On a damp, dark Sunday morning, I set off for the Cumberland Basin, an area to the west of Bristol which the City Council is planning to regenerate with over 2,500 new homes, a redesigned road system, public spaces and new walking and cycling routes.
The last time the Council transformed this area was in 1960s when a new road system was built. Not wanting this to have a negative impact on the surrounding landscape, they commissioned Sylvia Crowe to produce a report. Crowe had worked on numerous diverse projects from garden designs (she created the Rose Garden at Magdalen College Oxford to commemorate the development of penicillin) to creating landscapes for hospitals, power stations, research stations and reservoirs. She was president of the Institute of Landscape Architects from 1957-9 and in 1963 became the first landscape consultant to the Forestry Commission.
Crowe recommended a piazza scheme for the northern, Hotwells side of the Basin which would be ‘frequented and enjoyed by the people’ with a playground, pond and fountain, flower stalls, open-air art exhibitions and a cafe, while the southern side was to be planted with trees and shrubs. Most of Crowe’s report was implemented, however over the next forty years, the area became rundown with the café closing and the pond grassed over. In 2012, a cycle park was built along the lower east side of the landscape and eight trees were planted.
When walking along the 1km circuit route with its changing vistas and the views over the tidal River Avon, Crowe’s vision for the area can be appreciated. There are magnificent glimpses of Clifton and Clifton Wood, the Avon Gorge, Ashton Court parkland, Leigh Woods and Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. The area does need regenerating but whether the current plans which take little account of Crowe’s work will be implemented, remains to be seen.