My son wanted a new phone. It’s a weekday and I’m not working so I offer to go and help him ask the right questions. We walk in to the city centre, It’s pleasant weather and we take a direct route with interesting views all the way – the river, Cliffords Tower, green space and the pedestrian square in Coppergate. There’s a plethora of phone shops to choose from, both new and second hand. What will these shops become in ten years time? They weren’t here ten years ago. We open a new bank account now he’s earning from his brass band gigs. The staff are helpful. I walk to my in laws via Micklegate and think how lucky we are to have such varied architecture, small scale independent shops, and memorable streetscapes. I could look at a picture of any street in this city and I could tell where it was. I’m not sure you could do that in any other city. Every third shop is a bar, a takeaway restaurant or empty and it’s a shame these can’t contribute to the life of the street during the day.
There’s an absence of trees on Blossom Street, and I feel compelled to detour via Scarcroft Green. The sound of children playing in the school yard is timeless and makes me feel young again, but sad too thinking that I have no reason to enter a school I used to visit every day. There are dog walkers, toddlers playing and people crossing the green. It’s a popular, safe place. It’s calming too and if I had more time I would linger on a bench or a swing. You hope this space and its trees will be here forever, available to all, its value priceless.
Son and daughter have come to visit for the weekend. Having moved away, they miss home and are thinking of renting in the new settlement on the edge of the city, attracted by the thriving tech/arts economy, and cheap transport – an all-night express bus service and parallel illuminated cycleway have recently been completed. We walk into the city centre, the same route we’ve always taken. What’s changed? Electric cars mean you have to be careful stepping off the kerb. But there are fewer cars now and they travel slowly, their speed inhibitors primed to detect pedestrians and bikes at the roadside. The footways are more attractive, the services have all been moved beneath them to minimize road closures and this has gone hand in hand with investment and maintenance of new block paving, its colour and pattern setting a unique continental signature for the city.
The Arts Barge is flourishing – during the day soothing classical music drifts across the water, and there’s laughter at the tables. On the river, a suspended walkway offers an uninterrupted route to the city centre on each bank. It’s wide enough to attract a variety of street vendors selling local wares. In Piccadilly a thriving bazaar quarter is established where old office buildings have been offered at low rents to house start up shops and cafes. New pedestrian routes and suspended walkways penetrate the ground and lower floors forming part of an aerial walkway linked to the city walls. You are immediately aware of more young people, now encouraged to stay in the city once they graduate, investing their ideas and energy in start up businesses, all conspicuously branded Made in York.
The weather is fine today. Seats and benches are put out on most street corners, attracting older residents, some chatting, some playing the latest board games with local youths, a recent revival since the demise of handset culture.
You can just make out some of the brightly coloured residential blocks which fringe the city walls. These high density units have brought young and old back to the city centre. Some of the units operate as retirement complexes with free accommodation offered to students who support their elders. The city feels vibrant on days like this. The tourists are here to see the street life, just as much as the history, of the this, the North’s ‘Greenhouse City’.
As I cycle up Albemarle Road, my heart sinks. That sign saying “City Centre This Way” can only mean one thing: it’s a race day. They always take me by surprise. Hopefully I’ll get into the station before they put the barriers up, but I’ll return to chaos: police tape across the back alley which I need to access to put my bike away, drunk people in fascinators stumbling down my road, standing in a vast queue in the local shop while racegoers drop their money and abuse the shopkeeper, Blossom Street littered with takeaway packets and pools of vomit. And I’ll need earplugs when I go to sleep, because they don’t leave quickly or quietly.
I dash into town to go to the bank and return my library book: it’s a bit of a rush doing it before work, but the crowds thronging Coney Street make the city centre basically unusable on weekends. 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.
I pay in my cheque and the bank teller says, “Is there anything else I can help you with, madam?” 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. I head to the station instead and buy my ticket to Leeds, grimacing afresh at the extortionate price for a 25-minute journey on which I’m far from guaranteed a seat. I dance a little on the platform; I need the loo, but I’d rather wait and use the ungendered toilet on the train than face the frisson of anxiety that comes with using the gents in the station. I’ve not yet had a bad toilet experience, and I count myself lucky compared to the vitriol directed at trans women, but I haven’t lost the fear: it only takes one person to ask me a question, and my voice would give me away. I distract myself and my bladder by watching the gentle bouncing of Northern Rail trains. The first time my husband Alex saw a Pacer, he looked aghast and said, “I’m pretty sure the south threw those out ten years ago…”
The mood at work is one of grim laughter at political chaos. Younger people look askance at older ones, particularly the colleague who ordered champagne on the day of the EU referendum result. I return to York, wrangle my way through the temporary ticket barriers with their exasperated staff, and cycle home along Skeldergate and Terry Avenue to avoid the racegoers. My mood mellows as I pass under the dappled shadows of the trees, swerving around fluffy pyramids of goslings, and I break into a smile as I spot the rainbow flag flying from the ice cream boat by Millennium Bridge: I really must cycle this way more often.
After tea, a couple of queer friends come over for a drink. It makes far more sense than going out. None of us could afford a pint in town; we like the Golden Ball in principle but it doesn’t have a toilet for my non-binary friend or my wheelchair-using friend; and we’re reluctant to go into any of the other local pubs in case they’re the kind of place where everybody stops talking when you walk in. (When Alex and I lived in Leeman Road, we tried out the Leeman and the Jubilee and got that response; we never went back.) Even the designated gay pub in the city centre isn’t a safe space for trans people: it’s frequented by laddish gay men who think it’s okay to grope you in order to work out what’s in your pants, and who drunkenly misgender you on the dancefloor. So we stay in, drink fruit beer and fruit tea, and talk freely. It’s such a relief to be able to free-associate in conversation, to not have to censor my anecdotes in case they make the people around me feel awkward. My chest fills with an almost unbearable rush of love for my queer community. These people have kept me going through anxiety and oppression and seemingly endless gender identity clinic waiting lists. When the state fails to support us, we keep each other going.
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.
I’ve got no commitments until 11, when I’m meeting a group of ten in the Minster library to discuss some sixteenth-century texts, so I cycle into town to read by the river. The riverside area behind the Coney Street shops has been restored and opened to the public, giving every shop a back door as well as a front. Shoppers have two thoroughfares to choose from now, and both are less busy as a result. Islands of decking, set with benches and flowering plants, extend out into the Ouse. I buy a cup of tea – discounted because I brought my own mug – from a cashier wearing a badge that specifies “She/her pronouns please”. 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.
My seminar in the library is lively: the students aren’t afraid to speak their minds, having been taught in small discussion groups all the way through secondary school. On my way out of the Minster library I pass a couple of pensioners who have popped in to marvel at a twelfth-century book of hours. I’ve got a few hours before my next work commitment, so I’ve arranged to pop over to Leeds to see a friend. Now that the line has been electrified, it only takes fifteen minutes; from there it would be another half hour to Manchester. One of the first acts of the Yorkshire Assembly (one of several regional governments created soon after the 2016 EU referendum in response to the realisation that northern communities desperately needed more control over their economic situation) had been to take the railways into public ownership. Transport remains a hot political issue, so the representatives know they need to keep the railways in good shape, or their party will risk losing its place as senior partner in the coalition at the next election. I find a seat easily: all the trains are at least six carriages long these days. Along with the low ticket prices and the speed of electrification, this has finally pushed most people into commuting by rail rather than road. The trains that call at smaller stations are of the same quality, meaning towns like Barnsley are desirable places to live for people of all incomes. Neighbourhoods are now mixtures of people from different backgrounds, and people take advantage of the quick, cheap trains to visit other nearby communities in Yorkshire and experience their cultures and ways of life.
After catching up with my friend, I return to York, using the station’s gender-neutral toilet and tapping out with my transport pass as I exit the station. I head across Scarborough Bridge to the building formerly owned by Yorkshire Mesmac, now extended into the nearby church and known simply as Queerspace. I’m employed for two hours a week to offer support in an area where I have medical expertise – an approach that has dramatically cut down the wait to see a GP. The Yorkshire Assembly quickly realised that two overcrowded gender identity clinics in Leeds and Sheffield, and nothing at all in York, weren’t adequate to serve the region’s trans community, and that the best way to approach this issue – and many others – would be to pay existing experts rather than training new ones. This afternoon I have an appointment to meet a young non-binary person who wants to talk through the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy before requesting a prescription from their GP. We look at the Queerspace resources together – crowdsourced from people with direct experience of the issues – and I help them work out what they want, making sure that their consent to any treatment will be fully informed. They leave happy, heading on to another appointment where they will discuss pain management for their disability with another person who deals with chronic pain.
Alex and our cat greet me 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. We spend the evening in a pub chosen simply because it’s local to us, and fall asleep quickly, hearing only the occasional sound of a bike whizzing by.
Day in My Life 2016:
I get up early, just before 6am, and rush around getting ready so I can be on the 6.53am train to York. I live outside of the city now, about 20 miles north. It’s a 10 minute drive and then a 25 minute train journey to work each day. We moved away 2 years ago after living in central York for 8 years. We had been slowly priced out of the private rental market, and also disliked the insecure short term tenancies, the difficulties with letting agents and the way long-term renting is perceived as a kind of personal failure. Now we let our house from a landed estate on a long term assured lease, in a village where this is true of the majority of our neighbours. I learnt to drive at the age of 31 especially so we could move.
I arrive in York around 7.30am and hurry from the station, up over Lendal Bridge towards the Minster. The traffic isn’t too bad yet, though it’s already starting to build up. I grab a coffee from Costa, getting to my desk around 7.40am so I can work in peace and quiet for an hour before the office starts to fill up.
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, except for the two homeless people I pass. The man begging in the doorway of the old Robson and Cooper shop is a regular library customer and we greet each other.
Shopping done and it’s back to the office where I eat my lunch at my desk over emails. It’s still too chilly to eat outside in the Museum Gardens and there isn’t any indoor public space I can go for lunch. The benches on the first floor landing of the library are already full of people picnicking on sandwiches.
I catch the 5.40pm train home and the dash to the station is the least favourite part of my day. Lendal Bridge is crammed with traffic, the pavements are heaving and it’s raining. There is a lot of impatient hustling between umbrellas.
I finally arrive home around 6.30pm and am grateful to be out of the city. I let the dog out, following her into the garden, checking the fruit trees for any sign of apples, pears or plums. The air feels so much cleaner and fresher here, and I’m grateful all over again to be so lucky. I don’t mind having to rent or the commute so long as I can have this in return.
Day in My Life 2026:
The alarm goes off at 7am and the dog groans from her bed. She’s getting on a bit now and feels a bit creaky first thing in the morning. We don’t have to be up as early as we used to though. 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. Each person chooses the home that best suits their way of life, whether that’s a flat or a house, with or without a garden. We have a small contained house with a well sized secure garden for the dog, which backs out onto communal green spaces. 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.
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.
Alternatively there are off-road cycle routes from most areas, as well as well-kept footpaths. Since most of the centre of the town is now pedestrianised and off limits to traffic there are few incentives to take a car anywhere. The outer ring road is almost deserted and sections of it have been closed.
When I arrive at work the library is already open, offering a space for commuters to come together in the morning for a coffee and a chat. There are spaces like this all over the city now, where it’s possible to drop in and spend time together working on projects, having discussions and getting involved with the way the city is run.
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.
Before I go home I head out with friends for an early evening walk around the city. This used to be the worst time in York, when everything shut down early and the streets were full of tomorrow morning’s rubbish and recycling. Now it’s a time for people to relax at the end of the day.
Back at home I pick the dog up from the neighbour who has been looking after her for me. 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. Then it’s home again for dinner, after which I chat to family or a friend on the phone for a while. Finally I retreat up to bed with a book I borrowed earlier.
Poplar Grove in New Earswick, between 1902 and 1907. New Earswick became influential in the development of national social housing policy in the early twentieth century.
Yorktopia event, 23rd November 2016: York sounds and smells activity. Designs and photos by Reet So.
1920s in Tang Hall. Between the wars there was significant house building in York. These houses are 35-39 Seventh Avenue. By 1925 360 council houses had been built in Tang Hall. By 1928 this had risen to 1272 with 210 still in progress.
The need for more housing was a recurrent theme at our first street stall in March. The 'York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines' pilot project in November sought to open up questions of why York is so unaffordable with contributions by Darren Baxter and Alison Wallace, Centre for Housing Policy, University of York.
As part of the November 'York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines' project, Alison Sinclair explored 'How York set the agenda for social housing' with New Earswick designs feeding into the government manual produced in 1918 to accompany national legislation which led to the ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ campaign. More social housing was a theme of our first My Future York street stall.
When we clustered the cards people contributed during the My Future York street stall the 'housing' pile was one of the largest and will be a focus of future research as part of the My Future York project,
One key theme that emerged through ‘York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines’ was about public engagement in future decision making. An openness to public discussion in the context of the new Local Plan and York Central was set out in a piece by Council Leader Chris Steward and Deputy Leader, Keith Aspden, ‘Don’t wait for us to come to you, please come and talk to us’ . Phil Bixby, Chair, York Environment Forum and partner in the My Future York project, suggests that, while there are a lot of external drivers, one of the reasons the York is experiencing a housing crisis is that the city has found it hard to make decisions, ‘The real crisis York faces is a crisis of decision-making’.
The histories, analysis and ideas contributing as part of the ‘York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines’ project are shaping My Future York. One way we’re building on the work we did in November is through the Hungate Histories project. You can find out more by join our public event sharing the findings of the Hungate Histories project on 21st June, 3.00-5.30pm.