I came, I saw and I concurred - with most of what I and other bloggers had already written about Cabot Circus. It is indeed impressive in its scale and inspired in its design (but what do I know about architecture?*). I liked the way the middle street arrives at the circus at a higher level to the side streets, the way that the multiple levels give you so many different viewpoints and the way that it tries to blend in with the old Broadmead. It could easily have been worse.
Comments liking it to a Cathedral of Commerce were closer to the mark than I expected. In scale it is very cathedral like, and in the way that its aisles are lined with chapels to the various saints (saint starbucks, saint next, santa costa, saint yo sushi). Worshipers can make their votive offerings to their favoured saint, donating a few pounds here and there, very much in the Catholic tradition. Of course the major deities Jesus of Fraser and Harvey Virgin Mary take centre stage but most worshipers will feel that they have a more personal relationship with their own patron saint.
As I walked back home I was struck by how run down and neglected the older part of Broadmead now looked. And not just Broadmead but much of central Bristol now appeared tacky and uncared for by comparison. That worried me, because I've always felt that we should focus our efforts on making the public realm, particularly our main streets, more attractive as places to be, less dominated by traffic and better cared for. Yet the initial impact of Cabot Circus seems to be to make the public realm look even more squalid.
Cabot Circus is essentially a shopping mall, albeit with a more porous perimeter in the Broadmead direction. The essence of a mall is that within it you walk in a pleasant environment, weather free, traffic free, noise and pollution free, untroubled by undesirables like beggars and muggers. But outside the environment is actually degraded by the mall. Not only are vast areas and/or resources given over to car parking but the traffic generated by the mall dictates that the surrounding area must be dedicated to accommodating that traffic.
Contrast this with the traditional shopping street like Gloucester Road or Whiteladies Road. Such streets are multifunctional and messy but organic. They have grown without any significant planning as a result of thousands of individual actions. Small local businesses can flourish because within the unplanned complexity they can find a niche that suits their scale. There's no place for such small businesses in Cabot Circus and the future prospects of traditional shopping streets can hardly be improved by the arrival of the brash big brother down the road.
Cabot Circus, we are told, has created 4,000 "new" jobs. Does that include jobs with House of Fraser and others already based in Bristol who have merely moved eastwards? Even those jobs that are genuinely new to Bristol may well be at the expense of other jobs in existing businesses that fail or have to scale back as a result of the competition from Cabot Circus. Or are we all suddenly going to spend so much more money, in the teeth of a recession, that the 4,000 jobs really will be in addition to what already exists?
According to the Evening Post the "greatest threat to Bristol's new city centre appears to come from ... a small minority who appear to have a perverse desire to see Cabot Circus fail". Something of an overstatement I think, but they are clearly referring to bloggers such as me and the Bristol Blogger. In an emotional piece worthy of Churchill railing against the nazi bombers of 194o, the Post refers to our "doom-laden cynicism". Fair comment, but in the end we need a rational debate about the impact of Cabot Circus, not the Spanish Inquisition headed by Mike Norton.
(*answer - about as much as George Ferguson knows about planning for cyclists.)