“Streets in the Sky”

That was the dream of the designers of Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. And apparently it worked for a while. But during my childhood in the Steel City, Park Hill was virtually a no-go area. Things are looking up now, as it’s been taken on by a urban regeneration company with a trendy name a a penchant for bright colours.
Richard Sillitoe and his camera got there before they started to make good:


The Guardian piece is quite interesting, spelling out the ideas of the utopian estate thought up around the time of the Second World War:

Young Sheffield city council architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn began work in 1945, designing a radical scheme to rehouse the local community. Park Hill was the first successful post-second world war slum clearance scheme of an entire community in Britain.

And though they had plenty to do, paradoxically the bar was set pretty low, because the area was pretty awful to begin with, with no sewerage system, and regular typhus and cholera outbreaks.


Their ideas were lofty, much like the streets they panned, but doomed to eventual failure.

Inspired partly by Le Corbusier, the ‘deck access scheme’ was seen as revolutionary. Its style was known as brutalism, and the concept described as ‘streets in the sky’, where milk floats would trundle along broad decks, stopping at front doors, as if they were in a normal street.
Families were re-homed next to their neighbours to maintain a strong sense of community, and old street names were re-used.

It all fell apart in the 1980s though:

Unemployment was rising as the local steel industry collapsed, Park Hill had descended into dilapidation and was no longer a place people wanted to live in. Boarded up pubs, burned out cars, rubbish, graffiti, it became a ‘no go’ area. The maze of alleys and walkways made it a perfect place for muggings; there were also problems with drugs, poor noise insulation, and even tales of air rifle snipers shooting at kids in the school playground. The spirit and traditions of the pre-war communities faded away, as the original residents aged and eventually died.

And that’s the Park Hill I will always remember: the eyesore on the gateway to Sheffield from the M1.

They’re trying again now, with more of a mix of commercial and residential units: inner city living is the new cool.
I hope it works.

Photos: David Sillitoe at Flickr

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