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Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Green (Village) Light Kiosk

Tailored to the diverse character of Moseley, this semi-transparent kiosk will provide a colourfully-lit spot from which to start any of several journeys throughout the area.

The potential is there for it to be interactive, but initially it will contain a halo of coloured lights and a map of Moseley painted or projected onto the underside, with an effect similar to stained glass. From this point, brass footprints and other imaginative waymarkers will direct people to various parts of the district: Moseley Bog, Moseley Hall Dovecote, Woodbridge Road, Highbury Hall, and other public and private points of interest.

The current proposal for a giant statue has a £30,000 price tag. I think that money could bring a wider array of benefits in a bundle of smaller - but joined-up - ways. A web of artistic interventions throughout the area would be much more interesting than the one-off and overly-massive intervention embodied in the statue. A web of nodes - each with its own distinctive installation - would do much more to get people round to various parts of the village.

One part of the web would be a Tolkien trail, connecting the places he lived and played in an interesting, informative, and creatively-presented series of smaller intereventions. The Tolkien trail would be just one of several that use the village green kiosk as a starting/ending point.

There are several challenges to address in relation to the wider scope of the project. One challenge is to address questions of spirit, aspiration and identity. What is Moseley about? What are its most interesting social, historical and inspirational features? Certainly, Tolkien realised the imaginative potential of local landscapes, but there's more to Moseley than Tolkien, and other things are equally worth highlighting. Some of these things are historical, such as St. Mary's, and some of them are leisure-related, such as the growing collection of eclectic restaurants.

Moseley history and eclecticism are worth highlighting, so part of the challenge is to find a way of weaving these and other things together into an attractively-knit offer. I think this means that a less-literal approach is warranted. I would like to see something based on a combination of Moseley's enduring qualities.

What are those qualities, and how might they be given form? I'm not in a position to say. It's a matter for wider public discussion. David Isgrove is correct in saying that it's important to promote Moseley as a creative village. Some would say that the existing Tolkien proposal does just that. I'm not about to agree. The current proposal has a narrow focus on Tolkien and hobbit-land. Moseley creatives are quite a bit more diverse, and they deserve better representation.

Another challenge is to design something that is sensitive to Moseley context, yet dramatic enough to attract people. One way of succeeding is to make a distinctive yet harmonious architectural intervention. Towns and cities all over Britain are pulling people in with quirky and exquisite buildings, pavilions and other structures.

These things need not be carbuncles or eyesores, but can instead be exemplars of sensible, contextually-sensitive design. With people coming to Birmingham to see the new Bullring, Moseley is well-placed to develop a complementary line of architectural interventions - none of which need to be on the scale or style of the Selfridge's building. You may recall that a local businessman wanted to bring a London Eye type wheel to Birmingham. This copy-cat, me-too approach is derivative and distinctly unflattering. Birmingham can do better than imitate London. By the same logic, if Moseley is to be a truly creative village, it needs to exemplify that creativity in all sorts of ways, by taking a lead in developing new - and appropriate - ways of presenting itself. Local standards of creative excellence are quite high, and Moseley should be drawing attention to itself in terms of the multiple things it has going for itself. It can actually set the standard for the city as a whole. Relying on a single statue - and a single claim to fame - does not do justice to Moseley.