Debbie's March Blog - Broad Meadow - The People's Quad

It has become an enjoyable annual event for me to join the Oxford Brookes urban design students for one of their sessions, to talk about Oxford’s streets, and in particular, Broad Street and the Broad Street Plan (2004) why it has not happened, how it might etc.  This year I shared the virtual table with a colleague from Oxford City Council who talked about Broad Meadow, the great temporary green space that happened last Summer.  The conversation was not just about the design, but about how this temporary project was achieved, and received by the public, all focussed at the eastern ‘town’ end of the street.  It was the relaxation of government regulations as we came out of the pandemic that allowed this to happen, and the altogether much greener approach than the original plan envisaged was thanks to the landscape architects who took the design lead.   Cheery photos appeared on our computer screens of people meeting and greeting, or just sitting on the grass, reading, and I could feel the warmth of the sun as it shone down on the ‘the People’s Quad’, as someone described it in the feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive.

The original Broad Street Plan had focussed more on the western end, outside Blackwell’s and the Weston Library, with its rather more university ‘gown’ character.   The backdrop here is formed by some of our most outstanding buildings, which includes the Museum of the History of Science, now housed in one of our finest 17th century buildings, the Old Ashmolean, the first ever purpose-built museum.  The new occupants will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2024 and are working on exciting plans to make their collections more accessible.  We were recently invited to meet with them to talk through their ideas, and I was joined by architectural historian and OPT Trustee, Geoffrey Tyack, who with characteristic modesty, mentioned that his latest book ‘The Historic Heart of the University’ which would be available shortly in the Bodleian shop.   The next day a copy of the book appeared in our office, it is quite beautiful to look at, and fascinating to read.  

The case for protecting the very best of our heritage and buildings is straightforward to make, and few would disagree that their owners should look after them.  Yet mention their settings and the public realm that surrounds them, and a different story emerges as question arise over whose responsibility they are to improve and to manage, and over who should pay.  In Oxford the amount of public space is limited, as the buildings often come right up against the pavement edge, so that public realm can mean our pavements and our streets, which come under considerable pressure. Remembering pre-Pandemic times, I repaint a picture in my mind of visitors jostling backpack to backpack, and dirty coaches idling in St. Giles, sometimes two abreast, despoiling the character of the very place their passengers have come to see. There is currently a public consultation happening on a Plan for the City Centre and a Central Conservation Area Appraisal, and in both the importance of the spaces between buildings runs as a theme throughout the pages, together with talk of a much-needed public realm strategy, traffic and travel, bicycles and buses all getting their mention with a focus on ten of our streets, which include St. Giles and the Broad.   

It is our hope that the popular People’s Quad will be back for 2022.  This year the County Council is to take the lead, and the rules and regulations have become tighter again, but they have the support of the City Council, and they will have our support too. The County have started the year with Oxford’s  Zero Free Emission Zone and so our hope is that Broad Meadow 2 can be seen as just the right thing to compliment, and perhaps this year it could be extended into the cemetery space outside St. Mary Mags, so full of spring flowers at this time of year. 


(Photo credit: Claire Borley Photography, LDA Design)