how Union Street and Cowgate can act as extensions of the space on either a temporary or in Union Street’s case, permanent basis. The approach to play was about the informal and imaginative rather than the structured set-play provided by traditional play equipment.

Working with the community, the team developed several options for the redesign of the Gardens:
Dog Show:
regent-gardens_dogshow
Children’s Playground:
regent-gardens_after_playground+wider-footpath
Hard surface – Union Street closed to traffic:
Hard surface with Union Street closed to traffic
Market Day:
regent-gardens_after_market-day

Community preferences

Further discussion and engagement move towards thinking about the detail of the community-led redesign. There were several key issues:

  • Space for events: we asked if people supported the approach of creating a space that could have the flexibility for events of different scales and types. 80% said yes.
  • Seating and public benches: we asked what type of seating people would like to see – either traditional or something more contemporary and integrated into the landscaping. The response was 55% conventional and 45% contemporary.
  • Play: through earlier engagement and discussion, the type of appropriate play for Regent Gardens came up. We asked if this should be traditional formal play or incidental play using the landscape features and children’s imagination. The response was 89% in favour of incidental play.
  • A green or a hard surface: we asked if people would prefer a green or a hard surface. The preference was 60% preference for a green surface.
  • Water features: we provided several options for people to consider, and as these were not all mutually exclusive, more than one could be selected. The results were that people were overwhelming in favour of seeing the fountain switched back on (although not in Regent Gardens) and would like to see a small water feature and a drinking fountain in the gardens themselves.
  • Cover or canopy: a large temporary canopy for events was the preferred option with 42% favouring this.
  • Union Street: the final issue was Union Street. Connecting directly across from the Gardens to the Town Hall and using the street for additional activities could be a key component. 61% were in favour of pedestrianisation of Union Street.

The preferred concept design

regent-gardens-preferred-community-led-redesign

The preferred approach retains the level platform of the original design concept but responds to the detailed feedback with a greener space, and a rain garden at Cowgate. Seating is a mix of stepped/amphitheatre style seating with more traditional bench seating integrated into the edges of the planters. Children’s play focuses on incidental activity. The area is predominantly green capable of withstanding heavy traffic during markets and events. Planting would seek to create a year-round display and with evergreens appropriate for the Scottish climate. There would be scope to install a temporary canopy.

Before and after view below:
Regent Gardens - before and after

Willie Miller, the founder and principal of WMUD, died on 12th January 2021 after a short illness. Willie was a much-loved husband and father and had a huge circle of friends  and professional colleagues. He was a multi-talented urban designer whose work had a major impact on hundreds of cities, towns and neighbourhoods throughout the UK and over the past 25 years. He also worked in Ireland, the Channel Islands and the USA.

Ines Triebel has been with WMUD since 2005, and she will continue the practice, drawing on her skills as a planner and designer. Ines has worked on place strategies, masterplans, policy guidance, regeneration and development frameworks, and the design of public realm and streetscape projects. She has extensive experience of working with communities, including charrettes.

WMUD will continue its long-standing strategic partnerships with Benton Scott-Simmons, Nick Wright Planning, Kevin Murray Associates, icecream architecture, yellow book and others. Please direct inquiries to Ines at [email protected] or contact any of the practices named above.