Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: Citizen Engagement

Photo credit: York Stories

In her third and final guest post, having looked back to 2006 and looked forward to 2026, Lisa@YorkStories brings the focus to dynamics of decision making in York.

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories (www.yorkstories.co.uk)

I was invited to write a piece for the My Future York project, and thought that a useful contribution might be to think about the decade just gone, and the changes the city has seen in that time, as another way of thinking about what ten years on might look like. In the earlier part I wrote about the obvious visual changes in the city’s streets and buildings. This piece is more about the changes in ‘citizen engagement’ over the last decade or so, again based on my own observations and experiences. And taking up the question asked by My Future York: what future do we want for York? And adding to that — whose ‘vision’ is going to shape the York of the future? Will you be involved?

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Looking at photos I took in York in 2006 and thinking about the changes in the city in the last ten years (in part 1) has made me think about my own experience, of a developing connection with and understanding of this city, the way it is shaped by planning decisions and other people’s visions, and about my own increasing ‘engagement’ over the years.

Ten years ago I was wandering about getting increasingly concerned about the things I saw happening, such as the sugarbeet factory closure. I knew I couldn’t do anything about that, and suspected I couldn’t have any input into the smaller local things either. But some years later the proposed demolition of a former WW2 service hostel building behind the art gallery provoked a sudden and intense engagement with the planning process, which continued and got deeper and wider over the years in response to plans for King’s Square, and York Central, and several interesting but unlisted buildings, since demolished.

Anger and incomprehension was my reaction after my first attempts at ‘engagement’ with the planning process. Since then I guess I’ve developed a more pragmatic and realistic view of what’s possible. Or maybe I’ve just become more resigned, with age, having seen so many changes in the city, so many buildings lost and streetscapes changed. Maybe that’s the difference ten years makes. But I don’t think it’s just that. I think that a major part of it is reading more, researching more, also watching the council webcasts of meetings, which gives the viewer an opportunity to sympathise more with the fellow humans we know as local councillors as they make decisions on often controversial matters. I think many other residents have yet to find that sympathy, judging by some of the comments about councillors I see online.

Because of the amount of information now available online it is easier than it was to follow what’s happening with planning applications and consultations and various types of ‘citizen engagement’. Still, the planning system through which planning applications are decided remains a mystery to many of us, and the council’s ‘planning access’ online system is frustrating and confusing and often fails to load the relevant documents.

Consultations on larger schemes are becoming more common, but many people still don’t hear about consultations until it’s too late and decisions have already been made. For those who do know and want to comment it can be hard to believe that consultations are genuine and are intended to help shape development.

At least there are now more attempts to consult on important matters, like the access road for the York Central development. I was particularly concerned about the future of the city’s built environment, and that aspect in particular, under the council leadership of James Alexander. It seemed that things not understood were in danger of being swept out of the way because of big ‘visions’ for the city’s future. A memorable low point was seeing a photo of Cllr Alexander in front of the former carriageworks canteen, which he was happy to drive the York Central access road through, because it meant nothing to him.

With that in mind, when I see comments to the effect that we need more leaders with ‘vision’ to shape the city I think about that. Whose visions? What kind of visions? The kind that show no understanding or regard of the complex and deep sense of place felt by the people who have lived here for decades?

So, a few years back we had a council leadership that seemed big on ‘vision’ and wanted to plough through a bridge into York Central regardless of what might be in the way. There seemed to be a simultaneous neglect of basic boring things like drain clearing and street cleaning and supplying of bins. That’s turned around in some ways I think since the current administration took over last year. There seems to be a recognition that the basics matter, and that council tax payers like to see some evidence that our council tax is being spent wisely.

Still, York in 2016 feels like a rather fractured place, with growing resentment about the large student communities and the fact that accommodation is springing up all over for students but not for others who are just as much in need. Many different perspectives about what the city is and what it should be.

Perhaps, in the next ten years, the city will swing back into ‘vision’ mode. I guess it will have to, a bit, to get the York Central project started, and other major sites like the British Sugar site.

I hope that the vision, and the reality, will include and involve everyone, or at least a wider cross-section of the communities that make up this city we call home. The city seems likely to be shaped to fit the needs of the university-educated and relatively wealthy residents. Cities usually are. But perhaps in this age of austerity the divide is becoming clearer, and the danger of exclusion. Already evidence of it. The young, energetic, well-educated and confident residents are claiming spaces and places, setting up the things they feel are missing. The older more settled residents, some of them here for decades, are seeing things claimed, taken away, changed beyond recognition in places. To some residents the city seems like a world of opportunity, a playground for ideas. Others feel a sense of loss and grievance, feel pushed out, powerless.

Having given a personal perspective, in response to the project ‘My Future York’, I’m thinking that perhaps a way in to writing about ‘My Future York’ is to take ourselves out of the picture – remove the ‘My’ and instead think about a Future York better suiting all of us. As it is the city as a whole we’re trying to help with, trying to imagine, and it involves the place working well for everyone who lives here. As Phil Bixby says in ‘Building a city-wide brief‘: ‘it involves altruism – consideration of what we hand on to others’.

Things are going a certain way, towards a city serving the needs of some of its residents — mainly the wealthier ones. How do we make it better reflect all of its residents, and include the needs and wants of those who don’t feel confident enough to put their views across, or don’t know how to?

I used to feel powerless in the face of the changes, in this city I was born in decades ago and have loved since I began to develop a ‘sense of place’. Recently I’ve seen some evidence of a more collaborative approach between decision-makers and other citizens, and I hope that continues to develop, and expand beyond arguing angrily on social media. For that to happen it needs more respect all round – among citizens in terms of how council staff, councillors and other decision-makers are seen, and from those decision-makers in terms of recognising that residents often have a wealth of local knowledge that can be of benefit if brought into the mix in plans for York and its future.

There will always be new residents arriving with energy and vision, and the challenge for the future is how to combine that energy with the wisdom and knowledge already here, to include a respect for heritage — of the built kind and the less tangible understanding of place. Projects like My Future York will I hope help to do this, bridging divides and bringing more of us in to combine our efforts for the sake of this precious place.

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If you’d like to add your own thoughts on York in the future, there’s more info on this page, and you can add your contribution on this link. My own ‘Perfect York, 2026’ is on this link. My Future York has gathered many interesting and thought-provoking perspectives, including contributions from Christopher Styles, Victoria Hoyle, John Cossham, Kit Rafe Heyam, and Helen Graham.

Guest Post by Lisa@YorkStories: ‘My perfect York’

2026: ‘At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented.’

In the second of our guest posts by Lisa@yorkstories, she outlines her perfect 2026 York as a contribution to our Day In My Life 2026 project.

Contributed by Lisa@yorkstories

An imaginary walk/cycle ride through York in 2026 … a utopian vision of how I’d like my side of town to be.

. . . . .

On Burton Stone Lane there’s an entrance to the football and rugby ground, on what used to be the MoD land of Lumley Barracks. The plans for a new ‘community stadium’ at Monks Cross were eventually abandoned after growing ludicrously bloated and unworkable, and a way was found to keep the football club at Bootham Crescent. The MoD land became available, and in a sudden surprise move the massively profitable housebuilder Persimmon decided to be philanthropic in the city where its business had begun, and instead of building houses on the Bootham Crescent ground, as had been the plan, it bought the whole site, and the MoD land, and donated it to the people of the city.

The new stadium has the necessary upgrade in facilities, and is also used by the rugby club. It’s still in the heart of the community, in the same place now for almost 100 years. Both York City FC and York City Knights are now doing well, with larger attendances.

Bootham Park hospital has reopened, and the forbidding ‘no unauthorised persons’ signs around the site have been removed. The double gates to Bridge Lane have been repaired and are now open, allowing cyclists to access the site more easily without the danger of colliding with pedestrians. The former ‘gala field’ is used for community events and the green space is better appreciated and cared for.

The journey from this part of York to the station has been made much easier since the construction of a new more accessible bridge alongside the old Scarborough Bridge, on the Clifton side. It curves across the river, set higher than the riverside paths so that it’s still accessible in times of flood. The floods are less dramatic these days, as there has been more work upstream to manage the flow before it reaches York.

The new curvy bridge over the river takes us into York Central. It’s possible to walk or cycle right through the middle of this area, to reach Holgate Road and Water End. It’s still a work in progress, but parts of it have been built. The tallest buildings, a mix of offices and residential blocks, are carefully sited so as not to block light from the rest of the site. Here, open parkland areas have been created and planted with trees – proper woodland trees like beech, oak and horse chestnut.

A strip of land planted with meadow flowers has extended from the original wildflower meadow around the Holgate arch right along the edge of the site, a river of flowers leading to the carriageworks canteen building.

The canteen was saved and has a new use as a community centre and business start-up space. On its walls are massive images of the carriageworks site in the past, and its workers, including those iconic images of all the bikes streaming out into the Holgate Road traffic. A ‘borrow a bike’ scheme based here pays homage to that memory. Outside and through the wildflower areas are information boards giving a history of the site and what was built here, with a plan of where all the rail workshops were when the site was at its peak. The ‘pride’ we talked about so much in the mid-1990s when the carriageworks closed has eventually been revived, thirty years later, through a thoughtful reuse of the site and its surviving buildings.

The new and old sit more happily together now. There’s not that conflict there used to be between those who want ‘progress’ and those who used to be labelled ‘the heritage brigade’. More people have come to have a wider and deeper appreciation of this city’s heritage and also of their own, and how the two fit together, and there’s a recognition that intelligent development (‘progress’) means working with what’s there, building on that.

Alongside the excitement of all things new and innovative there’s a growing recognition of the fact that it’s fairly easy to start things but much harder to keep them going, how much work and commitment it takes. A while back it was all about innovators and innovating. Now the focus is on maintainers, maintaining. In line with that, a new shopping area behind the station on the York Central development has been massively popular, featuring only those businesses with an established local presence dating from the 1980s or earlier. Many businesses ended up moving out of the walled city, as bars and restaurants moved in. York Central has its own fairly new ‘high street’, with a branch of Barnitts in the middle of it.

Heading back towards the city centre we pass the retained and improved Railway Institute buildings near the station, and pedestrians and those on two wheels can pass through the quiet arches under Queen Street bridge, taking the line the trains used to take, in the mid-19th century, right up to West Offices, the station at that time.

At West Offices there’s a drop-in centre where residents can get details of planning applications and comment on them or discuss them with other residents and local councillors. The old ‘us and them’ attitude has gone, after more residents began to engage with the planning process and put pressure on the authorities to make changes in the way plans were presented. An improved online system has meant greater participation and understanding, and the Residents Planning Centre here at West Offices is usually lively and buzzing, with a good atmosphere, and occasional laughter even.

Leaving West Offices we can then walk along the city walls. Though many changes were proposed to the moats and mounds around the walls most of these weren’t put in place as residents campaigned to preserve the existing views. These have been enhanced by further planting of wildflowers right around the walls. The buzzing of bees can be heard as we pause to admire the view towards the Minster, which looks much the same as it did ten years ago, and a century ago.

Over the other side of Lendal Bridge the library and city archives continue to provide a valuable and well-used service.

If we walk past there, out of the city centre, up Gillygate and Clarence Street and onto Haxby Road, we find that an offshoot of the library and archives has recently opened in the newly refurbished Joseph Rowntree Memorial Library, alongside the Nestle South development. Lights are on in the old Rowntree factory building. People are living in there now.

Behind it there’s a new cycle track heading off towards Bootham Stray, which is still open land there for us, as it always was. Or we can cross the road and go past the allotments, towards Clifton Backies, then onto Kingsway, where the green space between the houses is also full of flowers, and bees buzzing. There are benches made by local residents, which are never vandalised, and there’s no litter on the ground, here or anywhere.

Day in My Life 2016+2026: Litter-free, Goose-free and Living Over the Shop

2026: 'the much-vaunted York Central "business district" was similarly put to rest, and we now have a delightful mix of housing and well-wooded parkland, much enjoyed by our residents and visitors, with the expanded world-class Railway Museum on its doorstep. Best of all has been the transformation of the area round Clifford's Tower, banishing the cars to an underground car-park, and giving us a fine city-centre park complementing the fabulous Museum Gardens on the other side of town.'
2026: ‘the much-vaunted York Central “business district” was similarly put to rest, and we now have a delightful mix of housing and well-wooded parkland, much enjoyed by our residents and visitors, with the expanded world-class Railway Museum on its doorstep. Best of all has been the transformation of the area round Clifford’s Tower, banishing the cars to an underground car-park, and giving us a fine city-centre park complementing the fabulous Museum Gardens on the other side of town.’

Contributed by Philip Crowe

2016

York is a walkable city, so why do I have to get in my car to go out-of-town shopping because the decreasing number of retail outlets means I can’t find what I want at a price I can afford? Shopping on-line is definitely not the answer. I could eat and drink myself silly all day, but is this what residents want? Not to mention the street disturbances on Friday and Saturday evenings.

So here I am stuck on the A1237, having picked just the wrong time of day. Mind you the Council still allows disabled parking in the city centre, but how long this will continue is anyone’s guess.

As for the market, apparently not thriving, even after consultants’ fees and an inappropriate new look are factored in. No-one knows where it is because of totally inadequate signage and pathetic ‘heritage” colour scheme. Markets used to be fun places, full of colour and interest, and I like to shop there. But it needs a rethink and proper “marketing”. I must say I haven’t a lot of time tor the constantly congested Parliament Street scene – to get to M&S front door often needs a great effort of will.

Cuts in the public realm maintenance are really beginning to show. The road drains in Davygate haven’t been cleaned out for months, and last time I went after a heavy shower the road was almost impassable.

I do wish they would get on and sort out the development along Piccadilly – why does it have to take so long? I always thought that an offshoot of the Air Museum was a good idea.

But it is not all doom and gloom. “Events, dear boy, events” – we can’t get enough of them, which is surely a good thing, and the Council does its best to set the scene with its flower displays.

My message would be -“keep it clean”. York is still a great place, if you would only stop rushing about, dropping litter, and perhaps indulge in a bit of ‘mindfulness” instead.

2026:
Making my slow way round the centre of York I notice how well kept our parks and public open spaces are now – city centre streets clearly pressure washed and cleared of litter; risky uneven slabs relaid; pedestrian Petergate sparkling in its new block paving; flower beds to rival those of Harrogate!

All the noxious alleyways are now clean and cleared of obstructions, so that to explore the often unseen secrets of the city has become a pleasure, rather than an ordeal, and the “GOOSE PROBLEM” has been finally resolved (ask no questions!). Even the Foss is kept much cleaner now – fish galore, and more wildlife too.

It is good to see many more substantial trees planted, with helpful seats for those needing a rest from the increasing heat or torrential showers, which are such a feature of our new climate.

It is clear that the bicycle is finally accepted as a legitimate way of getting about, with more secure storage, despite rumbles of objection from those who can’t bear to share road space, and even the bus services are more user-friendly and reliable, now that measures to reduce car use and inner city congestion are beginning to take effect.

Those advocating dualling the ring road gave up years ago, I am glad to say, while the much-vaunted York Central ‘business district” was similarly put to rest, and we now have a delightful mix of housing and well-wooded parkland, much enjoyed by our residents and visitors, with the expanded world-class Railway Museum on its doorstep.

Best of all has been the transformation of the area round Clifford’s Tower, banishing the cars to an underground car-park, and giving us a fine city-centre park complementing the fabulous Museum Gardens on the other side of town.

More people live in town now, after the conversion of many uneconomic hotels into flats, and more living “over the shop”. I wouldn’t mind living in town myself.

2026

Day in My Life 2016+2026: ‘It’s got a bit post-hipster hipster around here…but there are some benefits’

2026: 'Need some new clothes for my big pitch in Reykjavik on Thursday, so pop to York Central Makers Quarter to get some inspiration from independent local designers. Really pleased we got plenty of family housing and green space here too. The place is buzzing with small kids who are out playing in the water-fountains. It’s nearly the end of September! Might try to squeeze in one last dip of the year in the Ouse Lido, or perhaps I should have a run on the new Pedestrian Cross Town Sky-Link.'
2026: ‘Need some new clothes for my big pitch in Reykjavik on Thursday, so pop to York Central Makers Quarter to get some inspiration from independent local designers. Really pleased we got plenty of family housing and green space here too. The place is buzzing with small kids who are out playing in the water-fountains. It’s nearly the end of September! Might try to squeeze in one last dip of the year in the Ouse Lido, or perhaps I should have a run on the new Pedestrian Cross Town Sky-Link’. Photo Credit: Catherine Sotheran

Contributed to the My Future York project, 20th September 2016. The writer prefers not to be named.

2016:
I get up far too early and try to coax Lexie into watching Cbeebies to give me more sleep. Programmes are only 7-minutes long! Eat a quick breakfast, battle on some shoes, beg to brush her hair and take Lex on her scooter to nursery. Come back and have breakfast, read latest news on Hilary Clinton.

Go upstairs to work where I have a contact call with my virtual team in my clothes which are really only one step up from pyjamas. Feel very modern until Skype gets glitchy. Work all day through lunch until 3.20 when I go to pick up Lexie from pre-school. Have play-date planned for after-pre-school but its wet and in Holgate and there is nowhere to go. Make excuses and go round to Grandpas instead.

Fancy going for an outdoor swim but choices are limited, so instead we go to Rowntree’s Park. Covered in Goose Poo. Dad says this didn’t happen when dogs were allowed off leashes. Agree to tell someone about this. We all have an ice cream.

Go back to Grandpas. He makes Lexie a fish supper. I bug him about getting his blood-tests done. To be fair the combination of getting through the traffic congestion, paying for parking and a potential wait at the hospital makes it a fairly stressful process, especially for someone already feeling pretty weak.

Dad drives Lexie home while I run home via river. Wish there was a way to run by the river without having to run through town. There isn’t. (First world problem). Instead I try to accelerate through Coney Street, aiming to look fast when I’m feeling really tired and sweaty. Get home. Olly has started the bath, books and bed plan for Lexie. Lexie really wants to sleep on my knee. That is what happens.

Get a shower and then eat, and then watch netflix box-sets until it is far too late. Crash.

2026:
8.30 getting nervous. Lexie still not out of bed. We get our runners on and run to school remembering to turn on our EasyPE sensors to earn PE credits. Three more running commutes this week, and she’ll get out of PE this week entirely – no Hockey – hurray!

School situation improving. Parent’s in York clamoring to get into “authentic” Local Authority controlled schools. We don’t have a chance, as only academies in our area. Luckily the school is finally starting to offer some term time flexibility, so with a combination of compressed weeks, remote work modules & parent mentoring credits, Lexie is able to travel with us for work. November = California – yay!

Get back to find two Grandpas and Olly cooking high fat, high salt breakfast in the kitchen. At least now they both live with us they are on the cleaning rota. Check Dad’s blood levels which are now collected from his implant. All good & green light back from surgery. No meds changes today & no need to call on the Community-run Health Squad.

We’re out of bread, so use my digital-detox hour to take Dottie the Dog to the park to pick up a faken-sarnie from the community bakery in West Bank Park & do some weeding in the stress-less garden. It’s all got a bit post-hipster-hipster round here, but there are some benefits. Dad arrives to run the Young Folk singing session. Get a bit nostalgic about bringing little Lexie to the Young Friends Group. Sigh.

Need some new clothes for my big pitch in Reykjavik on Thursday, so pop to York Central Makers Quarter to get some inspiration from independent local designers. Really pleased we got plenty of family housing and green space here too. The place is buzzing with small kids who are out playing in the water-fountains. It’s nearly the end of September! Might try to squeeze in one last dip of the year in the Ouse Lido, or perhaps I should have a run on the new Pedestrian Cross Town Sky-Link. Amazing!

Head home via new forage-your-own food café for some take-out. Still not quite sure about this but I offer the a few herbs I gathered earlier and get something interesting in return. I then pay using my YorkYen contact-less card, which generates community credits for the school-supper club & bringing back the Holgate Matterhorn. Bonus.

Finally back to work. Facilitate virtual seminar on history of new media for online Learning Co-op. Sociocratic organising & peer assessment principles means there is no lesson plan or marking scheme. Can sometimes be a transformative process, but today (in my opinion) we spend far too long exploring the word ‘web’.

Should really be thinking about dinner, but this evening Mum & I are going to retro-roof-top cinema on Stonebow House & Lexie is at ballet, so I pop a Tesco Value 500cal pill instead. Feel a bit guilty, but I save 3 hours and leave Olly and the two Grandpas free to dig on more swine – so not all bad. Walk home accompanied by personal pavement-projection trail, stopping only for a quick, virtual Street-Up with my bezzie in London en-route.

Finally back at home. All is quiet. Programme-in my berry-breakfast & set the Alarmbiante to Brighton Seafront, before jumping into my temperature controlled side of the bed!

Day in My Life 2016 + 2026: The changing same

2026: '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: ‘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.’

2016
Early and bright. Routines unfold. The towel. The stairs. The shower. Then as the hand slides round, gaining speed towards the precise moment of necessary exit. Then the rush. Teeth cleaning. The keys. Phone. Bag. Out the house. Notice three more houses on the street are for sale. And one more now for let. 17 minutes walk to the station down Cinder Lane.

The changing same. The flowers in a beautiful garden. The broken pattern in the pavement. The hollow sound of my feet on the foot bridge. The back passage between Holgate and Leeman Road once walled, once falling over, now more pragmatically fenced creating a visual connection between the railway maintenance sheds and the trickle of commuters heading for trains to offices in West Yorkshire. Then down the metal steps, across the car park. Nod to the attendant who ensures parking payment is given but also tidies, picks up litter, says hello to the regulars that park and walk across his patch. 4 minutes until the train leaves.

Practiced ticket buying. Muscle memory of the spatial choices needed to get a day return to Leeds. On the platform in time. Early enough (and late enough will do too) to get a seat. The odd public-private space of a commuting train carriage. Mutually respective of need to sleep, eat breakfast, apply make up, of laptop. The many working lives that compel travel and ‘being flexible’, all of us have the ability to focus anywhere and the need to use those 22 minutes to Leeds in some way. I work too and also watch the ripples of the seasons, catch a view of a favourite village, spire, field, sometimes a deer, usually rabbits. Each acting as a kind of visual echo of my childhood, of fields, and sunrise, and mists. My rural past in my present within and between two urban spaces. Then Leeds starts to emerges slowly between the fields and then faster as we enter the station. Happy to not yet entirely have to speak or to listen to others, before an equally happy day at the University of much of both.

Arriving back into York station. Busy train, though it is past commuters most popular home time. Seat on the aisle. Managed to work until after the final signal into the station, another email done and some sense of satisfaction. My day measured out in cups of tea and things struck off scrappy to do lists as well as good conversations and the constant flows of ideas and glimpses of possibilities. The working day over as the train stops. Rush. Laptop in cover. Then in bag. Grab scarf.

My bag is heavy with stuff bought at Marks and Spencer – at a price – at Leeds Station. The penalty of disorganization. The bustle of many people getting off a train and not knowing how to exit the station. But I become free as I head back out the back of the station with those heading to their cars and then the many fewer heading to Holgate or Acomb. The same path. Sometimes here, just before the footbridge over the tracks, I suddenly smell the earth on a damp yet warm day or fragrance of pollen. Over the bridge, past the train spotters. Then back way past the allotments [and fleetingly feel bad about the weeds that are probably growing in mine and my sisters allottment], the bowling club playing in whites, smiling at the dog walkers, down between the terraces and notice the beautiful purple flowery weeds growing in the crevices Victorian wall, never repointed.

Back through the door. Bread and salad plus expensive not-that-great cheese. Discuss the day – or we choose not to. The news. And then the sofa, bit knackered, but watch a television programme and a fictional world to which we have long committed and much discuss: beautifully made, complex, compelling, enriching. Then messing around, familiar jokes, always and every day slightly adjusted with a different texture, tone or context, and door shutting and light turning off, the improvisations of life lived together. Sleep.

2026
The alarm comes and goes. Some days I must get up straight away, and embrace the old routines, adjusted a bit for the greater regularity and speed of trains to Leeds. Yet it still takes 17 minutes to walk, though now Cinder Lane is populated by trees and planting and always alive with singing and movement. One of the most positive things to emerge from York Central has been the National Railway Museum working to keep with the rail industry in York as part of its living heritage approach. The NRM has become a place which connects collections and archive and with a lab for technological and engineering innovation with lots of apprenticeships and tourist actively invited to full engage with and understand all the crucial labour, from clearing to maintenance, which keeps the railways running.

Today, there’s no need to get up. I still love very much teaching but we brokered new contracts which meant we all work fewer hours so that there could be more members of teaching staff, this was part of the free education revolution in higher education which laid the way for student-led and more horizontal and collectivist ways of organizing learning. I am glad we no long grade students (something I have always found painful) but instead we offer students ongoing dialogue and interaction around their thinking and interests, something they also offer to us as staff in abundance. This way of working has radically reduced student anxiety, stress and mental health referrals but has also massive increased the space for students to show initiative, generate their own agendas and ultimately contribute so fully to their communities and places. We hope we will soon be moving to an even more open form, finally and fully realizing the idea of life long learning with Universities working in very strategic and embedded ways with the networks of community libraries that are volunteer run and create nodes and passage point between ideas and bodies of knowledge. Arts, humanities, cultures, philosophy, political theories are be part of everyone’s everyday life as we all also share the other forms of labour that keep the city working.

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.

This new reciprocal relationship with visitors has been partly to underpin what was once called a tourist tax, but we now call the Visitor Gift. Money from our visitors is important. We now have a living wage service economy, so pubs, hotels, historic sites all pay their staff enough for them to live and thrive living in York. The Visitor Gift is used to invest in free life long education for all who live in York (for however long, Visitors take part too and often run short workshops sharing their cultures), youth groups, active community history and cultural groups and the network of free, open, indoor and outdoor public spaces across the city. It has also been crucial in creating a Housing and Land Trust that builds environmentally sustainable and low energy community housing and has developed older terraced housing which are now completely affordably on the city’s living wage. Funded the same way is a Community Land Trust which has enabled green spaces to be supported both in urban York and on the outskirts. This has updated the Green Belt idea for 21st Century. It has allow new villages with their own community and facilitates to be build and it has enabled a much enhanced and bio-diverse green spaces in between, the green wedge idea extended outwards.

Having welcomed a group of Chinese tourists, I learned a few more Mandarin words and got to practice my basic Mandarin language skills. I introduced them to the both the histories of feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement in York and a taste of Centurion’s Ghost and Rudgate Ruby Mild. On my back, I stop by the train station which is now a really thriving hub, where we welcome visitors and can buy local food and local bread through outposts of York’s favorite shops. I cycle home, feeling very safe on the generous bike paths down Holgate Road and the Blossom Street.

Pass by Mum and Dad’s house and we 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. The A64 seems to get quieter and quieter every time I come out here, as few and few people use cars now. Back to Holgate to see my sister Katie on the allotment (which is full of asparagus, broad beans as well as wildflowers and butterflies).

Head back home via meeting friends in a cooperatively run pub, The Golden Ball has inspired many more across the city. As I walk into the house I appreciate for the 1000th time the cracks and time marks in this house built in 1898 and cared for by only four previously inhabitants. The fitted cupboards made by the first owner, a joiner at the Carriageworks. The familiar pattern of sun coming through the triple glazed back doors open down to the summer, and casting different colours on the tiled floor. Now that housing is no longer a commodity – our terrace street is now one of the co-operatively owned Community Housing Trusts – all there is now is appreciating and working with the grain of the fabric within which your life is caught.

Then TV, thanks to subscription services there are still the richest, long form, dramas. The slow emergent revolution of the last 10 years was not televised as such but there is television in my utopia. Then the happy changing same as we go to bed.

Two Days in the Life of…

I decided if I was going to start asking the question, asking it of myself first was only fair. So here are two days.

4th May, 2016

A typical weekday workday; a session on the turbo trainer, and then on to a site visit at Haxby Road school via coffee with a friend at Your Bike Shed. The school meeting is to deal with Listed Building issues as part of changes we’re making to the school – the tricky side of making changes to history. The journey is by bike – I pull up alongside a fellow Environment Forum member at traffic lights in town. It’s the first really warm day of 2016 and we celebrate with a cheery discussion at the front of the traffic queue. From the school it’s onwards via picking up a Good Food Shop stuffed pitta (and narrowly avoiding messy consequences) to the chiropodists in town. Coming out I get a call from the site manager on a job in Fulford – could I call in? A ride down the riverside in the sunshine means it’s no major chore, and I meet an old friend – now retired – who’s just got back to York after a Brompton ride from Howden (“the wind’s a southerly, so I got the train there”), and he tells me he had dinner in the house I’m heading to, sometime back in the eighties. “Bloke drank a lot of port”. Carry on to the site and agree on foundation details which needed  checking, and get a call from the chiropodists – they’d overcharged me accidentally, so could I call back in? Another sunny riverside pedal, and then back to my office – the basement under my home. A couple of hours dealing with emails and phone calls, and a short walk (up the steps in the back yard) to dinner and news of my partner’s day, watching the trains rattle past out of the back window. Another couple of hours preparing stuff for the following day, and then the sofa.

4th May 2026

A typical weekday work-ish day; out from the house across the back yard to the office – I know I said I’d cut back when I got older and greyer but there’s so much happening it seems a missed opportunity to step back. Sort out all the online work information exchange, and then sling the tablet in a rucksack and head for the tram stop. 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. Caroline’s packed up the shop, so sorting this place out is a good long-term project. There’s always someone I know at the tram stop – a chance to chat, gossip. The tram cruises up, we board and head into town – they feel so much more solid and permanent than a bus, I love ‘em. Most of the morning’s in meetings at the York Central design office – whoever finally came up with the idea of establishing a local collective to carry the detail design forward over the lengthy development process was a genius – there’s a real atmosphere of wanting to get it right. A long way off finished of course – another ten years? Maybe, but at least there’s A Plan. 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. 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. Food, and online to catch up with my daughter in London – thanks to technology I get to talk more – phoning was always just that bit too much effort, or maybe now she’s in her thirties she’s just got more time for the elderly!

My present, and My Future York. What’s yours?

Phil Bixby