Thursday, 29 January 2015

in the car-park, the garden

The Westgate Multistorey Carpark is coming down. Of course, it is long past its heyday. In its prime, back when I first came to Oxford, there was a Travelator and a bronzed mirrorglass Octagonal Control Tower jutting out over the feeder road like an exotic fungus. Access was via skybridge, or you could take the low road, straight through the garden:

The garden is a shadow of its former self, too. The trees have disappeared, done in by a freeze or a drought (we've had plenty) and the bright municipal planting has given way to indestructible shade tolerant shrublets choked with invasive weeds. Inbetween the cobblestones, the all-engulfing moss has mussed the ripple patterns, and ripped out cobbles have been patched with scant regard for concealing the damage. And then there's that horrible, faux-victorian signpost reminding us that this is touristtown.

But there is still that sense of wonder, chancing on it as you exit the carpark, or spotting it through a forest of cars, or as today, through the eerie emptiess of a closed car-park. There's a glimpse of Utopian enthusiasm, a park for the people with the car as a glorious beast to be feted and marvellously stabled, like an emperor's fancy steed. All faded now, of course, and running to ruin, rot in the concrete and cracks in the cobbles and soon it will be replaced by this century's dreams. Cars will be hidden under slantishly angular classy glassy avenues lined with trees. The trees will return.

Along with the annoying parking bays that were always a bit too small, and the staircases that were always wet and often inhabited, and the top level that was, well, a bit of a problem, the secret garden in the car park will go, broken cobbles, weeds and all. That tiny stony garden hidden behind the weird brick skirts of the Westgate will be gone forever, and will seem as implausible as the octagonal control tower, or that we ever had a travelator.

But the Westgate Carpark was never a building to stand in the way of progress. In a pretty, fancy town, it was defiantly slabbish, shouting noisily about a future free of spires, dreaming or otherwise. To be crushed under the next grand development? It's how it would have wanted to go.

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