As UK City of Culture 2021 and a Marmot City, you would expect Coventry’s emerging new-look city centre to be something special. And, with emphasis on leisure alongside retail, green spaces and the environment – that’s what it is. Our vision for a new city centre was formed long before COVID-19 came into our lives.
Shopping has been changing for some time now, so we knew city centres are no longer just about shops and need more than big name stores to ensure success. That means we must look at leisure and hospitality, and aim to attract the whole family, from young children to grandparents.
We aim to use our history and culture to spearhead a regeneration led by creativity and sustainability to create a city centre that is vibrant, experiential, healthy and accessible to all.
Our role as a Marmot City has seen us work to include all ages and all communities in our wonderfully diverse city, to ensure everyone is included and has access to the same facilities. We work to make sure no one is left behind or feels isolated, and we know that a vibrant economy goes hand-in-hand with good health and life chances.
As the home of the UK motor industry, we have used our expertise to bring in more electric charging points than anywhere outside of London. We have narrowed roads and widened pavements and we have taken away unnecessary street furniture such as traffic lights.
The quality of air has improved and so has the quality of life. Technology is helping that, with 5G full fibre rollout giving fast and free access to wi-fi. Data points and a hi-tech network is future-proofing our city and opening up possibilities such as wearable technologies, city centre scanning and digital imaging to bring health services to where people are – not the other way around.
Our railway station is undergoing an £82m facelift to create a 21st century transport interchange and gateway befitting of our city. Now when people arrive, they are met by a wide, green boulevard, flanked by artwork that leads them into the city centre via a series of attractive spaces.
Bull Yard, once a moribund thoroughfare, is being transformed as part of a wider £44m public realm transformation. The area now boasts an illuminated water feature and a playground in the heart of the city centre, perfect for families and with rest areas for those a little older.
With the neighbouring bars and the £40m Wave waterpark, it is a unique space within the city combining a mix of family-friendly spaces and night-time economy opportunities.
Creative lighting is transformative, and it is everywhere – from the benches, bollards and ground, to the dancing waters of the fountain. It’s entertaining, and it is improving the feeling of safety at night.
We have demolished large, obtrusive buildings and opened up the view of our city square and cathedral spire.
Greenery is everywhere, with planting and seating throughout the centre, and the water features are not just to look at, they are tactile and fun.
Broadgate, the square at the heart of our city, has been rejuvenated with bars and restaurants, offering a new nightlife experience for our residents and visitors – or a place to rest and chat while they shop, fighting loneliness and creating a connected city for all.
Another key part of our plan is the redevelopment of part of the old shopping centre as a dynamic mixed use development. The focus will be on place-making and creating an experiential city with a dynamic leisure offer, including cinema, restaurants, co-working space, and a medical centre alongside a variety of different, increasingly independent shopping outlets. It will also be a place for people to live.
We have linked our fantastic venues, improved their surroundings and made them a part of the city. New walkways and cycle paths will, encourage people to get out and about and improve their physical and mental wellbeing while they take in our history.
Regeneration is more than just new buildings. Art and culture play an integral role and are increasingly important to many people’s wellbeing. Public art is key to our designs, with former grey and functional shopping areas transformed by colour, including artwork by Morag Myerscough, Angry Dan and international lighting specialists, Spiers and Major.
And the challenge of our empty city centre IKEA store has become an opportunity of creating a major new national collection centre, hosting some of the country’s finest art collections, while bringing the city’s collection under one roof for the first time.
We are building a sustainable, accessible and resilient city centre with a focus on health and wellbeing because it is the right thing to do for our residents – but it also makes commercial sense. It’s about making a shared space for all in the city.
So, from a city made for shopping, we are creating a city made for families, a city of leisure and culture and fun – one where people of all ages want to spend some time – and one they want to come back to, time and time again.
Martin Reeves is chief executive officer and Liz Gaulton is director of public health at Coventry City Council