Social Exclusion in Public Spaces A case study of Piccadilly Gardens

  • 14 Pages
  • Published On: 14-12-2023

In early 2019, reports from the UK’s ministry of Justice revealed that in the years between 2014-2017, at least 6000 people were found guilty of rough sleeping, under the Vagrancy Act 1824 (Manchester City Council, 2019). According to Manchester Liberal Democrats Press Office (2019), at least 400 of these rough sleepers originated from the Greater Manchester alone. Similar reports by Booth (2019) reveals that in 2019, 21 rough sleepers died in the streets of Manchester, representing the highest number of rough sleepers’ death in the UK -considering that the national total for this in 2017 was 600. Recently, as per the Manchester City Council (2019), the Manchester City Council carried out a public consultation on the implementation of new public space protection orders (PSPOs) targeting four spaces namely: Piccadilly Gardens, Smithfield Estate, Piccadilly and Chinatown. The council indicate that this initiative was in response to the rise in complaints from city businesses and residents about an anti-social behaviour and excessive drug taking within the city centre. However, this approach has been criticised as an effort to criminalize some of the most vulnerable people in the society by socially excluding them from the spaces they so desire.

Blake (2019) defined social exclusion as restricting access of specific groups of people from a place. Ideally, as per Moss & Moss (2019), restriction is multidimensional phenomenon that may occur at economic, physical, political, or cultural levels. As such, Barlow (2018) observed that social restriction or other forms of exclusionary processes work closely with inclusionary activities to maintain a well-functioning and balanced social fabric. However, Bypass (2010) argue that acute exclusion can emanate from areas that fail to protect the harmony between inclusionary and exclusionary balance. The main aim of this essay is to analyse such happenings in Manchester’s public space – Piccadilly Gardens. The garden, which was a product of various policies in the UK, was completed in 2002 with a redesigned landscape consisting of Tadao Ando’s concrete pavilion, EDAW as well as several spatial features that are segregate in nature (McGrath, 2018).


By 1960, many western cuties encountered a state of severe deprivation, with many manufacturing processes relocating overseas and wealthy citizens migrating to suburban areas (Leclerq, 2018), making the cities their main sources of income. After 1990, the UK government intervened and developed tactics and policies that would see a revival of various cities. When the Labor party fell in 1987, various councils that had previously held a socialist stance relinquished their stance, leading to the emergence of new neoliberal approaches that heavily focused on privatization, financial deregulation and emergence of flexible markets (McGrath, 2018). Consequently, as per Robson (2019), the main strategy adopted by most Western cities was to form partnerships with various private investors (also called urban regeneration vehicles). This shared desire to regenerate urban cities sparked competition leading to the emergence of a trend of each city trying to look worthy and full of promise through attractive spaces. As a result, the phenomenon of city regeneration evolved into an opportunity to reinvent perceptions and images that attract high income visitors and investors.

These privatization efforts provided an opportunity for governments to reduce public budgets alongside a drastic change in the use of public spaces to a degree that diminished the public’s quality of life. Similarly, according to Smith (2016), this privatization was accompanied by manipulation of the environment – an expected outcome of the heavy and protective investments by private sector investors. The private management regimes focused on safety, surveillance, exclusion of undesirable behavior and tidiness, all which were implemented with the aim of creating actual levels of security considered to be key ingredients of business and economic success (Waite, 2019).

Consequently, the public lost the liberating nature of public spaces, which were also symbols of democracy, equality and heritage and instead, the spaces became the focus of regeneration policies. But Williams (2016) observed and declared such strategies are not only harmful for the society as whole but also painful to the excluded communities. Whereas the authorities consider the regeneration strategies as a way of ‘sanitizing’ and removing ‘social pollutants’ from the privatized spaces to maintain their intended image, these strategies are largely wrongful and socially damaging changes to the perceptions of the marginalized population.

It is based on these premises that this essay argues that the city regeneration strategies cause social exclusion beyond the single location; whereby mainstream society becomes accustomed to accepted groups within urban spaces; and the activities are left unrestrained, therefore when they encounter a truly uncontrolled public area, those who have not typically experienced privatized public spaces often feel deterred and this intensifies societal divides (McKellar, 2021). However, as per Williams (2019), it is highly uncommon to find, in a city, a garden or space that is specifically dedicated to enriching human experience, integration and inclusion. Rather, typical spaces include an architectural landmark or a commercial space that is meant to fund itself and provide an opportunity to exercise control as previously highlighted. Therefore, these spaces are at their very core, exclusionary mechanisms meant to assemble specific societal make up.

While commenting upon public spaces and social exclusion, Blake (2019) argued that socially excluding people through regeneration processes is often defended as the only strategy to improve the place, despite their continued public label effectively explains the retaliatory behavior and alienation these strategies often express. In the subsequent section, this report explores such arguments in relation to a public space that has been in a limelight for a while now, the Piccadilly Garden.

The Piccadilly Garden has become an area of high exposure typically due to its direct integration with visitors from various transport links as well as its strategic location between various districts (Leclerq, 2018). Moreover, the Piccadilly Garden has evolved into a site of controversy, since time immemorial. The site was originally used as a source of clay, awarding it the name ‘Daub Holes’ (Moss & Moss, 2019). As per Moss & Moss (2019), the excavated holes were pooled with water, making it a crude dunking punishment for disorderly women. Accounts by Barlow (2018) indicate that the site’s grim undertone was further awakened partly by the opening of Manchester’s Royal Infirmary and partly with the addition of a lunatic hospital in 1975. When the infirmary buildings were demolished in 1910, the sunken footprint saw the emergence of the first version of the ‘garden’ as it is referred today (McGrath, 2018).

The garden’s rosy image was however short lived. The declining prosperity after the 1960s led to an influx of homelessness, drug abuse and alcoholism into the space surrounding the garden (Leclerq, 2018). For a lengthy period before regeneration, Piccadilly Garden became notorious for such happenings, and this notoriety was so tenacious that its current perception remains affected to date. In 1997, a Piccadilly Regeneration Framework launched a competition, both Tadao Ando and EDAW commissioning a garden (Leclerq, 2018). With a combination of strategies implemented by specialist urban designers, and architects, it was speculated that Piccadilly would experience an increase in footfall and attract investments. Before the redesign, a drastic change in appearance was implemented, accompanied with the construction of ‘1 Piccadilly Gardens’, occupying a significantly large footprint and greatly reducing the available garden area (McGrath, 2018). I the process, the previously sunken space was raised to be a t par with the surrounding levels with the aim of eliminating any reoccurrence of past issues. Similarly, the concrete pavilion, an Ando’s signature style, screens the garden from the congested transport hub located behind it.

This construction exemplified a synthesis of both western and eastern traditions within both its architecture and the plants around it, without any allusion to what the site was in the past. However, according to Blake (2019), these exorbitant expectations for the regenerated gardens did nothing but heighten outrage among the local society due to their apparent slip back into their previously dilapidated status soon after opening. Moss & Moss (2019) speculated that maybe the grave questions surrounding the future impact of the site on the society caused the withdrawal of at least ten million worth of investment by Legal and General to revamp it (Blake, 2019). Ideally, Legal and General’s proposal targeted to demolish Ando’s concrete wall and replace it with a large contemporary structure that would house restaurants and bars. It envisioned the use of soft material palette and inclusion of recreational facilities that could be used both day and night to draw in more foot traffic and eliminate the desertion that the space has always exhibited after the termination of the working day, a factor that was considered to be one of the main attraction for substance abusers and the homeless. However, as Barlow (2018) observed, the local authorities later had to deal with their ever-growing concerns of the space.

Surprisingly though, according to Moss & Moss (2019), the revised overhaul plans were only meant to demolish the stand-alone sections of Ando’s structure, converting the rest of the space into a green wall to enhance the space’s and to effectively convey certain messages to the public. However, Moss & Moss (2019) also argued that the space-related social issues are not caused by the features of the current garden but rather, the lack of their sympathetic maintenance.

Meanwhile, critics have raised common themes regarding the regeneration of the Piccadilly garden, most of which focus on the aspects of its fabric and composition. The concrete pavilion built by Ando has specifically been targeted by critics, as well as the critics’ concerns over how the local authority values the space, as well as the features placed to encourage public engagement. Ideally, as per Blake (2019), any built environment’s feature must resonate with people, whether through their meaning, form or just materiality – as in the case of Ando’s wall.

Ando’s wall has somewhat brutal finishing in which, as highlighted by Moss & Moss (2019), relies heavily on a sympathetic maintenance to prevent rapid deterioration. Nonetheless, as per Leclerq (2018), the wall currently remains in all its weathered glory, highlighting nothing more than an uninvolved, neglected area. It primarily acts as a pollutive and visual barrier between the transport hub and the garden behind it and is primarily considered to be significantly powerful physical exclusionary barrier. This is exemplified by its position, usually deterring individuals from entering the garden due to not only its prison-like and foreboding appearance but also due to its privatised surveillance systems within – of which the antisocial and criminal activity my suggest otherwise.

Based on Barlow’s (2018) explanations of the processes of inclusion and exclusion occurring simultaneously, it is plausible to suggest that the wall’s worn, misplaced, and rough looking appearance may create a sense of representation, belonging and inclusion to the societies that perceive themselves this way. This corroborates with Robinson’s (2019) assertions that such walls act as magnets for drug abuse and is evidenced by individuals’ accumulation around such walls (see appendix 1). The wall’s shielding quality is also associated with the areas’ distribution and use of drugs, including spice, the most devastating and powerful drugs that ever hit the streets (Robinson, 2019). Spice’s potency leaves users unable to move far from the surrounding area, and therefore the concentration of those affected remain within the vicinity, perhaps resting among the several large grassed areas within the garden.

Whereas there has been a recent proposal to improve the appearance of the Ando’s wall, many critics have raised questions alluding to whether the removal of the structure can improve the space. But despite the negativity surrounding Ando’s pavilion, Smith (2016) highlights the city’s possession of a piece of work from an internationally recognized architect to be of a great importance to the local community, and one they should be proud of. However, the previously highlighted criticisms clearly reveal that the community, or indeed the visitors, do not replicate these feelings.

However, such common criticism have been challenged by some scholars (e.g Smith, 2016) by evaluating whether the apparent perceived unsuccess of the pavilion is attributable to the uneducated population whom might not care about the sophistication in Ando’s work as well as the local authorities’ failure to implement the protective measures recommended by Ando to prevent the physical outcome currently experiencing lots of criticism. The poor maintenance perpetuated by the local authorities are not only exemplified din Ando’s signature surfaces but also throughout the entire garden.

Contrastingly, many critic’s lack of appreciation for Ando’ architectural work justifies its areas of complete failure. For instance, Moss & Moss (2019) asserted that the garden was previously a great success, characterised by grass that is barely seen for bodies. Therefore, despite the public views and critics convincing otherwise, the architecture does little in creating an environment where the realm of social issues is discussed. Rather, it creates an environment characterised by a lack of sympathetic tenants and with little or no motives for upkeep. Furthermore, the space’s little contribution to the economic well-being of the town makes it a last priority, some arguing that this might be the main reason for its currently dilapidated state.

Whereas lighting is an essential any spaces’ safety and success, which is significant for all urban spaces, recent evidence by Moss & Moss (2019) reveals that the space is not well-lit. However, other comments by Moss & Moss (2019) reveal that the space’s lighting has not been working for a long time, highlighting the extent to which the area could be different and match the hostility with which it has been described. Perhaps the only attractive features are the walk-through fountains, of which are the only positive attributes that critics tend to recognize. For instance, Bypass (2010) writes about how the fountains create a string allure for children during summer, creating a playful environment for the children, contributing to the laxity of the council to restore the garden’s proper function.

Related to all the critics against the garden is the fact that it is mostly not used, even for the restorative experiences. According to Bypass (2010), those who interact with the garden do so when they are crossing to navigate the city as opposed to interacting with it a s a destination. But Bypass (2010) argued that this could be justified by several features of the garden that promote the fast-moving public life, spotlighting the walk-away and benches. In this regard, Bypass (2010) propose the need for the public to have the ability to ‘stop and do nothing’, thus highlighting the inclusion of seating and large benches around the fountain. However, despite the plentiful seating areas, the benches’ functional design has been criticised for their clear intent of encouraging short stops and to increase footfall among the consumer area. Benches without back rest are considerably uncomfortable if sat on for longer periods of time, acting as a hindrance to lingering. The other issue of controversy are the raised metal arms positioned between benches. According to Moss & Moss (2019), such subdivision serves an exclusionary purpose, only serving to foil skateboarders. However, Bypass (2010) would refute this comment because he emphasizes defensible and distinct personal spaces. Nonetheless, the current benches in the garden allow individuals to purposefully seek out empty spaces as way of privatising themselves. As per Barlow (2018), such behaviour is considered a result of conditioned perspectives, whereby privatisation trends have been influenced. Gardens during the 1930s exemplified different social dynamics whereby citizens sat close to each other – presenting a more socially inclusive environment. But the question as to whether such set up is compatible with the ‘new normal’ is a separate subject of debate.

Apart from seating, the impact of the garden’s pathways is often overlooked. As per Moss & Moss (2019), Bypass (2010), these pathways have several implications on the public’s interaction in the sense that, for example, the intersections of the multiple straight and curved pathways can only be clearly identified when viewed from above. At ground level, the interactions present a sense of chaos by their tendency to draw the eye in a continuous movement across the space. According to Bypass (2010), this lacks the relaxation and calmness that a garden should have.

Moreover, the space discourages public pause by narrow widths, which prevent the possibility of one stopping to and looking around without the obstruction of the flowing foot traffic. Instead, visitors are briskly transported across the garden across a general pedestrian currents (Moss & Moss, 2019). another interesting observation by Barlow (2018) is that the garden has paved expanses with contrasting walkways which suggest the authority’s desire to maintain the pedestrians close to the retail shops.

To conclude, a significant level of negativity surrounds the Piccadilly garden, on which most critics have shared similar opinions against. However, architectural professional critics such as Bypass (2010) adopt a more architecturally oriented stance that the social issues that the garden is currently facing are not strongly linked to the physicality of the pavilion but rooted in poor maintenance by both the users and local authorities, despite the public holding otherwise opinion. If conformity gained through pleasure and seduction is anything to go by, then the public’s anti-social behaviour directly relates to its current state of deterioration (McGrath, 2018). that said, this report clearly highlights the ironic outcome of the garden’s regeneration, which was based on policies that fundamentally aimed at controlling the social mix an area attracts – yet Piccadilly gardens today stands as one of the most heavily populated by people who least desire it. This has become an exclusionary mechanism against the people who are intended to occupy it. This implies that there is an apparent ignorance of the need to strike a balance between social groups, which is considered essential. This ignorance as largely been detrimental to this space.

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Byass, R. (2010). From Public Garden to Corporate Plaza: Piccadilly Gardens and the New Civic Landscape. Journal of Landscape Architecture, 5(1), 72-83.

Booth, Robert. (2019). Manchester records highest number of rough sleeper deaths. The Guardian, February 25.

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Leclerq, E. (2018). Privatisation of the Production of Public Space. A+BE: Architecture and the Built Environment(5), 1-386.

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March 3. Available online: across_greater_manchester

Manchester City Council. (2019). City Centre Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) Consultation. Available online: space_protection_order_pspo_consultation

McKellar, E., 2021. Open spaces in the city: From fields to squares and gardens. In The birth of modern London. Manchester University Press.

Moss, C.J. and Moss, K., 2019. Out of sight: Social control and the regulation of public space in Manchester. Social Sciences, 8(5), p.146.

McGrath, T. (2018, September 18). Hidden Histories: 47 Piccadilly, Manchester. Retrieved from If Those Walls Could Talk: piccadilly-manchester/

Robson, S. (2019, March 3). Piccadilly Gardens - The square that shames the city. Retrieved

from Manchester Evening News: piccadilly-gardens-square-shames-city-15894132

Smith, R. (2016, November 23). Tadao Ando, and the Problem of Architecture That's Too

Good. Retrieved from The Globe and Mail: tadao-ando-and-the-problem-of-architecture-thats-toogood/article33006792/

Waite, R. (2019, March 6). Tadao Ando’s only UK building spared after Piccadilly Gardens rethink. Retrieved from Architect's Journal: piccadilly-gardens-rethink/10040721.article

Williams, J. (2016, July 13). The Three Things Manchester Council Have To Do Now To Save Piccadilly Gardens. Retrieved from Manchester Evening News: piccadilly-gardens-petition-council-meeting-11606256

Williams, J. (2019, March 6). The hated wall will STAY - but the council say they will sort out Piccadilly Gardens. Retrieved from Manchester Evening News: piccadilly-gardens-wall-manchester-council-15926195.amp

Appendix 1: the Ando’s wall with people accumulating around it

Source: Robinson’s (2019)
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