Our guest blogger today is Colin Lorne
Walk the Queensway // Joe Holyoak
Proudly designed for the efficiency of the car, Birmingham’s ‘Concrete Collar’ ring road is arguably the city’s most distinctive and disruptive urban feature, having discouraged pedestrians for almost half a century. Forcing walkers to cross below the car through subways, the Queensway literally and strategically places the car above pedestrians, continuing to exert its effects on the city today. Walking the Queensway, then, was both subversive and novel.
Led by architect and urban designer, Joe Holyoak, the tour started at Great Charles Street, a road which existed prior to the Queensway’s construction and one of the first attempts at creating a pedestrian crossing at street level over the ring road. Just metres down the road, Joe highlighted how the impermeable eight-lane carriageway has halted much expansion of the city towards the Jewellery Quarter. Looking down the hill, I wondered just how much busier the Jewellery Quarter could be if such a barrier to pedestrians didn’t exist. Joe discussed how the subways had all been distinctively named, denoting the original intensions of the subways to have a sense of place, although, few would argue that this was ever achieved. Following the road down to St. Chad’s, Joe spoke of how the road system came to dominate the urban landscape, destroying the city’s previous streets (although St. Chad’s Cathedral remains, now awkwardly positioned on its own at a noisy road junction which has struggled to improve the pedestrian crossing).
Picking up additional members whilst walking, the tour carried on through to the redevelopment at the new Masshouse Queensway section up to the Bullring which saw a break in the ring road and finally to Norfolk House on the Smallbrook Queensway (which has had its larger subway filled in) Notably, the buildings along this section follow the flow of the road with shops being located along the street front unlike other buildings on the ring road which hold no conversation with the surrounding urban environment.
In accepting the dubious honour of having a carriageway named after her, The Queen made the mistake of namely the entire ring road the Queensway. Through walking around the Queensway, we discussed the greater mistake of removing the pedestrian from the street, and how costly attempts are being made to rectify previous urban decisions. But Brum was motor city and we shouldn’t shy away from the innovations in our city’s history, however things turned out. The Lanchester brother’s built the country’s first car here. The first house with a garage was built in Birmingham, and it turns out the first one way street was in Birmingham too. A guided tour doesn’t have to be a celebration of a city, and it’s great to hear the real story of a city changing its mind on this scale.