This is an eagle-eyed view of a new square in the town of Castleford, England:
And this is what it was like five years ago:
An earlier age of crud:
Has given way to something brighter, more elegant and de-cluttered:
But my favorite image of the project is this one:
Because it makes me think about clutter - or more to the point, tidiness.
I was involved in the early stages of design development of the new main square in Castleford.
The selection and management of the design was devolved to a steering group made up of representatives of the local community - and by and large, people got what they wanted.
The town is proud of the design. I am proud of the design. And there is little doubt that it has contributed to the $400m plus new investment that is now flowing in to the town.
But what gets me thinking is that for many years, the model for successful urban life has been the noise, disorderliness and messy mix of people and traffic of SoHo, New York.
Alongside, creativity has escaped linearity and order: be it ironic, awkward Britart, whimsy, casual Goldfrapp, the popularity of feature-length social documentary film-making, the chaos of social networking and exotic packaging of securitised debt.
And yet we're choosing to scrape the surface of our towns and cities and turn it in to clean, clear and crisp pavement.
In its wake has come outdoor food courts, not street markets and a sweep of control orders that segregate access to the streets.
An irony is that all of this has been done in the name of winning back public space.
Another is the derision that once greeted minimalist, conceptual art in '70s and '80s.
Why is the new public realm so out of sync with the grind, mess, whim and float of popular culture - and of our lives?
And how and why did the cult of de-clutter take hold?
Here's a quick list of some of the things that might have got us here:
- The cult of Copenhagen, Danish urban design guru Jan Gehl and the pedestrianisation of the city
- The stream of sparse, ambient Sigur Ros running through the veins of the design profession
- The massive, hidden influence of chic interiors by John Pawson
- The apolitical lure of an empty stage
- The rise of de-clutter and home cleaning TV shows
- Our un-ending anticipation - and expectation - that something big's about to happen
The problem is that quite often in these places, nothing big does happen.
It's as if city developers skipped the chapter in Jan Gehl, William Whyte or Jane Jacobs that said that "designed" public spaces will be empty of people most of the time if a user population doesn't live near by.
Is it time for the script to move on?
Time for urban designers and their clients to take all of that brilliant new energy and enthusiasm for public space, look at the popularity of artists like Peter Doig and realise something simple?
That what we like and what often works is not just tidy stuff but experiences and images that are colorful, casual and awkward?