News from the Utopia Fair, 24th-26th June

Over the weekend of the 24-26 June some of the My Future York team headed down to London in a minibus to take up our stall at the Utopia Fair (Somerset House). I went, along with Helen (University of Leeds), Richard, Lianne and Gavin (York Past and Present), Victoria (York Libraries and Archives) and Alice (Reet So).

The fair was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities programme as part of the Connected Communities Festival 2016. Taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia (published in Latin in 1516), the Festival theme, Community Futures and Utopia, was run in partnership with The Somerset House Trust’s ‘Utopia 2016: a year of Imagination and Possibility’.

The theme of our stall was living well together, which was identified as an important issue at the first York planning meeting. We engaged with this theme through the idea of the Utopian Council of 2066, and invited people to write letters to the Council sharing their hopes for the future. This future Council would be founded on utopian principles, taking account of people’s collective desires or fears and thinking beyond only what is ‘possible’ in the language of development and planning.

The stall, designed by Reet So, looked great with its eye-catching purple and neon orange signage, and people were soon drawn in to find out what it was all about. There was a lot of interest in the My Future York project, and several people commented that the discussions around York’s Local Plan reflected similar situations in the areas where they were living. Some issues people wrote about in their letters to the Council included food waste, housing, car pollution, local-regional decision-making and young people and families. One letter even recommended a current project that encourages the use of food waste to feed pigs – see http://thepigidea.org/

Providing they gave an address, every person that wrote a letter to the Utopian Council over the weekend will receive a reply by post. The letters will be discussed at a storytelling session, to be held in York (in the Council Chamber) at the end of July. This collective conversation will inform the response letters people receive. Details of the Utopian Council storytelling session will be announced soon on the Events page.

Day in My Life 2016 + 2026: Shared Spaces and Lives

'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'
2026: ‘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’

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.

Day in My Life: Building a city-wide brief

'TEXT'
‘Any process of design is actually a more complex process of developing a brief (which sets out what’s wanted) and then a design response to this (which is largely technical). A brief is then the start of a design challenge, for design professionals; one which can still be a conversation – a creative partnership with the community – but one where each party is clear about their opportunities and responsibilities, and the long-term nature of this relationship’

Planning for the future of cities is a complex, dynamic process. Planning professionals in local authorities juggle the difficulties of technical and political demands – and often produce proposals which are contentious, or downright rejected by the public they are designed for. Why is this? Incompetence? Very rarely. Any process of design is actually a more complex process of developing a brief (which sets out what’s wanted) and then a design response to this (which is largely technical). There are two reasons why urban planners, highways engineers and other skilled professionals turn out poor proposals. One is that the briefing stage is handled terribly, with the community poorly engaged and with short-term politics over-riding long-term vision, and the second is that briefing, like design, should be a creative process, but is usually strangled by risk-aversion and lack of faith in the broader public. The minimum number of people are involved, rather than the maximum.

So how do we turn this into something more successful? The first important step is to note the distinction between brief and design; the two are linked (and good design often involves repeatedly revisiting the brief to check it is still completely valid) but distinct. Professionals often fear that inviting the involvement of the community is “getting the public to do our job” when it is nothing of the sort – it’s simply about providing the professionals with a better brief. Being able to plan the shape and structure of a city requires the professionals to know what the community wants to do in that city – how they will use the future buildings and spaces – and planning professionals are rarely actually given this information with any degree of completeness. The second important step is unhitching the briefing process from elected representatives. The cycle of politics – the politician’s “forward horizon” is far too short for strategic planning, and consideration of what will be popular with voters in four years’ time is unlikely to reliably describe what is wise for shaping a city for twenty, thirty, forty years of strategic change.

A third, and important, issue is that producing a good brief isn’t easy; we assume it’s simple, like doing a shopping list for the supermarket. But it’s completely different; it comprises moving beyond consideration of the present into consideration of the future, it involves imagining things being different, and it involves altruism – consideration of what we hand on to others as our lives move elsewhere, or come to an end, or are simply shared with increasing numbers of fellow residents, travellers, workers. This process involves individuals developing a picture of their future lives, based upon their values and wishes, and then bringing together these individual strands into a collective vision of what buildings, places and spaces, what infrastructure (and indeed what governance) needs to provide in our future city.

And this resulting brief is then the start of a design challenge, for design professionals; one which can still be a conversation – a creative partnership with the community – but one where each party is clear about their opportunities and responsibilities, and the long-term nature of this relationship.

Find out more about how share your Day in My Life and to help build a brief for York.

My Future York at Utopia Fair, Somerset House (24th-26th June)

The My Future York Utopian Council stationary as designed by Reet So.
The My Future York Utopian Council stationary as designed by Reet So.

Over the weekend some of the My Future York team will be at Somerset House for the Utopia Fair. We will be asking people to write letters to the Utopian Council of 2066.

Our invitation runs:

We are the Utopian Council. We are a collaboration of minds and hands. Together we are the ears to your queries, dreams and fears and the catalyst to your actions.

The idea of this ‘council’ derives from an ancient concept left behind from earlier days, where cities, towns and constituencies were ruled by tiered management structures and elected members. However the Utopian Council is open to your interpretation. There are no limits to our duties as a council, or yours as ‘the people’, we are here for you as you are for us.

Each letter will follow a certain form. It will ask the letter writer to imagine who they are contacting. We’ve proposed a structure. It begins with a positive opening: ‘I’m looking forward to…’ ‘there’s something I’d like to share’, ‘I’d like to praise’. Then there is the offer of a contribution: ‘I want to offer’, ‘would others like to hear’. Finally, a reciprocal offer: ‘let’s keep in touch’.

In July we will then convene the Utopian Council in the Council Chamber in York’s Guildhall for an afternoon of utopian storytelling, imagining what happened next in the case of each of the contributions and writing back to each participant.

The aim here is try and reformulate the relationship between people and those we elect and those the people we elect employ. We’re thinking of this partly in terms of a more distributed sense of agency and responsibility for positive change that belongs to all of us – this is why each form creates space for a volunteered contribution. But it is also about combining in different ways direct and representational forms of democracy. Seeing our representatives as catalyst, as facilitators, as connectors, as enablers, and as employing technical support to enable decisions and desired action. In this we may find ourselves playing around with notions of representation, perhaps an imaginary of a representative elected less to ‘speak on others behalf’ and more to be the re-teller and passer on, not only of stories but also sometimes of parables; as sharer of offers of help but also of ideas and ways of thinking.

The title of our Utopian Fair stall is directly inspired by our City of York Council Chamber.

From the City of York Council Chamber in the Guildhall.
From the City of York Council Chamber in the Guildhall.

The text of the signed reads: ‘No manifestation of feeling from the public will be allowed during the council meetings.’

Our stall will be called: ‘Manifestations of feelings from all people will be encourage at all times’.

Hope to see you there or at our Utopian Council storytelling session in York. Contact us to find out more.

Hungate: An analysis of the 1911 Census

A post exploring the what the 1911 Census can tell us about Hungate written by Hungate Histories team member Catherine Sotheran

Bradley's Buildings in Hungate as pictured in July 1911. Photograph taken by the City Engineer. Image: York Explore Libraries and Archives.
Bradley’s Buildings in Hungate as pictured in July 1911. Photograph taken by the City Engineer. Image: York Explore Libraries and Archives.

Of the 63 properties in Garden Place and Hungate (just the main street, not the back yards), that I have found information about through the 1911 Census, there was a slaughter house, warehouse, Boy’s Club, Mission School above stables, a few shops and the rest were houses, 6 of which were tenements (2 or 3 separate households).

The number of adult (age 14 or over) occupiers was about 178 and about 112 children. Of the 54 families that had children about 35 of them had 1 or more children that had died by the time of the census, an average of 2 per family, the worst being 10 out of 15 children died and 7 out of 14 died. In general the houses don’t appear to be too overcrowded by the number of people per room, though I don’t know how big the rooms were, and I did find a family of 4 adults and 7 children living in 4 rooms. The majority of the parents are fairly young, under 45, though there are a few households that still have adult offspring living there and also a few 3 generation households.

Most of the houses are occupied by families and the vast majority were born in York, though I did find a wife born in Barbados, I’d love to know her story. Curiously one man had given his marital status as “uncertain”, apparently he didn’t know if his wife was alive or dead.

The majority of adults are in work, the most common occupations being in the Chocolate industries, general labouring jobs, laundry and other domestic type jobs, trades like painters, joiners, wheelwrights etc. but also a few more skilled jobs like a hairdresser, midwife, auctioneer, book binder, dressmaker, druggist and antique dealer. There also seemed to be quite a few people involved with fish, either as dealers or fish fryers.

A couple of families are still in the same houses 25 years later when the Compulsory Purchase Orders are served in 1936.

It would be interesting to contrast all this with the residents of the new Hungate developments, what sort of jobs they do, do they own or rent, are they locals etc. just over 100 years later. The Hungate Histories team have decided – as part of the research linking pasts with present and the future – to run a workshop inviting new residents of Hungate to join them (York Explore Libraries and Archives, 19th July, 5.30-8pm). if you live in Hunagte now and would like to join us, contact My Future York.

No. 2 + 4 Garden Place: The saga of 2 owners, some back windows and an unpaid bill

Written by Catherine Sotheran as part of Hungate Histories Research Team

Catherine Sotheran unfolds the tale of what happened to 13A Hungate to improve the living conditions of 2 and 4 Garden Place.
Catherine Sotheran unfolds the tale of what happened to 13A Hungate to improve the living conditions of 2 and 4 Garden Place. As Catherine writes: ‘It’s only a small story about a landlord and an official body, but is part of the greater history of trying to improve people’s living conditions’.

I’ve been looking through some documents about a Closing Order (an order forbidding the occupation of a house until certain specified improvements are made, usually repairing the structure, internal fittings, drainage, ventilation and lighting), served on these properties and have discovered quite a saga, going on for 2 years.

It starts in January 1911. Firstly there seems to be a question of ownership, the bulk of the correspondence is with Mr George Garbutt of 20 Shambles, and Langbaraugh, Fulford, but there are also a couple of letters to George Wray, 51 Palmer Lane and his son. So the first question arises, who is Mr Wray?

Part of the work required to make the houses habitable is to insert windows into the back walls of the properties, however Mr Garbutt states he cannot do this as the yard behind the houses belongs to Mr. Turner. He is informed that the yard is for sale, but then is informed by Mr Turner’s son that he is dying, but afterwards they could come to terms. In the meantime Mr Garbutt would consult with his solicitor regarding the position of the wall and passage and see how he stood legally as regards to the back windows. In Dec 1911 Mr Garbutt was informed that the Health Committee did not propose to buy the yard leaving him free to negotiate for putting back windows into the houses into Mr Turner’s yard behind. The insertion of the windows was absolutely necessary to their continuance as dwelling houses.

The houses were inspected again in August 1912 when further work was required but there was no mention of the back windows so presumably they had been put in by then.

We then move to the beginning of 1913 when Mr Garbutt is sent a bill for £5. 00. 0 ½ for the demolition of the top storey of 13a Hungate, the house across the passage behind nos. 2 + 4, which belonged to Mr Turner, in order to bring sufficient light into his houses, (the halfpenny being part of the wage bill for the demolition ! ). Mr Garbutt says he knows nothing about it, doesn’t own 13a Hungate and seems to be refusing to pay the bill. It seems is if the Health Committee had taken it upon themselves to arrange the demolition ( with Mr Turner’s permission ) of the top storey in order to provide sufficient lighting and ventilation to the houses, and then ask him to pay the bill, after which they would send the order withdrawing the Closing order, though the houses should not have been inhabited until the withdrawing order had been sent. In June Mr Garbutt offers to pay £2 towards the expenditure but the committee were trying to get £2.10 from him.

The order withdrawing the Closing Order was issued in Feb 1914, so stating that the houses were ft for human habitation again.

So, did Mr Garbutt buy the yard, did they inform Mr Garbutt beforehand about the demolition,did he pay the bill in the end, and who was Mr Wray ? Also raises the issue of “right to light” and why Mr Garbutt had to buy the yard in order to put in the windows, unless I’m just misinterpreting the situation.As an addendum, the rents were increased after the renovations from 2/6 per week to 3/6 + 4/6.

It’s been interesting looking through the correspondence, some in Mr Garbutt’s own handwriting and piecing together the sequence of events, also seeing how much detail the inspections and subsequent repairs cover, even down to catches on cupboards, as well as the more extensive structural repairs needed. It’s only a small story about a landlord and an official body, but is part of the greater history of trying to improve people’s living conditions.


Post-script:
As a follow up to my question about whether Mr, Garbutt bought the yard, I’ve since found a letter from 1935 stating that, Arthur Turner, the youngest and only surviving son of the late Wm. Joseph Turner lay claim to the land, so it seems Mr Garbutt did not buy it after all.

A Blog From member Sue Hogarth

I have always wished to go back in time and see how York was in the 1930s and often said ” would love to have lived in York then” ,however after working in the archives and actually reading letters from people who did live in that era I’m so glad that I didn’t live in the 1930s.the letter that really touched my heart was one to the council begging them to  put his mum in the “York city infirmary” the first letter was wrote in 1936 saying that his mum was desperately needed relocating, we do know that this area had a compulsory purchase order on it, so did the son not have room where he lived for his mum or was it because he couldn’t cope with her illness, his mum however was adamant that she didn’t want to leave her house and go into the “institution” ,the son continued to write letters to the council for a whole year, eventually the council officer visited the lady with the intent of persuading her to leave the house, they visited her regularly pestering her to leave, eventually she gave in and was signed permanently into the “institution” ,her pension book was taken off her as she would no longer need it, on inspection of the house it was filthy and overrun with vermin, it wasn’t fit for human habitation, but she spent many happy years there , her furniture was deemed unfit to be sold at public auction and was sent to the “Destructor” to be burnt along with her clothes, bedding etc. This true story made me feel so grateful for what we have today, the poor lady fought so hard to stay in her home and when she eventually did leave all her earthly belongings were burnt.

I enjoyed looking through the archives because it gave me a glimpse into the past, without the archives this wouldn’t be possible, I have always enjoyed history, so Thankyou to the people who made this possible.

Sue Hogarth

Housing: histories and futures

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Housing was a key issue that came up on the first My Future York stall we ran on Parliament Street in March. It was also the focus of a pilot project we undertook in November last year called ‘York and Housing: Histories Behind the Headlines’.

As part of the project, we invited a wide range of people to comment about the challenges York faces in terms of housing. Alison Sinclair in her piece ‘From New Earswick to Tang Hall: How York set the agenda for social housing’ explored York’s tradition of innovation in high quality and affordable housing. Darren Baxter and Alison Wallace, from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, asked ‘What is it that drives unaffordability in York?’. Through a specific focused project using the city archives we explored some of the stories behind York’s big changes and trends in housing, Carmen Byrne, in ‘Emotional Trauma, Community Upheaval, Long Silences’ uncovered the impact on people of compulsory purchase in 1970s. We have built on these pieces through commissioning a new piece, published last week, by Richard Bridge, giving a specific account how legislative changes will impact on York as a livable city, ‘A Right to the City?: The new legislation driving York’s gentrification’.

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.

Bishophill – futures that didn’t happen

Buckingham Street, a street threaten with demolition for a multistory car park.
The plans for the Buckingham Street multistory car park.
Members of the Bishophill Action Group celebrate saving homes on Buckingham Street: ‘if the corporation had wanted the street, they could have got it a lot more easily than by calling it a slum. This has put our backs up. We feel they are using underhand methods.’ 20th September 1972