Posted by: christinelaennec | October 25, 2011

More public expenditure: Union Terrace Gardens

One of the very first posts I wrote on this blog, in May 2010, was about how sad our family was when Aberdeen City Council voted to revamp Union Terrace Gardens, despite a public referendum voting against any change.  The project has since been turned over to a body of unelected businesspeople.  (How a major project involving public land can be handed over by the Council to such a body has never been satisfactorily explained, in my view.) A competition has been held, and for two weeks there is an exhibition of the six finalists.  Citizens can look at models and drawings, and “cast a vote” ranking the six entries.  Whether this “vote” will hold the same amount of sway as the public referendum remains to be seen.

In case you’ve never been to Aberdeen, here is what the Victorian park in the centre of the city looks like:

Union Terrace Gardens, looking South, 24 October 2011.

The light changed and I stepped just a bit to my left and took this self-referential photo of some women taking a photo:

Union Terrace Gardens, looking South over the floral leopard

So that’s what we have at the moment.  Below is my least favourite of the six entries for revamping the park:

"The Granite Web"

Most of the other entries contain a lot of concrete, and/or enormous structures (one of which looks like a triumphal arch made of Topple Blocks).  But there is one entry that seeks to maintain the gardens more or less as they are, while covering over the adjacent road and railway with an extension of the park that’s under a kind of modern glasshouse:

"The Winter Garden"

This design was the only one of the six I felt I could at all live with.  But I still am strongly opposed to spending millions of pounds on redoing a perfectly lovely park, when so much support for vulnerable people, health care, education and so forth has been taken away in this city.  When the news reporters interviewed people looking at the design, the overwhelming response seemed to be “But why can’t we leave it the way it is?”

Ah, because there is a wealthy businessman offering to pay for part of this grand scheme.  And because the City Council has handed the whole project over to a group of unelected businesspeople.  So maybe they will pay for the rest of it, rather than us taxpayers?  It is argued that the project will “revitalise” the city centre.  That may be.  One thing seems sure, and that is that building contracts will certainly revitalise a number of local business concerns.  Let us hope that decisions are made with the highest principles in mind, rather than the profit from maximum tonnage of concrete needed to fill in the park.  Or am I being cynical?



  1. No, I don’t think you’re being cynical at all. That reeks of empire building and someone doing someone else a massive favour. Bah.

  2. I was brought up 200 yards from this park – it was ‘our’ garden. I remember over the summer months there would be a stage erected for shows and highland dancing comps. We would go along in the evenings, a small group of small children (we were allowed to roam in those days (late 70’s, early 80’s) and perform impromtu concerts to each other whilst the park was empty. Oh the scent of the tallest of trees and ‘greeness’ mixed with the metallic railway lines behind us in the heart of the city centre! The sweeping granite staircases where we would ‘jazz hands’ down to the stage – playing hide n’ seek and twirling round the ornate lamposts.
    As a teenager I cannot recall entering the park, the upper decks frequented by those under the influence of outdoor alcohol. It became a place to avoid. I can understand Mr Wood’s desire to revamp the park – it’s such a pity that people feel they HAVE to put a MODERN slant on it. Why not restore? I could never see there being a modern aluminium structure thrown over Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, (which Union Terrace Gardens are our equivalent).
    This park has so much potential for events, concerts and celebrations – I don’t live in Aberdeen anymore, but this is still a special nook in a grey granite, built-up area – i can only hope and wish for this green arena to retain the granduer I felt when entering there as a child……

  3. I don’t think you’re being cynical, Christine, just realistic. I’m afraid ‘profit’ is the key word here.

  4. the concrete is just not right. it doesn’t suit the setting at all. i agree that there must be more suitable ideas for spending a load of cash. nice to hear from Amanda and her childhood recollections of the park.

  5. I’m not keen on Ian Wood’s idea, and using concrete there would be just gross.

  6. Such a lovely park, just the way it is. I can understand your feelings about spending the money when there is so much need. Aaah, the visions of the elite. We have just such a ‘vision’ in Seattle, the hideous, in my opinion, ‘Experience Music Project’, the brainchild of microsoft co-founder Tim Allen. It is a blight upon the city and looks like someone dropped a giant wad of different colored chewed up bubblegum (along with it’s foil wrapper) from high in space. But he had a ‘vision’. I think he needed glasses, and much more importantly, ‘insight’ as to how this horrible creation would appear to history. Hopefully, someday, it will be torn down. I hope clearer heads prevail in the case of your beloved park. xx

  7. Oh my word…why is it that Councils always think they need to change what is perfectly wonderful?!? Hx

  8. Park and concrete just don’t go together well.

    Two areas close to my house have been revitalized when a combo of private and public funds and decision makers pulled off what one or the other couldn’t easily do alone. I hope that happens to your park.

    What was once the largest mall in Georgia (among the largest in the U.S.) sits vacant and crumbling a mile from our house. Crime went up, shoppers stayed away, and store after store boarded up and left.

    Urban blight is ugly.

  9. You know. It strikes me that a cynical view is sometimes also the most realistic one. Not really cynical at all.

  10. Thank you for all the comments! It’s a shame that other people’s communities have experienced similar “progress” and that perhaps I’m not being cynical at all. We’ll see what happens in the end.

    Amanda, how wonderful to read your account of all that the Gardens meant to you in your childhood. Thanks for describing it so vividly for us.

    There is an active group, Friends of Union Terrace Gardens, that is campaigning for a seventh choice (besides the six entries in the competition): restore the Gardens and keep them as they are. Now wouldn’t that be a good idea? Probably too radical…

  11. If I didn’t know you were in Scotland…I’d think you were writing about this little town! Amazing how – worldwide – things are the same. I’d ask the same question: why can’t you just leave it like it is? It looks lovely already…

  12. I think that Scottish Heritage should take out a presevation order on the victorian arches aand features of the gardens. The friends of Union Terrace Gardens should immediatelly get in touch and get an order for the preservation of the victorian features in the gardens for the future gnerations of the city before they are lost for ever.

  13. Dear Dianne and A Robertson,

    Sigh! Yes, yes, and yes. The Friends of UTG have tried various legal manoeuvres to do with the original granting of the land to the city, but these have as far as I know been quashed… Dianne, it’s so sad to hear that this craziness / vandalism / “progress” is a widespread phenomenon.

  14. The council are so blindly following Ian Wood for his cash without thinking about who is going to pay to maintain whatever concrete monstrosity is “chosen” – the poor old hard pressed citizens of Aberdeen of course.

  15. Oh what a shame, that looks like a simply beautiful park. It’s all about lining pockets, favours for the old boys and offsetting capital though isn’t it? Money set aside for certain projects has to be spent on those particular projects, whether they actually need it or not, and the other wanting projects can’t have any because they have to draw on only their own share. It’s the same in the NHS…… Oh dear, I’m not going there.

  16. Does anyone remember watching trains from the gardens in days of steam, and was there a turntable in the cutting just next to Union Street Bridge?

    • Wow that sounds like such good fun! Thanks for that wonderful image.

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