The Guildhall: histories and futures

‘The Guildhall should be the centre of ‘York’s Story’ […] a chance to see democracy and engage with it’.

‘I also think that improved public access could act as a catalyst that might improve public engagement with the council and local politics. There’s something to be said for seeing the place where the council meets and decisions are made’.
(Quotes from the Guildhall Tours survey)

One of the My Future York project partners is York Past and Present, whose adminstrators Lianne Brigham and Richard Brigham have, over the past three years, shepherded the facebook group to an ever growing membership (14,800 at the last count) and to becoming a dynamic face-to-face community with coffee morning meet ups, Christmas parties and projects in collaboration with local heritage organisations (York Chocolate Story; Mansion House; York Explore Archives).

Lianne Brigham shares the history of the Council Chamber as part of the Guildhall Tour, Residents’ Weekend 2017.

Since 4th October 2014 York Past and Present (YP&P) have been running volunteer-led tours behind the scenes of the Guildhall, including during two Residents’ Weekends (2016 and 2017). In this time they have introduced 2000 people to the Guildhall and its history. As part of their partnership with the Guildhall, they have also been active in the Mansion House Heritage Lottery Fund project, with YP&P members volunteering to pack up and photograph the house before the renovations began. The Guildhall tours have now come to an end in advance of the proposed changes to the Guildhall. Through our research collaboration, YP&P, we decided to take the opportunity of the final Residents’ Weekend to interview and survey those that took part. We wanted to evaluate the tours as well as to understand better the meaning of the Guildhall to people who live in York and what they would like to see in terms of its future development. Overall 61 surveys were returned – in person and online – which represents close to 25% of those attending that weekend.

Read the full report. Look at the raw data from the surveys.

Key findings:

Question 1: What did you enjoy about the Guildhall tour?
The tours were well received, particularly the feeling of getting to look ‘behind the scenes’. The way the tours were done – by an enthusiastic volunteer – was also noted as important. The idea that tours might continue in the future either by YP&P or by others was suggested.

Question 2: Why is the Guildhall important to you? / Why is the Guildhall important to York?
The sense of the Guildhall as being a key in the development of York was foreground by all respondents. A phrase used over 25 times was ‘Part of York’s History/ Heritage’. This was directly linked to the development of civic engagement and local democracy. Yet there was also a strong connection made between history of York, the history the development of Guilds and the development of local democracy. This was seen as a crucial ‘York story’ that could be told through the Guildhall.

‘The Guildhall is a real treasure of York, and should be seen by as many people as possible. It would also help if the local community could learn how local authorities operate on behalf of the community’.


Question 3: What would you like to see for the future of the Guildhall?

There was a consensus that the building needed to be maintained, pay for itself in some way but also still be publically accessible.

Some – responding to the current plans – explicitly mentioned their support for the historic fabric to remain intact (a reference to the proposed new doorway in the main hall). A number of people noted the importance of economic viability. There seemed very little concern about the proposed extensions and restaurants in the wider complex. However, support for the proposed extensions and commercial additions was related to continuing public access to the Guildhall and Council Chamber, with a clear interest expressed in the shared civic story with the Mansion House. The argument for future public access was very often made on the basis of its civic and democratic significance.

‘I also think that improved public access could act as a catalyst that might improve public engagement with the council and local politics. There’s something to be said for seeing the place where the council meets and decisions are made’.

There was a strong sense of the importance of this story for people who live in York. There was also a desire to share this with visitors.

‘It is a magnificent building and one that should be showcased to the 1000’s of visitors York gets every year’.


Recommendations:

Create one ticketed entrance to Mansion House which includes the Guildhall and Council Chamber for visitors to the city. This should include free access to people who live in York, as is already planned by the Mansion House.

Ideas:
• Build on the living traditions of the Guildhall – as the Chamber still used for Council meetings – to create a hub for wider public democratic engagement in current issues facing York. The aim of this might be to use a variety of creative methods to enable more people to feel confident in participating in local democratic processes (from voting to ward committees to planning process) and well as enabling wider civic engagement.
• Use the idea of local democracy as a living tradition to develop a visitor experience for Mansion House / Guildhall which engages this city’s visitors with the links between York’s past, presents and future. For example, temporary displays could look at a specific issue (flooding; housing; Castle Gateway) and explore the histories of the issue and open up questions about how the city should handle the issue in the future. This could be in the vein of ‘Urban Lab’ experiments developed elsewhere. Strategically this would ensure a tourist experience to York which is far from ‘in aspic’ but actively deploys connections between the city’s past and future. Such an approach could act as a bridge between the city’s strengths in both heritage and media arts and between the city’s cultural entrepreneurs, its students and long standing local communities.

This report will be shared with relevant City of York Councillors and Council officers – but we see it as a working document so if you have any further comments on the tours or on the Guildhall, add a comment to drop us a line.

Sensory York: Sights, sounds, smells and feelings

Smells of Hungate in early 20th century… what will York smell like in ten years’ time? Designs and Photos by Reet So.

In our research on Hungate – and drawing heavily on Van Wilson’s oral histories of the area – we found that people’s memories were bound up with its distinctive sights, sounds and smells. In designing our exhibition for the Yorktopia event we wanted use the sensory landscape of early 20th century York to prompt us all to consider what we’d like York in ten years’ time to look like, sounds like, smell like and feel like.

You can contribute your own sensory York online.

  • Smells of Hungate, an exhibit at the Yorktopia event. Designs by Reet So.

We got a handful of responses to this during the event. This contrasted with the much more popular Census activity. This is a good reminder that participative exhibits need to be quite structured and immediately easy to undertake in crowded and noises spaces. On reflection this York Senses activity needed, perhaps, a more meditative mood. However those that did find the mental space during the event to imagine their Yorktopia sensoryscape produced really evocative and poetic responses.

Here are some samples below for inspiration or as point of resistance and disagreement:

Looks like...

‘Traditional buildings upkept. Lots more trees. No more car parks.’

‘Lots of trees, paved roads and pavements, shared sapce all through the centre, good modern buildings next to old.’

‘Sunsets + sunrises, red brick and wooden breams, smiling faces and starry nights, bright lights and clean lines, home.’

Sounds like…



‘Sounds of birds. Local musicians/buskers, supported to bring the streets alive’.

‘Quiet, only the tinkle of bicycle bells. The whirr of electric engines’.

‘Gentle folk music and sometimes heavy rock and punk protests, fireworks, laughter, and the ring pull on an can on beer, someone telling you that they love you…’.

Smells like..

‘Smell of logs burning, street vans, mulled wine, donuts, not rubbish’.

‘Clean. Grassy’.

‘Fresh coffee, cinnamon, the first raindrops on aspelt, incense, pine trees, sometimes fresh paint and petrol, freshly baked bread, apple pie’.

Feels like…



‘A small homely feel but a part of an active community in a city. This is why I choose to live in York.’

‘A place to sit an breathe, an exciting city with a buzz, safe but edgy.’

‘Clean, safe, soft, like crunchy leaves under your feet and fresh drew in the air…warm, comfortable like sinking into an arm chair by the fire’.

In the comfort of your own digital space, create your own meditative space and imagine what does you York in ten years’ time look like, sound like, smell like and feel like?

Thanks so much to all who shared their sensory hopes for York at the Yorktopia event. Card and icon designs by Ben Holden. Exhibit designs by Reet So.

Census: from 1911 to 2026

Yorktopia event, 23rd November 2016: 2026 Census activity. Designs and photos by Reet So.

At our Yorktopia event on 23rd November – promoted by 1911 Census for Hungate – we asked those walking through our exhibition to contribute to our own My Future York 2026 Census. Given the event only lasted a few hours, we were staggered when we undid the box to find 37 replies.

We have now launched an online version – what is your Census return for 2027?

The Yorktopia Census activity. A snapshop to Hungate in 1911. Designs and Photos by Reet So.

As we share the link for our new online version, here are a few reflections on the census returns contributed during the Yorktopia event.

Age
We had an excellent age range. From those that will be in their early 30s in ten years’ time, to those that will be in the early 70s. It was especially great to get so many submissions from those in their 20s, I assume from the student group exhibiting their art work in the next room and their friends.

Work / Travel
For those that planned to be in work in ten years’ time there was a strong consensus of either working from home or living very close to work, less than 5 miles or ‘not far’ were by far the most popular answers with only one stating a long commute of 30 miles.

Over 90% of those responding imaged they would either walk or cycling to work. Of the other options bus, train, tram were popular. Two mentioned cars, as many as mentioned teleporting/brain implants…

Home
However, it was the ‘where will you live’ census box pulled out the most differences. There was clearly a cohort of people – all of who will be in their 60s or 70s in ten years time – who were owner occupiers of their homes and didn’t really see much changing.

‘Expect to be where I live. 2 bed mid-terrace. Probably with ever more technology in the house’, will be retire by busy and aged 68.

‘Still in our three bedroom townhouse (me and husband) but probably thinking of downsizing’, will be ‘still working’ aged 65.

‘With my husband in our present house. Semi-detached. 5 beds. Paid for. Or my mother’s house opposite. 2 beds also paid for’, will be aged 71.

Of the other strand of older respondents innovative future lifestyle and living arrangements were imagined, suggesting that future housing also needs to taking into account of future approaches to sex and domestic relationships:

‘Large purpose built intentional community for polyamourous. York. Ecobuild’, will be seeking to retire and aged 60

‘I will be in a commune with my long term lover and his wife’, will be a volunteer and aged 82

‘Off grid, Commune of family, friends and strangers’, will be a carer and aged 65

For those who will be in their late 30s and early 40s in ten years there was a trend towards a certain sense of accumulative confidence, the four bedroom house seemed to be a marker:

‘4 bed house with family. Owned by us’, will be a University Lecturer and aged 48.

‘4 bed. With my love and her boys. I own it!’, will be self employed and aged 49.

‘3-4 bedrooms. Semi-detached house. Garden. Private off street parking. Owned by myself and mortaged’, will be a project manager aged 37.

‘3 bed town house, Mortgage paid. Living with wife’ will be a Programme Manager and aged 52

‘4 bed. York or Leeds. Victorian. Owned. No garden but near a park’, will be a civil servant and aged 50.

For younger people – those who will be in their 30s in ten years’ time – a note of modesty and a tone of realism featured:

‘Probably renting. It is a beautiful city but people my age can’t afford to stay’, will be a travel writer aged 36

‘I will live in a moderately priced house / flat with my boyfriend Jay and our tortoise Murray’, will be Film maker / painter / artists / sales assistant and aged 31.

‘Apartment 2 rooms. With partner or friend. Small balcony. Owned by me (probably not realistic)’, will be a writer and aged 30

‘A little cottage with a bunny. 2 bedroom.’, will be a nursed and aged 38.

‘Own an ‘eco-home’ / flat of some sort / with garden space / not too many bedrooms’, will be a parent and/or involved in chemical regulation and be 40.

Our snapshot census for 2026 reflects the typical type of audience attracted to contemporary art event – a mixture of arts students and affluent 30+. Yet it also points very clearly to an issue of life phases and periods of certainty and uncertainty which need to be taken into account in city planning.

In this snapshot there appears to be a group of economically secure people and a time in people’s lives (35-60) where there is a sense of certainty in your trajectory – you expect that you will be doing the same job or a better version of it, you will own the same house or a bigger one.

Yet in the Yorktopia respondents at both ends of our age spectrum there was more uncertainty. At the 70+ end of our age range, for some there was a sense that things would be changing, you might downsize, you might seek out a small place to live, you might join an intentional community or a commune. For those earlier in their lives, it was expected that these next ten years would also see a lot of change. Yet it was notable that the sense of confidence and possibility that pervaded the contributions from those who will be in their 70s was much less in evidence for those who will be in their 30s.

It will be interested to see how the online versions of the Census activity nuances and deepened these snapshot findings as the sample increases and diversifies. However, there are already concrete things to draw out here in terms of the familiar but crucial story of generational inequality as well as of the need to consider type, tenure of housing and the kinds of social relations our future housing might need to enable.

With many thanks to all who contributed.

York in 2026: 10 ideas for the city’s future

Trees in York Central and new woods on the outskirts. Ten ways York might be different in 2026 - as contributed through the My Future York Day in My Life stories.
Trees in York Central and new woods on the outskirts. Ten ways York might be different in 2026 – as contributed through the My Future York Day in My Life stories.

All week we’ve been pulling out the key ideas from the My Future York Day in My Life stories submitted so far. The job of final blog of this week is to draw out 10 key design ideas that might be in York’s 2026 future. These are just the ideas from the first batch, we will be adding and adapting the list as more stories are submitted.

Add your visionary ideas, though writing your Day in My Life 2016 + 2026.

1. Homes to live in
2026: Affordable housing is enabled by new types of financing from self-build to co-operative house. All underpinned by legislative change to regulate buy-for-investment.
2. Trams
2026: Air pollution and congestion has been reduced through cheap, regular and reliable public transport enabling people to leave their cars at home and live further outside the city.
3. A pedestrian-priority Bishopthorpe Road
2026: Bumping into people you know and enjoying the trees and flowers is part of everyday life on Bishopthorpe Road.
4. York Central – beautiful footpaths and bike bridges
2026: Fly through the air over beautiful trees as you cycle from Acomb into town via York Central’s network of beautifully designed foot and bike bridges.
5. York Central – designed by a local collective
2026: York Central is developed through the talents and enthusiasms of a local team of architects and planners with lots of community discussion and involvement.
6. Local Food Assembly
2026: Locally grown food for everyone through a scheme which connects growers of all sizes (including allotment holders with a surplus) with local shops and restaurants. Optional 10% paid on top of the food bill to support a communal pot that reduces food costs for others. Local food deliveries enabled by bike couriers paid York’s living wage.
7. Welcoming (and taxing…) Visitors
2026: New models of tourism based on deep engagement with local histories and cultures, reciprocal cultural exchange and a 10% per night Visitor Contribution (sometimes known as a Tourist Tax). Taken together they are used to underpinning a free and life long learning ethos in the city.
8. Gender neutrality
2026: All toilets are gender neutral and no assumptions are made about anyone’s gender in York’s cafes and restaurants. York is well-served for self-organized queer and LGBTQ spaces. Local pubs are welcoming to all.
9. Networks of indoor public spaces
2026: York library network expands to create volunteer-led indoor public spaces around the city. Here you can meet up, work, collaborative, use the wifi, eat lunch, get a cheap cup of tea/coffee and debate the issues of the day (as well as keep out of the rain).
10. Trees
2026: The city is green. With beautiful planting in York Central and new woods on York’s outskirts for ecological diversity and leisure.

And one final one, which raises a crucial question – how might all these ideas be delivered? A reading of the stories submitted so far might suggest the need to combine the public sector, entrepreneurship and community and volunteer approaches.

11. A mixture of local authority led and community and volunteer-led services and spaces

2026: The ideas above are enabled through a mixture of national legislative change (to change the housing economy in York) and the local authority using its ability to draw on resources through tax and public investment combined with the energy of enterprising individuals and well-supported and nourished community-led initiatives.

My Future York plans to organize public events around these design ideas over the coming months. How have other cities managed to innovate and create livable cities? How might we ensure that the ideas generated locally get put into practice?

In the meantime we’d love to hear more and more people lend their voices and ideas to York’s future… what is your ideal day in 2026?

Come and share your ideas:
24th September, 2-4pm. My Future York stall on Bishopthorpe Road.
1st October, 2-4pm. My Future York stall on Front Street, Acomb.

Join us to make sense of all the ideas at our next Open Analysis Workshop:
19th November 2-4pm
Venue to be confirmed. Express interest via myfutureyorkresearch@gmail.com

How are different aspects of our lives connected? / How do we hope to be living together?

From cycling over Hob Moor (pictured) to ways of co-existing better with the Race goers: the Day in My Life stories indicate new ways of being connected and living together.
From cycling over Hob Moor (pictured) to ways of co-existing better with Race Goers: the Day in My Life stories indicate new ways of being connected and living together.

In the second of our blogs this week, we will explore the second and third of our 2026 analysis questions. These questions focus on how our Day in My Life correspondents are imagining the different aspects of their lives to be connected and the ways in which we might hope to be living together?

2026 Q2: How are different aspects of our lives connected?

Work and life merging together
One notable thing from our first crop of Day in My Life stories is that in the future work and life seems well integrated. On one hand for some there seems to be less work – some people have retired or talk about slowing down or working less. Or work is distributed differently. Either in the sense that work, and types of work, are distributed more fairly between people. Or in the sense that work is spread out throughout the day more flexibly to enable time for cycling, walking, bumping into people, seeing friends and family.

Infrastructure for connection (travel / bike parks / routes / wifi)

There was a very strong emphasis in the stories on the infrastructure necessary for connection. Public transport and bike infrastructure, as mentioned in the previous blog, was almost universally mentioned. Wifi was clearly the backbone of few people flexible and public spaces work plans.

2026: ‘Then I hop on a tram (heavily subsidised for residents, and running every five minutes) that takes me back down Bridge Street, along Rougier Street and up Museum Street’.
2026: ‘At 8am the tram stop is busy, but since they are every 10 minutes nobody is too concerned. The new eco tramways into and around the city have made it possible for most people to leave their cars at home. Annual passes can be paid for through salary sacrifice schemes making public transport very affordable. Putting the trams in was hugely disruptive but nobody would want to go back to the pollution and traffic jams of ten years ago’.
2026: ‘Sort out all the online work information exchange, and then sling the tablet in a rucksack and head for the tram stop’.

Moving between is itself is important
Yet one thing to note is a sense that movement itself – negotiating York – is also crucial. In some of the stories there is a real sense of enjoying passing through areas of York, whether that catching a sight on the Minister, imagining new ‘shared spaces’ with less traffic on Bishopthorpe Road or the joys of cycling over the Millennium Bridge, Hob Moor or a beautiful new bridge over trees imagined for York Central.

2026: ‘Once I get to the end of Hamilton Drive, there’s a great new bike route. One of the first things to be built with the York Central site was a series of bridges and bike paths to link the west of the city up with the city centre. The biggest one is as elegant as the Millennium Bridge, although rather than looking down on the river it looks over the trees planted before the development work began’.
2026: ‘Cycle home via Walmgate Stray, the Millennium Bridge and Hob Moor. Good to see the cattle grazing on the stray and moor, and people enjoying the sunshine on Millennium Bridge.
2026: Today it’s quiet, and I pause to look up at the Minster against an overcast sky. Someone once told me that you’re never “from” York until you can pass the Minster without looking up; I’m not from here, I’m from Lancashire, but it’s my home and I reserve the right to respond to it with childlike wonder’.
2026: ‘In my lunch-break I nip down to Bishy Road, loving its pedestrianised through-route that means traffic has to slow down to a crawl since it shares the road with schoolkids, mums with buggies, wheelchairs and perambulatory pedestrians like me. And I adore its big, shady trees at the pavement edge that I can shelter under in sun and rain alike. The lack of traffic lights has put an end to the horrible, scary incidents where traffic speeds up to beat the lights and quite often goes through on red, endangering pedestrians and cyclists alike’.
2026:’It’s early, and there’s a deer peering out above the crops in the fields. I never thought I’d move out of the town centre but when the chance came up to build on a custom build plot out at Whinthorpe, among like-minded oddballs – well, we signed up’.
2026: ‘At the end of the afternoon it’s still sunny and calm and I regret taking the tram, so take a bike from the hire rank in Parliament Street and after a quick wander round the newly-pedestrian-priority Bishy Road head down the riverside, over the Millennium bridge and out of town along the cycle path. Lots of others out too – cars are so expensive to use that it only takes a whisper of sun for them to get forgotten’.
2026: ‘now Cinder Lane is populated by trees and planting and always alive with singing and movement’.

2026 Q3: How do we hope to be living together?
The third of our research questions came from our reflections on Ruth Levitas’ idea that utopia contains different ways of imagining how we might live together and the kinds of social relationship that we might build. The stories submitted so far are full of a sense of a rich and complex social fabric. There is a lot of chatting, bumping into people as well as the joys of family and friends. Direct connections between less traffic and it being quieter and new casual social interactions are imagined: ‘In fact, most traffic during the day now takes a different route into York to avoid Bishy Road. Hurrah: it adds to the sense of community and allows people to stop and chat together without noise or fumes’.

Alongside these type of daily social encounters, there is also some ambitious new type of social relations imagined too.

Co-existing better with the Races
One interesting issues was people in their 2016 story noting that the Races causes them issues – as they live on that side of town. Yet in their 2026 stories there was specific imaginings not of completely transforming the Races and Race Goers but of enabling better forms of co-existence.

2026: ‘At the end of the day my partner and I venture into York to see a film at City Screen. It’s a race-day and the drunken people staggering down Bishopthorpe Road make the walk less pleasant than usual… so we cycle around the back streets from Bishy Road into town, which is a much nicer experience now that the back roads have been traffic-calmed’.
2026: ‘I awake to an automated text message reminding me that this Saturday is a race day. I’m grateful for the warning; perhaps I’ll go for a bike ride that afternoon to get away from the noise. It should all be over by 5pm in any case; the racegoers will have walked into town, sobered by the tap water provided by the racecourse to every departing guest, and helped en route by the friendly team of racecourse employees who give directions and clean up mess as it’s left’.

Welcoming new comers and visitors
For some York tourism 2016-style was clearly an issue. For example: 2016: ‘At lunch time I head out into the city for some shopping. It’s busy with visitors and I dodge in and around people taking photographs or consulting maps. It feels very much like a tourist attraction’.

Yet there were also hopes for 2026 of a different type of social interaction with visitors.

2026: ‘My big task today is to take part in the York Welcoming Collective. 1000s of us volunteer, as part of the work the city needs, to welcome visitors, tourists they were once called, to the city. Our aim is to develop interpersonal interactions with our visitors from all around the world so they enrich our lives and understanding and we can introduce them in a meaningful and enriched way of the city of York. I’ve learnt so much this way and now many of us have friends in China, Indian, Pakistan, Mexico and Russia as well as across Europe. We want people to engage locally with us just as we are open to their localities across the world. We build our own translocal community in the wake of the EU referendum. We ask everyone who comes to bring something to share, their language, a dish – and we share with them the complex histories and cultures of York. No visitor can just see York as pretty old buildings any more’.
2026: ‘The clinic is even more popular now than it was 10 years ago, because nobody – even those on a low income, of whom we have plenty since York signed up for the Welcome European Economic Migrants initiative to support the servicing of its tourist trade – have any issue getting into town easily, quickly and cheaply via buses and trams’.

Volunteering/Collectives
There were many imaginations of people voluntarily and co-operatively contributing to their places and communities. These ran from straightforward volunteering to redistribution of wealth schemes through food co-operatives and shared housing.

2026: ‘We go down to the library and spend an hour volunteering. The library is open until 10pm and busy with classes, homework clubs and events’.
2026: ‘Pass by Mum and Dad’s house and Dad, Mum and I walk out to the new woods on the edge of the city. Dad’s been part of the volunteer team researching the new and rich ecosystem and biodiversity created’.
2026: ‘Then I’ll be going to one of my volunteering jobs which is the upkeep of the planting which happened in Bishopthorpe Road when I was still running the shop with funding from winning the Great British High Street’.
2026: ‘The community is built around shared space, including growing spaces, play areas and learning spaces, including a centre with a library and health drop-in. There is a micro-pub down the street in a neighbour’s garage, and many residents have joined the ‘pop-up restaurant’ rotation, taking it in turns to cook for those who want to go out for the evening. There is an excellent balance between public service provision and community action, which is co-produced between the council and the community’.
2026: ‘I chose to pay an additional 10% on top of my shopping bill which goes back into a communal pot that all members of my assembly can draw on if they have a time of need’.

Our final blog in this series will pull out the specific policy ideas – so we can open them up for debate and plan public events to explore alternatives.

‘What we want to be able to do?’

In the Days In My Life Stories words of home, belonging and connection dominate. In this blog we explore the first of our analysis questions. In 2026: 'What do we want to be able to do?'
In the Days In My Life Stories words of home, belonging and connection dominate. In this blog we explore the first of our analysis questions. In 2026: ‘What do we want to be able to do?’

One of the things we hope to do through the My Future York project to enable a slow and deep form of political engagement. We’re seeking to start something quite different from either the most common forms of public consultation or many forms of community activism which are often, for obvious and understandable reasons, against something. My Future York is about what we might be for. Or to put it another way, it’s utopian. It asks us to bring into being another time where others things might be possible. It is a leap of personal and political imagination. More Days In My Life are rolling in all the time but we also appreciate that writing isn’t everyone favourite activity so we’ve in the process of developing a quick fire version to use on public stalls and in workshops. More details on these soon.

In a series of blogs this week, we will offer a close reading of the fifteen Days In My Life stories submitted so far under the four 2026 questions we identified at our first Open Analysis workshop in the early summer.

2026
Q1: What do we want to be able to do? (practical things)
Q2: How are different aspects of our lives connected? (home, work, fun)
Q3: How do we hope to be living together? (social relations)
Q4: Ideas for designing alternatives? (specific ideas that we can follow up with events)

A word cloud analysis of the stories – image above – indicates a strong sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘movement’. Home and house are mentioned often as are words of travel and connection.

In this first blog we will start with 2026: Question 1 ‘what we want to be able to do’.
A close reading suggests we want to be able to breathe, feel free, feel safe, eat locally and well, bump into people we know, love our friends and family, welcome those we don’t know and see signs we belong everywhere.

Breathe – no air pollution
Mentioned explicitly by one writer yet implicitly there for everyone is the right to be able to breathe easily:

2016: ‘Wake up coughing and simultaneously apologising to my partner for waking him up again.
2026: ‘No medication needed now the air quality is better and the traffic pollution problem has been addressed.’

Move around safety (walk, cycle safely and park your bike, buses, electric buses, trams, trains)
Travelling was by far the most mentioned issue. The idea of cheap, affordable, reliable clean public transport and well maintained and safe cycling infrastructure was mentioned by all but two of the stories.

2016: ‘I cycle over to Museum Street (back down Bridge Street, right onto North Street which is pretty dangerous with a narrow road and traffic thundering both sides of you) and perform a complicated bit of slightly dangerous traffic negotiation from North Street onto Lendal Bridge because there are no cycle paths nor any way of turning right without going round the whole cenotaph loop. So I part-walk across the pavement, part-cycle across the pelican, and judge to a ‘t’ my moment to nudge into a gap in the traffic coming from the station.’
2026: ‘an anonymous donation made possible the plan for a “Shared Space” along Bishopthorpe Road shops which now means that traffic goes at walking pace, winding it’s way around colourful plant beds.’

Live in affordable and sustainable housing
A pervasive York issue… the idea of a stable, affordable and long term place to live – a home – was present in every one of the stories more or less explicitly.

2026: ‘as I walk into our house, a two-bedroom terrace we’ve owned for a few years now thanks to strict regulation of the housing market and a ban on landlords amassing houses for profit.’
2026: ‘We were able to move back within the City of York boundary a couple of years ago, joining a new housing scheme that means we can have a secure and reasonably priced home in a cooperative community.’
2026: ‘I never thought I’d move out of the town centre but when the chance came up to build on a custom build plot out at Whinthorpe, among like-minded oddballs.’


Buy local food affordably (shop in independent shops / local food assembly / allotments / independent York restaurants delivery by bike)

Local food appeared in many different ways.

2026: ‘At lunch time I nip out to grab my shopping from the local food assembly. I’ve ordered what I need online from local suppliers and producers and it has been brought to one place to pick up. The mini supermarkets are mostly gone now – who needs them when there so much available locally? I chose to pay an additional 10% on top of my shopping bill which goes back into a communal pot that all members of my assembly can draw on if they have a time of need.’
2026: ‘since many of York’s restaurants now offer a delivery service using our fabulously comprehensive, stringently maintained network of cycle lanes that the Council made national headlines for guaranteeing to be pothole-free at all times of year, we decide not to cook, but instead we use a City of York Council-sponsored app to order some delivery food from one of a network of small independent restaurants that enjoy subsidised business rates – and we cycle home to arrive just before our food.’

Be welcome and feel safe in local cafes pubs
Local cafes and pubs were woven in to many people’s stories.

2016: ‘Even the designated gay pub in the city centre isn’t a safe space for trans people’
2026: ‘We spend the evening in a pub chosen simply because it’s local to us’
2026: ‘There is a micro-pub down the street in a neighbour’s garage, and many residents have joined the ‘pop-up restaurant’ rotation, taking it in turns to cook for those who want to go out for the evening.’
2026: ‘We never used to risk the local pubs (the handwritten sign in the ladies’ toilets about drug dealers being reported suggested it wasn’t a good place) but we’ve now got a couple of really good ones which provide a welcoming place to spend an evening – and serve a good cold pint.’

Indoor public spaces / places to work / places to eat lunch / place to meet friends and family
2026: ‘Lunch is a short walk into town – every year the weather’s weirder so short walks are good – but today it stays fine and shuffling meetings to tables outside cafes works well – WiFi everywhere so work happens everywhere.’

Access to parking for those that need it (Blue Badge holders and others) to freed by safer bike infrastructure and better public transport

2026: ‘The car park is much smaller now, with space only for 15 cars plus a few disabled parking bays. What used to be for cars is now a bike park, most of it covered with green roofs to provide shelter from the rain.’

Gender neutrality
2016: ‘The wrongly gendered address slams into the pit of my stomach. It’s so unnecessary: why do people feel the need to say anything that implies gender? I grimace, wondering whether to correct her and tell her I’m actually a trans man, but decide it’s not worth the anxiety of how she might respond.’
2026: ‘When I tell the cashier the milk jug is empty, she calls to her colleague, “Can you bring some milk out for this customer, please? They need it for their tea.” I smile at the fact she hasn’t assumed anything about my gender from the way I look: the comprehensive awareness training offered free to every business by the Yorkshire Assembly’s elected trans representative has really taken off.’

Welcoming new comers and visitors
2026: ‘Welcome European Economic Migrants initiative’
2026: ‘York Welcoming Collective. 1000s of us volunteer, as part of the work the city needs, to welcome visitors, tourists they were once called, to the city. Our aim is to develop interpersonal interactions with our visitors from all around the world so they enrich our lives and understanding and we can introduce them in a meaningful and enriched way of the city of York.’

Signs of belonging
Yet perhaps the most moving aspect of the stories is a sense that all who have written suggested they were seeking signs that they belonged. One writer smiles when they see a LGBTQ rainbow flag and relaxes when gender-neutral pronouns are used; many writers bump into people they know; they chat; they see other people chatting; people walk round the city with friends; they move knowledgably around the city via short cuts or so they can glimpse favourite views.

Our second analysis blog – to be published later this week – will explore further this sense of belonging through the second and third questions:
How are different aspects of our lives connected? (home, work, fun)
How do we hope to be living together? (social relations)

A final blog this week will draw out the hard nosed policy ideas people’s stories have implied – from how housing might regulated to become affordable to local means of redistributing wealth (and via potholes and local history community networks!).