Streets in the sky

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I first heard of the Park Hill estate during my undergraduate environmental psychology classes in 1986.  The architect’s, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn’s, vision for a high rise estate to replace sprawling slums in the northern English city of Sheffield with “Streets in the Sky”. Streets in the sky would recreate the strengths of the communities which had flourished in the back to back slums and provide improved living conditions at a bargain price. Taking people out of small, damp, Victorian terraces where  kids played in the streets and giving them streets in the sky with views over the city, inside toilets, covered walkways, balcony’s where children could play and neighbours could chat, with room for attractive open park land around the high rise buildings.  Smith and Lynn’s designs were heavily influenced by Le Corbuiser’s Breton Brut as evident in his Marseilles Unité d’Habitation. Breton Brut became known in Britain as ‘Brutalism’,  simple functional form. They wanted to build in a sense of neighbourliness into these functional spaces.

These changes were intended to improve the standard of living for people now living in a slum area locally know as ‘Little Chicago’ in the gangster era.  The Park Hill estate was completed in 1961 with 995 flats that could house over two thousand people overlooking Sheffield city centre. Front doors opened to a 12 ft wide balcony, a street, that runs right across the estate over bridges between buildings.  Milk floats could trundle from door to door along streets named the same asthose in the original slums they replaced.  People that were neighbours in the slums were rehoused next to each other.

Worthy, admirable intentions

When built,  the social ideal didn’t happen

The estate soon became known as Sheffield’s San Quentin. The failure of the original design vision has been blamed on many things including

  • easy access routes for muggers
  • poor sound insulation
  • the streets being open to the inclement Sheffield weather
  • the building’s ugliness
  • the poverty of the occupants

In 1998 Park Hill became the largest grade 2  listed building in europe.

This centruy English Heritage, Urban Splash and Sheffield city council have been renovating Park Hill.

It’s difficult to tell from the publicity what is being changed to make the project work  as a successful place to live this time. A recent BBC TV programme about the renovation focussed on English heritage’s aesthetic and structural requirements for preservation not mentioning any changes to the space aimed at improving the occupants expereince of living there. The programme made the vision appear less social that the original. So what will have changed since it first opened?  It looks like the renovation will be

  • It’s prettier with bright rainbow colours
  • occupants will not all be council tenants, some will be home owners and some shared ownership. They will be a different socio-economic mix
  • the streets will not be open to the Sheffield weather
  • living there comes with the kudos of living in a classic listed building
Streets in the sky
rate wendys scribble

5 bits of lovely banter on “Streets in the sky”

  1. Madame Defarge writes:

    I’m not sure how much will really change though. It’ll be interesting to see if how long people want to stay there or if they’ll nip in, feel virtuous and then disappear off to a detached residence in the burbs, having done their bit for the social revolution.

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  2. Kevin writes:

    My family were moved out of Old Trafford and Hulme for the corporation to knock down the old terraces to build the new slums, very much in the spirit of Park Hill. Two differences between this model and Urban Splash’s new schemes: building quality (entire walls literally hung on with one long coach-bolt in Hulme) and concierge services for flats complexes.

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  3. wendy writes:

    I’m really curious about what changes they’ve made to the space as a social place that are different to last time – and if they are only bright modern looks and mix of tenant types will make a difference, if those are the only changes

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  4. sid fletcher writes:

    Park Hill has divided opinion locally here in sheffield for decades,
    it has its adoring fans and its loathsome critics- one quick peek at my site and you’ll suss that i’m a fan so therefore am biased!Personally i think Urban splash can make somewhat of a difference to the place much more than coloured panels anyhow – the mix of tenants will be interesting – already the public housing list is already full for tenenats who want to live there – security to the decks will be increased , as has been done to Hyde Park flats ( incidentally Park Hill Phase 2 !) over the road many years ago , this has rapidly changed the public perception of the place also Urban Splash intend to make the complex look less intimidating by cutting a huge 40 sq foot entrance way into one of the biggest blocks,Urban Splash have manged to turn
    round some very undesirable parts of Manchester –
    i suppose if anyone can do it they can
    Nb I don’t work for them by the way
    This link gives a feel as to how Park hill has worked

    http://clare-walsh.blogspot.com/2009/05/where-did-park-hill-sheffield-succeed.html

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    wendy writes

    Love your art work, thanks for dropping by and providing thoughtful comment 🙂

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