In the last entry in this blog I described a brilliant day spent visiting Wembury on the South Devon coast. I also mentioned that we used train and bus to get there and home again. This necessitated crossing Plymouth city centre to get from train station to bus stop. Some few years ago that wouldn't have been a very good experience but how times have changed. Why? Well putting it in a nutshell the centre of Plymouth has been returned to the people!
Let me expand on that a bit. In the rebuilding of Plymouth post 'The Blitz' a grid of streets was created in the centre where the motor car was more or less given free reign. But subsequently the city council in the face of very strong opposition from local traders made the bold decision to pedestrianise the heart of this area with the majority of traffic relegated to roads on its periphery. Then their truly excellent parks department embarked on a substantial tree planting programme, particularly down Armada Way which runs from the railway station, through the shopping centre and terminates not too far from 'The Hoe'.
Now it is common for folk to knock local authorities and maybe there are times when that is justified but I'm a great believer in giving credit where it's due. And in this instance it's well earned. It was quite a pleasure to cross Plymouth on Saturday (I know the sunshine helped). Birds were twittering in the trees, numerous tables and chairs were out for those who wanted to sip their coffee and watch the world pass by, and people were smiling and happy. I am a great believer in trees humanising the built environment and boy does it work in the centre of Plymouth. Previously the severe straightness of form in building and street alignment coupled with the extensive use of Portland Stone in the shops facades did not seem very joyous but that feeling has changed. And of course 'cars out, trees in' is a great boost for the environment.
So if other cities think they aren't people friendly enough then perhaps they should look at the way Plymouth has dealt with the challenge.