Thursday, 27 January 2011

Falling Water

Yesterday I was in Sheffield, chiefly to meet up with my Derbyshire cousin, but also to see an exhibition at the Millennium Gallery - and yes, it was open. The exhibition was of British art between the wars and was pretty good, with plenty of Bawden and Ravilious, Piper and Sutherland and most of the names you'd expect (and the ghastly Bloomsberries and some pretty crass Socialist Realism and lame British attempts at Surrealism). It was interesting too to see Sheffield again. I'd lived there for a year in the early 70s and had only been back once, so I was expecting much change. The city centre was indeed much changed - but to a surprising extent (to a reactionary like me) for the better. In particular many spaces have been opened up and pedestrianised, making the centre a pleasant enough place to stroll around, and making the city's grander buildings easier to see and enjoy. But the best of it is the brilliant use of flowing water through much of the city centre. With its hilly site, Sheffield is perfect for these contained and trained urban rivers, with pools and fountains and waterfalls. The water - which is of course lit up at night to make the most of it - is beautiful in itself, and a restful presence in a city centre. And in Sheffield's case it links the modern city both to its landscape setting and to its industrial past, when all that flowing water powered its first mills. Regeneration is a weasel word, but the centre of Sheffield is, compared to what it was when I knew it, most definitely regenerated. And a lot of that has to do with the power and beauty of falling water.

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