The development of a city park – from brown to green

Logo: Birmingham City Council

Eastside City Park opened in December 2012 and is the first new City Centre park in Birmingham for more than 130 years. The park is a key project promoted by the Big City Plan and the Eastside Masterplan. Eastside City Park was proposed in the early 2000s as a focus for the Curzon Street area of Eastside’s regeneration. Working with Advantage West Midlands (the former Regional Development Agency) funding was secured through European Regional Development Funds (ERDF) to buy and clear the land and buildings to create the park. The funding for the Park design and build was sourced from Birmingham City Council.

Formal gardens (Birmingham Post and Mail)
Formal gardens (Birmingham Post and Mail)

Patel Taylor were engaged in 2006 to design the Park and submit an application for Lottery Funding. Despite the setback in 2007 when the bid was unsuccessful, the team were reengaged in 2008 to redesign the Park to a much reduced budget, albeit working to the same brief. Construction commenced in August 2011 and completed in December 2012

The park has greatly increased the amount of green space within the City Centre, providing a visitor attraction alongside the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. It also includes a Science Garden funded by and in association with the museum. This forms the heart of Eastside, encouraging more people to live and

work in the area. It contributes significantly to enhancing the image of the city locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and includes water features, a range of planting, grassed and hard landscaped areas suitable for many activities and events.

Using a park as a catalyst for regeneration is a unique approach & has proved successful, already attracting in excess of £350m of investment bringing jobs, training and long term employment opportunities.

Developed on a brownfield site, incorporating sustainable design, the world class park has created attractive open spaces for everyone. Stretching from the City Centre out into Eastside, past Curzon Street Station and Millennium Point, Eastside City Park provides 14,300sqm of landscaped green space. Features include 310 trees, formal lawns, public squares and a canal feature running 188m plus a 21 jet dry plaza. The park also incorporates a Science Garden, kiosk and children’s play area developed by Thinktank, a part of Birmingham’s Museum Trust.

Patel Taylor, working with Allain Provost, was appointed to design the park following an international design competition. The brief demanded an innovative, inviting and inspirational place that set the standard for the surrounding developments. The challenge was to find a way to initiate a piece of the City whilst still delivering a park that was inspirational in its own right. From the outset Patel Taylor were supported by Wates Construction who initially advised on construction efficiency in the design stages, and a Parks Manager advising on maintenance efficiency.

Serpentine gardens (Timothy Soars)
Serpentine gardens (Timothy Soars)

The design works on a number of levels. At the city scale, it is a piece of green infrastructure that provides access to and orders an emerging built context including the setting for the proposed High Speed 2 Terminal. At the civic scale it provides large public spaces, including a square and an event space. At the human scale tactile features, the aromas and colours of the planting, and the reflection and sound the water makes a relaxing and delightful environment.

A holistic approach to sustainability was adopted at the early stages of design. Arup’s ‘SPeAR’ system assessed sustainability in terms of environmental, social, and economic factors, and the use of   natural resources.

The lighting scheme is designed so that the key routes and spaces are well lit 24/7, whilst secondary areas have low level feature lighting to minimise power use.

The park is well served by public transport on its boundaries, pedestrian and cycle routes, reducing reliance on cars.

The new soft landscape with two green roofs provides varied habitats for native wildlife that will improve biodiversity.

The design followed the site’s topography to minimise the quantity of material that had to be removed from the site to landfill minimising utility moves.

The soft landscaped areas allow surface water to drain via filtration. The park also contains a large subterranean storm water attenuation tank for the whole district.

Existing materials were reused on site where possible, in their original form or crushed to make aggregate for construction.

High quality, hard wearing materials have been used throughout, providing a benchmark for quality within Eastside, and minimises future repair and replacement.

The park is fully accessible and compliant to Disability Discrimination Act standards. Through public consultation and stakeholder involvement at all stages of the project, efforts have been sustained to ensure that all user groups are consulted in order to deliver a fully inclusive scheme and a welcoming environment for all.

Careful attention has been taken to ensure that all materials, features and furniture are user friendly and facilitative for people of all ages and abilities.

All surface gradients levels are set using the appropriate material. The park has 100% wheelchair accessibility with ramps incorporated to give total access to the terrace area and attention has been paid to ensure that appropriate use of tactile paving materials is adopted throughout the park and suitable colour contrasts for the benefit of those with visual impairment.

CCTV cameras are also included to give improved security throughout the park, monitored 24/7.

Furthermore the key environmental, economic and social sustainability proposals of the park project include:

Carbon Positive

The park has a positive carbon impact on Eastside and the surroundings, and also helps mitigate further impacts of new built developments in Eastside. The soil in the park provides a carbon storage mechanism which has the capacity of holding three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests.

Thermal Cooling

The design uses grass, shrubs and water for the large proportion of its surfaces treatments, which ensures a cooler, wildlife-friendly surface as Eastside develops.

Enjoying the park (Timothy Soars)
Enjoying the park (Timothy Soars)


The design of the park has increased the area of permeable surfaces from 25% to 52% reducing the volume of surface water that is discharged to surface water and combined foul sewers.

Lifecycle Impacts

In order to ensure a low maintenance scheme high quality materials have been used for durability and longevity. Where possible, materials have been sourced locally, and a waste neutral policy has been adopted by re-using materials on site and segregating construction waste into different waste streams, to reduce the amount taken to landfill. The design has been future proofed ensuring that future developments will not have a negative impact on the park. The proposed High Speed 2 Station for example and the park will sit harmoniously with one another.

Local Ownership

The construction of the park has included the recruitment and training of local labour, which has helped to support social sustainability, improved employability and engendered a sense of ownership for the local community. The park has been designed and delivered according to community needs. Local people have been engaged in all stages of project development and delivery. The Park is managed in cooperation with a newly formed ‘Friends of the Park Group’, with membership from local residents and businesses.

Eastside City Park also includes a highly accessible, flexible and adaptable events space for the benefit of the whole city. This will alleviate the city’s desperate shortage of suitable open spaces for cultural festivals, performances, musical events and public celebrations. The events space is very important not only to improve the quality of life for local people, but also to draw in visitors (regional, national and international) and support Birmingham’s burgeoning tourism economy.

The park has been designed not only with collaboration from developers and residents a like but also with the contractors and park managers. At the developing stages the contractors and park managers worked with the design team to ensure construction and maintenance efficiency. This simple but unusual approach, enabled the park construction costs to be reduced from the original design in 2006, an estimated £25m to the £11.75m eventual costs without losing any of its quality.

The model used for the Eastside regeneration has been a resounding success as can be summarised as follows:

  • Set a clear vision which is supported by residents, developers, planners and politicians alike.
  • Invest in a project that will benefit everybody and will attract developers and funders.
  • Develop the design ‘in public’ ensuring you have total buy in.
  • Engage a partnership contractor at design development stage and include building efficiency in the design.
  • At the design stage include the maintenance team to advise on an efficient maintenance design.
  • Engage with the local community to manage the Park.

The park has bedded in nicely during 2013/14 with the planting establishing itself and trees starting to take on a more natural form away from their nursery beginnings. The Wild Flower Meadow has been a particular success supporting a vast array of wildlife throughout the summer season so close to the built environment of the heart of the City.

Looking down on the park (Timothy Soars)
Looking down on the park (Timothy Soars)

The newly formed Friends of Eastside Park has been another success story, the group have become a real asset to the park helping with events and activities, the
group are now applying for funding to make more improvements to the park to include signage, notice boards and a web site for the park.  

As with all urban parks there have been some teething troubles and issues to deal with but nothing that the team on the ground could not cover. 

Eastside City Park has succeeded beyond its expectation and has won several local, national and international awards; recognition for the full range of its qualities from designers to client, from regeneration through to sustainability. While still acting as a catalyst for regeneration the Park is maintained and managed with the local community ensuring it will be enjoyed by all and the generations to come.

Find out more at or contact Lee Southall on

“Eastside City Park, Birmingham City Council February 2013”, edit & update by CJS & Birmingham City Council

First published in CJS Focus on Urban Environment in association with Love Parks on 24 November 2014