#CitizenMedia #York: How can we create a positive democratic culture online?

How can we use online spaces to have good conversation about the future of York?

#CitizenMedia #York: How can we create a positive democratic culture online?
Thursday, 15th March, 7.30-9.30

Throughout the Castle Gateway process, we’ve used social media to seek open conversations. Sometimes this has worked well and great ideas and thought-provoking stories have emerged. At other times we’ve not quite known how to respond, or how turn to cynicism, frustration and anger into to constructive discussion. We’ve also met some people who have said they simply don’t engage in debates about York online for fear of personal attacks and sniping. The danger is we all retreat into our own silos of people who think like we do and the sense of a shared public sphere where ideas are shared, debated and exposed to challenge is lost.

We invite you to join us to explore whether there is another way of having debates about York through Facebook, twitter and in the comments on the York Press. How might social media become a space for us as citizens to engaged in debate about our city? How can we shift the emphasis in local debate from what is wrong and what is hated towards people being able to positively contribute what they want to see? How can social media discussion support democratic culture in York and feed into local decision-making?

The objectives of our first workshop are to:

” Explore techniques for engaging well on social media
” Create a community of people prepared to go out there and try some new techniques and then feedback on how it goes, so we can all learn from the experience

Places are limited to 12. To book a place email Helen on h.graham@leeds.ac.uk
Organised by My Future York and Coaching York

My Future York to collaborate with City of York Council on the Castle Gateway project

My Future York will be collaborating with the City of York Council on a new public engagement approach for the Castle Gateway area.

My Future York will be working with City of York Council on the new Castle Gateway project, an area which includes Fossgate, Walmgate, Piccadilly, Foss Basin and Castle area and Eye of York.

Drawing on the work done by My Future York over the past year and the analysis we developed of where consultation approaches often fail, the My Castle Gateway project is designed to go beyond conventional community consultation by enabling all those interested to become part of a sustained long-term conversation where they have influence through sharing responsibility for the area and its future.

My Castle Gateway project will: Step 1 use creative community-led events to explore and establish ‘what is important’ about the area (which will underpin the heritage ‘statement of significance’) and encourage possibility-thinking to feed into masterplanning processes (to collaborative build a brief for the area); Step 2 identify lines for community-led action inquiries (where there is uncertainty or disagreement) and Step 3 sustain community action throughout the formal decision-making process, delivery and hand over (so that community use and custodianship of the area is grown throughout the processes).

To find out more visit the My Castle Gateway website.

My Castle Gateway in three steps:

Step 1: Castle Gateway unleashing ideas…using community-led public events to explore what makes the area important and what people would like to be able to do in the area. Leading to: a vision for the area and a collaborative ‘statement of significance’ and ‘brief’.
Step 2: Castle Gateway deepening understanding … collaborative inquires to research key issues and public events to explore, question and discuss. Leading to: masterplan and planning options.
Step 3: Castle Gateway making change together… formal decision-making process and delivery will be directly linked to ongoing community action in the area. Leading to: formal decision making and a strategy for ongoing involvement throughout the delivery process.

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.

LGBT histories, LGBT futures

LGBT History Month
York’s LGBT history: make your own rainbow plaques

Saturday, February 18 at 1 PM – 4:30 PM
Garden Room, York Explore Library and Archives, Library Square, Museum Street, YO1 7DS

For the York LGBT Rainbow Plaques 2016 event

This month is LGBT History Month and York’s LGBT History team have put together an amazing array of events. This is the third year I’ve been involved in running with Kit Heyam our York’s Alternative History Rainbow Plaques event. The past two years have seen a raft of contributions. Some have wanted to commemorate Ann Walker and Ann Lister, who took a joint communion taken in Holy Trinity Church on Goodramgate at Easter 1834 and saw this as equivalent to marriage in the eyes of god. Others have shared more personal memories, from coming out, first kisses and exploratory visits to gay pubs. We have also used the plaques to remember violence and bullying as well as activism, protest and campaigns. We hope to see many more histories, memories and stories contributed this year. Join our facebook event – or come along on the day.

The future is always lurking in this event. It is about change that has happened and change we want to come. So this year we want to connect the pasts that we will commemorate to the future. As part of My Future York we’ve been having lots of conversations about the lives people want to live in 10 years time. Where will they be living? Who with? Where will they work? What do you want York to enable you to do? How can York change to enable the life you want to live?

As LGBT History Month kicks off let’s think back but also think forward. We’ve been asking people to write a Day in their Life Story, one for this year and one for ten’s years time. For inspiration here is Kit Rafe Heyam’s.

What’s your 2027 like?

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.

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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.

Yorktopia: looking back to look forwards

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On 23rd November My Future York collaborated with Vespertine and York St John University to look back to the histories of the Hungate area to provoke debate and discussion about York in ten years’ time.

In our exhibition we invited people to look at floor plans of a Hungate house, demolished in 1936, the houses of the new Tang Hall estate and those being built the new Hungate development.

A plan of a two bedroom house in Hungate. Designs by Reet So.

We then invited ideas for a utopian dwelling. We also invite people to listen to record excerpts from Day In My Life stories we’ve already collected.

An ideal dwelling for York in ten years’ time.

One aim – not surprisingly given the focus of the My Future York project – was to invite people to contribute their own ideas. Two of our participatory exhibits seemed to work well and to entice people to think about their and York’s future. Thinking of the event as a prototyping process we’ve now developed these ideas into online versions.

The first was a quick Census activity. Based on 1911 Census in Hungate but asking people to image their own Census for ten years’ time. We got 37 responses in the short period of the event. The new online version will only take 5 minutes to complete.

The second was a York Senses activity. From oral histories and archive photography we gathered images of the sights, smells and sounds of Hunagte in early 20th century. From Chicory to the slaughter house. The online version of York Senses will take between 5-10 minutes to complete.

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

The event finished with an array of signers and poets sharing their visions, hopes and fears for York’s future such as Henry Raby’s contribution of a battle-scarred York.

A big thanks to Veserptine and York St John’s for working with us on the event and to Reet So for being brilliant designers and collaborators.

Guest post Henry Raby: York in ten years’ time

A school trip, ten years’ time: ‘I stand and listen in. Hear my history replayed like this young man, all said with the certainty I wish I had. He regales all the old battles I don’t remember as battles, the events I don’t remember as being so important. He misses out details that fix hard in my mind. He speaks without fear like a good person. I give a cough absent-mindedly and a parade of eyes swivel towards me. I instantly fumble for my identification, but before I’ve had chance to grasp it from my pocket, the eyes have returned to the tour guide and I realise my heart is thundering. I’m no threat. Nothing to fear’. Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran.

At the Vespertine Yorktopia event in November York-based poets and signers imagined York in ten years’ time. York performance poet and writer Henry Raby brought the event to a close with this piece. Henry describes York after a battle has been lost, a time when emotions and histories have been stablized and contained, where hope lies in not in visions or plans but half memories and feelings that creep up on you.

A contribution by Henry Raby

We are not allowed to be afraid. If you’re afraid, you’ve lost. The sign at the train station reads: Never Fear.

White sign with deep red letters like thick scars. Hissed with a splash of graffiti in cutting black paint.

School trip clog up my route. No braying noises, these children are fixed and focused. Their teachers, tall men and women, solid and dependable. The children demur, showing a reverence that belies their tiny age. The children of 2020, born to the smell of diesel, sounds of gunshots, ticking of lists, dazzle of streetlights. They grew up knowing they cannot Fear.

Never Fear.

Their tour guide, a thin gentleman as standard as you’d ever likely to find. A smiling character. He points out the great holes in the City Walls. I can recall when the walls were complete, or at least walkable. But these gaping absences suit the walls. Make them look battle-hardened. Like Vikings learnt how to use rocket launchers. He tells the class

“Like the Romans before, and the Vikings, and the Siege of York in 1644, these walls stood to defend the city from oppression, this time from inside the city of course.”
The class nod. They note it down in their memory. They are good students. They are 6.
“And the Walls biggest challenge occurred 6 years ago. Gosh, when you were all born”
The class nod. They know this. This is not new information.
“But York stood up to that test. York survived, as it always does. The rest, as they used to say, is history”.

The children don’t seem to enjoy their history lesson. I think they’ve been taught it all before. I forgot it all. Faces pinky in the winter chill, their cheeks puffing tiny clouds almost beautiful in the crisp air. No one notices their breath, they are all upright. Attentive. Competitively so.

I stand and listen in. Hear my history replayed like this young man, all said with the certainty I wish I had. He regales all the old battles I don’t remember as battles, the events I don’t remember as being so important. He misses out details that fix hard in my mind. He speaks without fear like a good person.
I give a cough absent-mindedly and a parade of eyes swivel towards me. I instantly fumble for my identification, but before I’ve had chance to grasp it from my pocket, the eyes have returned to the tour guide and I realise my heart is thundering. I’m no threat. Nothing to fear.

I walk into York alone, relief at leaving the throng of bodies. The streets are naturally quiet, the roads quieter. If people have trod their way into the city centre, they did so long before this hour. A bus must pass through, I recall. Every couple of hours doing the rounds. Traffic lights are cracked. Road paint worn away.

I go onto autopilot, aiming for my destination like a seeking missile. The streets I walked down so often in the past, the routes so well visited, are alien to my now. Crunch through puddles, like an assailant. I feel like I’m causing trouble just by being here, breathing this air. Stealing oxygen, taking up space, walking paths which are not mine. Because I lost them.

I am furious with my memory for picking up hints of the past. Where the charity shops and cafes and pubs peppered the streets. For imagining where buskers stood, what they sounded like, where the Food Not Bombs stall would be found, where the Christmas tree would have loomed. My memory is too reliable, or these memories too solid. I wish they’d float away like my breath.

The past was ripe for taking. We plundered 50 years of music and fashion and ignored the fact beneath our borrowed culture we were scabby and rotting. We paraded the fashions of the century in the new millennium and poured the past onto our iPods and phones.

We were stagnant and remainiators. Necromantic artists obsessed with the dead, with holograms, releases and remake, fixated with mourning passing and words like ‘irreplaceable’.

I’m a cynic because I was told the future can be bright, but the past was brighter. I’m a cynic because I was told to hope with one foot in the bogs of the past.

Maybe I’d feel better if my home town was busy. But there are no shops, cafes, restaurants or bars. Just office space, windowless buildings and refurbished blocks for the business of 2026. And that’s when I come across the place I made my pilgrimage too. The wandered wrapped in scarf and gloves finds the Snickelway like a twisted corner tucked away.

I take off my glove and feel the brick work, see the dents from bullets and recall, alongside memories of gigs, hot chocolate and guitar bands the howling that came from silence. The pauses we mistook for calm which were really hot thoughts getting hotter.

It didn’t feel like our last attempt, it felt like progression. The history books are already being written, saying York was at the centre of a warzone. But it wasn’t a war, it was eradication.

I hope in my future we are allowed to be sad.

I thank thickness lodged in my throat. I want an empty stomach waiting to be filled. I want to sigh out my breath.

I want fear to tingle me. I want it to rest inside my toes at night. I want it to be the reason I turn lights on and drive slowly and walk around in groups and arrange to meet people early and keep my phone close at hand.

I want fear and sadness to be my twin guardians, one on each shoulder. Whimpering and sighing, gasping for air and holding its breath.

I don’t want instant joy, I want it to creep up on me when I least suspect it, and fill me up slowly like poison through sad veins.

I want to feel it rise like icy rainwater. I want it to flood my house and make it grumpy. I want joy to come through the door in the middle of the night and disturb my rest. I want to blame it for making me sleep in.

I knew that anger so well. I knew it inside me, and I could see it in everyone’s eyes. Harrowing and drilling, a sense that we could take the tension from our own tight fists and put it to good use on all sides. And my anger lost out, and their anger won and now all the faces are white. The only history we wanted was celebratory, bold, bright and had a flag wrapped tight around it.

So now we say, boldly, in signs and sayings and casual agreement. Never Fear. Move forwards. Don’t look back, just look to the next stage, the new wave. Because we’re building it better, they say, everything is going to be better. So stop looking backwards.

I want to go find one of the schoolchildren. Take them to this wall. Show the next generation the bullet holes. The place where we held banners and broke windows and stood in front of trucks and shouted slogans about deportations. Some light candles and wrote petitions but it wasn’t enough. There weren’t enough of us. The silence in the city is familiar. I want to show the scars where I tried to crawl into camps.
But their fathers and mothers probably worked in those camps.

So, with hours before my train to take me away, I wander around York more. Looking for gigs and curries and quiz nights and real ale and poetry nights and film screenings and theatre events and a different language. I fail.

I have found myself down by the river, all browns and grim blues. On the walls around me in thick black spraypaint, like a maddened scrawl, the words ‘Normans Go Home’ is written.

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?

– – –

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.