I asked Carol Warren to tell a little about living in a neighbourhood which was designed as a community – Derwenthorpe by Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.
I moved to Derwenthorpe on the outskirts of York with my Partner, Nick, almost a year ago. One of the most important reasons for the move was the knowledge that a thriving community already existed here and that the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust had planned the layout of the estate with both the environment and community in mind. Community was something I hadn’t properly experienced since growing up in the working class terrace houses of Poppleton Road in the 40s and 50s.
So what is a typical “community” day like in Derwenthorpe? Physically the estate, with its landscaped gardens, restricted car access, groupings of a variety of house styles and sizes, communal parking and bin areas, offers lots of shared spaces which promote casual engagement with your neighbours. The front gardens are small with no gates, so front doors seem more inviting and accessible. Ours is frequently knocked on as it used to be in Poppleton Road. People might wave at you through the large, low windows or stop to talk as you garden or sit on the bench outside your door. Cycling is promoted via cycle paths which also leads to more encounters. You bump into people much more on this estate for sure. It feels quiet and relaxed walking round the lake or indeed just round the houses. We’ve done our share of door knocking since living here and the number of people we get to meet seems to grow daily, facilitated by both these accidental encounters and more structured activities.
Today, for example, I am going to feed the cats for Katie, a lovely young woman we met in our first week, who helped us move boxes and is now running the book club that Nick has joined. After that he is going to the choir committee meeting as we’re both keen singers and joined the choir soon after moving in. Next weekend we’re both helping at the Open Gardens event, Nick by making a cake, me by manning the tea and coffee stall. Recently, when the nature group were bee-bombing the cycle path outside our window, I took them out a cup of tea and was happy to be recruited into that group. We’ve helped out at monthly coffee mornings, the children’s Christmas party, walked with a group on Boxing Day, attended the 50 Ways to Love Your Planet events, invited our other choir to sing at The Big Picnic, visited a recycling centre with the intention of reporting back to residents very soon. Most of these events are organised by the Community Activity Network which I joined very soon after we moved in, wanting to meet people and get involved as quickly as possible. In June, I volunteered to help with the distribution of Lots On, the monthly newsletter keeping everyone informed of all the upcoming events and ongoing groups. The list goes on, the wine club, litter picking, art classes, Joe’s organic veg stall, Pilates, Yoga, French circle; all on your doorstep if you want it and no problem if not.
I suppose what all this active volunteering and joining has done for me and in a very short space of time has been to give me a sense of belonging to a purposeful, good-natured, active, supportive community that weaves strong threads through doing things together. This in itself creates other opportunities to meet up in other, more social ways, dropping round to each other’s houses, going to the local library cafe, sharing information and skills, offering help, minding cats and keys.
An example of a nice and unexpected encounter a couple of weeks ago, was walking round the wider estate to show it to Nick’s son who was visiting, stopping to admire a front garden, striking up a conversation with the owner (up until then, a stranger) which ended up with her digging up and presenting me with a big clump of a flowering shrub to take home. That’s sort of how it feels here, friendly, generous with a real mix of people, retirees, young families, people with disabilities, people on low incomes. It’s not a utopia, there are problems of inclusiveness, trying to get a wider range of people involved with community building. There will always be issues between people, between people and organisations and issues with the physical space such as unfinished roads, faulty heating systems, inadequate community space. Nowhere is perfect, but this place has been built and imagined on solid principles of sustainable community living. There is a real sense that through the physical environment and the structured activities the threads will hopefully continue to grow, strengthen and cross over binding the community together for years to come and I for one feel very lucky to live here.
Paul Osborne, local transport planner, used the Festival of Ideas event on Re-imagining The City to paint a picture of a future journey.
Let me take you on a journey into the future. How far into the future is up to you…
I leave my 4th floor apartment in Moortown, Leeds. It’s eight o clock and overcast. I’m a bit late but hey, it’s not often England make the world cup final, two tournaments in a row.
My phone alerts me – my train is leaving on time and there’s a city bike waiting for me at the end of the street. As I approach, the bike unlocks itself and my phone pings to tell me that it has been serviced and the tyre pressures are fine.
I set off, humming a tune from the morning’s breakfast show. I pass the kids making their way to school, some of them wearing their replica England shirts. The bins are out for collection. The pothole which had opened up the day before, has been fixed.
The car ahead, automatically limited to 20mph on all residential streets in the city, moves to the right to let me through, the driver alerted to adjust his position by his in-car sensors. I thank him as I go by and his daughter smiles at me through the car window.
At the next junction I have a left turn towards the city centre, I wait for a gap in the steady flow of inbound cyclists, safely separated from traffic. I join them and soon we are travelling at a steady 12 mph, nudged along by the coloured LED lighting in the roadway, sequenced to progress us through the next three sets of traffic signals.
We ride the green wave until we reach the first busy intersection. Countdown signals tell me how long we’ll be waiting, time enough to break into conversation with the cyclist next to me. She smiles and recommends a restaurant down a local side road – it does great vegetarian pizza.
The lights change, she’s quicker away than me. We pass the cycle counter which detects us as we pass, flashing up the daily and annual cycle flow. It feels good to be part of a crowd.
One hundred metres later (oops I mean yards – I’m still getting used to our return to imperial measures) and a variable message sign thanks me for not using the car. It flashes up the predicted journey time to the city centre, currently 30% faster than the vehicle flow beside me.
We reach the Sheepscar interchange. Plans are afoot to bury this huge junction below ground level and leave buses, bikes and pedestrians to take the surface route. In the meantime, images of live CCTV footage are projected onto huge LED screens to enforce the new bus and cyclist priority measures, funded by the city’s health investment strategy.
There’s one short hill into the city centre but the electric assist on the bike kicks in, keeping my speed and effort consistent. I join another green wave, having covered my five mile mile journey to the station in just under 25 minutes.
My bike locks itself as I leave it in the bike park. My phone logs the distance I’ve covered and updates my reward points. I get the choice to top up my integrated public transport pass or spend it at my neighbourhood shops. The bike downloads information about the journey, alerting the bike share company to its location, and passes data about air quality, traffic conditions and road surface condition along my route to the city’s transport team.
I head for the train, flashing my Owl Card (the Leeds equivalent of Oyster), I find a seat and decide on a good night to try out that pizza.
As Paul noted afterwards, many of the “futuristic” ideas in that story are already reality somewhere in the cycling-friendly world. If you spot a link to one of them on the net, tweet us at @my_futureyork and tell us where it’s already happening!
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
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.
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.
Today, Autumn 2016
I’ve just come back from a gig in Burton Constable, 10 miles cycle from York, but the wind on the way there made the journey tough. But the client paid me well for the three hour gig, and the kiddies were so excited with being able to have a go at making balloon animals. I never cease to be overjoyed at their happy faces even after more than 20 years working as Professor Fiddlesticks.
I’ve got a huge amount of fruit to process, as it’s the season for me to be inundated with apples and pears, many of which I dry on my woodstove. It’s a good blackberry year so I’ve made quite a bit of blackberry and apple fruit leather. I’m pleased that my involvement with ‘Abundance’ means I can pick unwanted fruit, keep some (quite often the ones which fall on the ground) and donate the rest to organisations which can use them, like the homeless hostels, refugee centres and the Food Bank in Acomb. Some of the recent apples I’ll take to the Tang Hall Community Centre and the nearby primary school. But fruit preparation takes time and I’ve got a presentation to put together on ‘green funerals’ for the West Yorkshire Humanists. Fortunately I’ve a slide show which I can adapt and rename, but it will still take several hours to get it to how I want it. The amount of time I put into these presentations is not matched by the low fees I get for public speaking, but it might be laying the foundations for something bigger and more important in the future, who knows?
I’m worrying about my teenage children. Neither of them knows what they want to do with their lives, and both of them have absorbed some of my fears and worries about collapse and extinction, but haven’t got the busy social life I’ve got which gives me meaning and reason to keep going. However I’m pleased that Adrian from Biochar in York has offered to ask my eldest if he wants to use one of the biochar retorts to start a mini-production line, using some of the woody wastes I get from my gardening work. Maybe if society starts to take carbon sequestration seriously there might be some money in carbon negative activities.
10 years time, Autumn 2026
Today I’m excited to be heading off out to the UK’s first Composting Burial Service Opening Ceremony. The unit has taken 18 months to build and test, so as usual I’m cycling to the site in Bishopthorpe. But today’s special, and I’m wearing my suit, as Prime Minister Corbyn is officially opening it. Some people have joked that he ought to be the first body in it since he expressed his support for this low carbon technology half way through his first term, but we’ve had plenty of people already give their remains to the project, and we’ve put them through for free. But today we start operating commercially, and have a competitive price to standard burial and the obviously high-carbon cremation. My role has been part of the PR team and carbon flux advisor, drawing on my PhD, a detailed carbon footprint analysis of the methane emissions of standard deep burial compared to shallower woodland and meadow burials and some existing work on the emissions from composting fallen stock. My son ought to be there too, as he’s been developing the active carbon sequestration part of the system, using biochar. Working with this team has been a welcome change from my Professor Fiddlesticks activities, which have been getting increasingly tiring as I’ve got older. However, the income from the Composting Burial work has meant I have been able to fit a high capacity electric propulsion system to my bike and trailer, so I’m now not as hot and sweaty when I arrive at a gig. I can get about 10 hours assisted ride with it at about 15 mph, so I can easily do a gig 30 or 40 miles away, which is further than I used to be prepared to cycle.
Tonight is the fortnightly York Climate Change Support Group meeting. Although we started in 2015 following the scarily accurate talk given by Dr Guy McPherson, there was little interest until the Great Flood Of London in 2020, which devastated so much of the capital’s infrastructure, and forced the seat of government to be moved to temporary accommodation near Birmingham. That seemed to shock the nation into accepting that climate change was real, was affecting us in the UK, and triggered a wave of introspection about our lifestyles and fierce debate about policies to deal with the probably-too-late levels of CO2, which reached about 420ppm that year. Thank goodness that airlines are now having to pay for the damage they’re doing, and the number of flights is down another 11% after the punitive taxation was imposed in 2022. This was part of a suite of ‘equity’ measures brought in by the government who were elected during the immediate aftermath of the Great Flood, with the Prime Minister showing great leadership and refusing to fly, preferring to ‘attend’ international summits via video-link, or travelling by train if less than 24 hours transit time. Although the 1% are still bleating on about ‘natural cycles’ and ‘economic growth’, they are widely despised, and many have been victims of the Climate Riots which followed the rationing of high carbon foodstuffs such as meat and alcohol which the masses blamed on the Capitalist minority. Rationing was seen as a fairer way of reducing consumption, less regressive than taxation, but it still has it’s detractors, and there’s a thriving black market and significant home production. Guinea pigs have never been so popular!
But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, shortages and increasingly bad weather, there have been many positives come out of these tough times. There’s been an increase in expressions of solidarity and inclusivity, a sort of ‘we’re all in this together’ mentality. We’ve accepted a huge number of migrants, many from Bangladesh since most of that country became uninhabitable, and a significant number of Dutch, although many of them have been able to go home due to the successful drainage and restoration of their damaged dykes. This has added greatly to York’s diversity and culture, which I’m enjoying.
Contributed by Lord Mayor, Dave Taylor and Lady Mayoress, Susan Ridley
It is a Saturday in September and we have an amazingly wide range of things on the agenda today. In the morning we go up to Poppleton Community Railway Nursery. It is the last of its kind. It was set up in 1941 when nurseries were constructed next to railway stations as part of the Dig for Victory campaign to grow food and get it easily distributed. The Nursery is right next to Poppleton Station. After the war effort there was no long any need for food and instead they started to grow flowers for all the railway stations around the country. In 2009 it closed and now it is a charity and also commercial. The Railways buildings are part of York’s railway heritage. We were there for the 75th anniversary. The Sherriff, Jonathan Tyler, who came with us, is a railway man. We travelled up to Poppleton on the train from York Station. It was a lovely event. The lady who greeted us had made us a cake, with a beautiful green ribbon.
Then we came back to York for York Civic Trust walks ‘Know Your York’. Which also allowed some fundraising for the Lord Mayor’s charities, of which York Civic Trust is one. We spent some time giving out leaflets in St Helen’s Square. We raised £600 each day.
Then to St Sampson’s Square for the Festival of Traditional dance – Morris Dancing day – we were offered tea and cake by Brown’s as we watched the finale.
Then we had to dress up to go to the Goth Ball, a masked ball held at De Grey Rooms. The De Grey Rooms looks very beautiful following their restoration by York Conservation Trust. We were raising money again, doing a raffle. The LGBT Forum and York Racial Equality Network, two of my charities, were invited to have stalls. We were raffling two books about Sophie Lancaster, who was beaten up and killed for being dressed differently as a Goth. The authors had signed and donated them to me.
A day of four very different events in the life of the Lord Mayor of York 2016-17.
We get on a cable car from York Station to take us to the Knavesmire. It’s been great for tourists, race-goers, and the few commuters we still see. Traffic has radically reduced since petrol and diesel vehicles were banned from the city centre. Investment in electric cars, bikes, buses and taxis came quickly after that, although there is no longer any need for us to travel as much every day, since most people work from home. Houses are now built with office/work space and that has made it easier for tradespeople and visitors to get around.
We’ve developed a really positive relationship with our tourists. Visitors can find their way around easily with geo-positioning incorporated into everything and attractions and businesses contacting them directly when they are in the vicinity. York introduced a Tourist Tax as soon as Central Government permitted . I was always happy to pay this overseas and visitors to York feel the same as it supports the historic environment of the city. This has enabled the Art Gallery to open for free to York citizens once again.
An inspiring idea from York: City Beautiful has been developed. We’ve really started to make the green corridors approach happen, river banks link in with parks and strays and allotments to enable insects, birds, bees and mammals to migrate within those areas. At last York is starting to benefit from a strategic plan to include the development of open space and leisure space as well as providing better homes for lifetime use.
By the end of the day we are looking for something else to do. York is now a 24-hour city. The event notice-boards that we clamoured for ten years ago to overcome flyposting have become unnecessary with advances in communications. Events have started earlier in the evening and are regular and popular. At 5pm we headed for a chamber music concert in York Art Gallery. The example provided by Aesthetica of arts, music and film spilling out all over the city has been taken up by lots of different organisations.
As a 24h city, life also goes on later. We go to a one of the great York restaurants – Indonesian this evening – we’re so international as a city because of our visitors. On for a drink in the tiny basement bar Sotano and then much later we walk home. There are lots of people about but nothing threatening or violent. We’ve found a positive way of dealing with antisocial behaviour at night – people are drinking less or just spreading it out over a longer time, not having either the old closing time or 3am bottle-necks.
York has always been a lovely city and it’s through the international appreciation of it that we can keep it special.
As I walk down Gillygate I naturally find myself conducting a survey of car occupancy in the stacked up southbound phase. On average, thirty three vehicles fit between the lights at the Bootham end and those coming off Lord Mayor’s Walk including today five vans and two busses. On returning from Sainsbury’s Local I count 29 individuals in 20 cars before braving the oncoming Northbound cavalry charge to offer directions to a slightly baffled driver looking for Knaresborough. The way he was holding the street atlas told me that he would welcome some assistance.
29 individuals in 20 cars: that’s an occupancy rate of 1.45 per car. Assuming an average of 4½ seats per car gives us a load factor 32.2%, or a big waste of space and fossil fuel, and an entire Gillygate-ful of cars could be carried on a single bus, though its route would be of necessity a little circuitous to drop everyone off at their final destinations.
Counting, too the number of “tailgate” cars crashing the red light I can’t help thinking that the chronic shortage of housing could be alleviated somewhat by the re-introduction of the death penalty for bad manners.
As a red meat eating functioning alcoholic male aged 57 I am constantly too hot so naturally when I get back home my thoughts turn to a nice bacon sandwich & a cup of tea. Postie, on spotting through my front-room window that I am actually at home and staring right at him is sadly obliged to “ring the doorbell loud and long: resident deaf” and “please allow a few minutes for the door to be answered: very large and complicated house” as is clearly written in LARGE LETTERS on the package . This contrasts with his usual practice of shoving a card through the door then quickly rushing away in order to avoid his rudimentary duty of actually delivering stuff to us.
Ah, clove cigarettes: in the Government’s seemingly never-ending vendetta against grumpy old Goths, I now have to have them delivered from Indonesia as Choice Select of Coppergate are now no longer allowed to sell them tom me. Now my tobacco duty no longer supports the NHS in England but that in Indonesia instead.
Heading back into town I spot yet another tourist walking down High Petergate with his selfie-stick stretched out in front of him. On the screen he is watching the way in front of him through the camera on his smartphone. I wonder how long it will be before people will be unable to comprehend a reality that is not bounded by an arbitrary rectangular frame? And indeed how long will it be before shop windows are all 2 inches by 3¼ inches in size…
Archaeologists searching for evidence of the Roman remains at Monks Cross are disappointed to unearth the foundations of the long forgotten football stadium which, unlike the recently opened Stonebow Two, was never completed. To think that there was a time before intelligent robots and smart computers when jobs like hairdressers, marketing consultants and professional footballers were almost exclusively the preserve of humans.
After much debate and controversy the Communist majority City of York Council have finally approved the plan to move its headquarters into more fit-for-purpose accommodation. The plan to de-centralise operations into a diverse set of premises throughout the City, has been described variously as “progressive”, “bold” and “bonkers”. The Council has, however identified an ideal main hub in the shape of the smart Crescent Building in St. Leonard’s place which has stood empty for nine years after nobody could afford to live there.
The former West Offices Complex has been sold to the Netherlands State Railway to form the North Yorkshire terminus of their international trail network: it could’ve almost been purpose-built for such a station. No need for an extension northwards now, neither after the rest of the North East of England was sold to Ant and Dec in 2019 in an attempt to ensure that the rump of England remained condemned to Tory rule indefinitely
It’s hard to believe, too that a mere ten years ago, in 2016 the idea of every house having its own inner ring road was the stuff of a mad man’s dream. Like foot streets and bus-only bridges before it I am proud to think that York pioneered this now common feature in every home in the country.
Today I took my customary constitutional around the derelict student castles, taking care, of course to avoid the colonies of feral self-replicating 3D printers that survived the digital zombie apocalypse of the Theresa May premiership. Such a good job all those house building schemes petered out before the student body all succumbed to the antibiotic-resistant superbug that we all know too well as “Taylor Swift’s Palsy”. Like many people I wonder who, if anyone “Taylor Swift” actually was.
I am old enough to remember when antibiotics actually worked but I guess they didn’t see this superbug, the first to be spread through social media, coming. It seems that those arguing that “it’s not more houses we need: it’s fewer people” were proved, tragically to be altogether right. And indeed: who would’ve thought that the obesity epidemic of a decade ago would’ve ended so horribly?
It started forty years ago, now, with mobile phones for yuppies. Thirty years ago it was downloading ringtones for chavs, Twenty years ago and it was “Friends Reunited” for thirty-somethings and ten years ago it was “apps” for airheads with beards made out of bees. Now that we are all linked telepathically, don’t those archaic technologies seem so quaint? I guess we must be very grateful to the recently re-animated corpse of Rupert Murdoch for his selfless philanthropic pursuit of the technology that means we can now take reading each other’s minds for granted.
And indeed it was just ten years ago that I was called a madman for proposing the now well established zip-wire crossing of the Ouse between the ruins of the Guildhall and the proudly resurrected Armstrong Oilers and the Horse Repository. Yes: look who’s laughing now. . . !
My irritatingly cheerful alarm rouses me at 8.30. I sit up and look around my room – a box room no larger than a double bed; the best I can afford on my endless string of zero-hours contracts. The house smells damp (because it is damp) so I leave quickly, walk across Little Hob Moor and out onto Tadcaster Road, where there’s a dense chain of traffic leading all the way down the hill and up the other side. I call Henry to arrange to meet him in town, but have to strain to hear his voice over the cacophony of traffic. Beyond my nostalgic fondness for the smell of exhaust, I contemplate the damage the fumes likely does to my throat and lungs.
Once I reach the junction between Blossom Street and Micklegate, I’m obstructed by a cackling pack of hyperactive men in shiny suits, who seem oblivious to both the size of their group and the disruption they’re causing to the commuters struggling around them. With difficulty, I squirm amongst them and emerge on the other side, cursing them and the whole world of horseracing under my breath. I bob and weave my way down Micklegate and across the bridge, sometimes having to step precariously onto the busy road in order to pass the dense clumps of tourists. From up on the bridge I glance down at the swollen river below – the Ousewaves licking at the doorstep of the marooned King’s Arms.
At the other side of the bridge, leaning against a traffic barrier, I see Jim; a homeless guy I speak to on my commute in and out of town. Ripper, his dog, sits beside him as he explains his recent issues with angina, and the difficulty of getting regular medical attention while living on the streets. I walk with him around the corner to see his friend, another homeless man called Sam, who stares into the distance as we talk. Checking my phone, I realise I’m late to meet Henry. I hurriedly tell them I’ll see them later and dash off.
I wait a while before I can cross the main road – the traffic is even heavier in the centre. The air, here too, feels noxious. Henry is waiting for me beside the fountain in the centre of town, looking a little exasperated. I hug him and ask where he wants to go. He shrugs. I check my pockets and unearth a grand fortune of £3.45. We sit down on the unaccommodatingly-tilted edge of the fountain (the sparse benches are full) to decide where to eat. Being vegan doesn’t help our choices. We eventually relent and go to Sainsbury’s to buy the familiar resignatory choice- a baguette and a tub of houmous.
We walk over to Minster Gardens and sit down to eat in its great shadow but, before long, it starts to rain – I scan my brain for an indoor alternative but can’t think of anything that doesn’t involve spending what meagre money I have. We walk around a little and take shelter down a narrow alley. The rain worsens, forcing us to consider something more permanent. I call around a few people and get hold of Ben, who invites me out of the rain and into his flat. He lives in a modest one-room flat above a cafe. The landlords, with whom he has no formal contract, have just jacked up the price of the room by an extra £100 a month; and unable to muster the extra fortune required to move house, he has accepted his fate stoically. We drink a cheap version of Lambrini and talk intermittently about the Roman Empire. Henry leaves, citing his 6am cleaning job and sighing.
Around midnight, I leave and walk strategically to avoid the thoroughfares of the drunken masses by arcing around the train station. The streets, though mostly vacant now, are strewn with all kinds of alcohol and takeaway waste. A distended kebab box filled with rainwater makes me retch. I pick up some waste – bottles, cans etc, and take them with me, but am burdened for a long while, stunned by the paucity of bins. No wonder there was so much litter. I walk home slowly, smelling the sweet ripeness of the full trees and sensing the imminent arrival of autumn.
My exquisite alarm clock (a Chopin crescendo) gently rouses me at 9.00am. I look around my room, a wood-panelled studio flat – one wall entirely a window. There’s no rush to leave the house (it’s one of my three days off a week), so I listen to the news – a wash of natural disasters in the third-world – and gaze out at the the hypnotic forest of small wind turbines adorning the roofs of my neighbourhood; a charming microcity of new build “eco-homes” I moved into a few years ago.
On my way out of the house, I greet my neighbour de-weeding a patch of onions in his front-garden, which functions as an allotment. In this area, and indeed much of the city, many gardens have been converted to semi-agricultural use through a government incentive scheme. My runner beans are looking scarce, but my kale is thriving, and I can see the beginnings of a raspberry beginning to bulge. The neighbour is laughing and talking about the American election: Kardashian is surging in the polls. I laugh with him, then mount my bike and start cycling towards the centre. On the corner of my street, I stop and throw the previous day’s recycling into its respective chutes in the pavement, then listen to it clunking into the ample containers below.
Re-mounting my bike, I swerve nonchalantly to and fro about the road. It’s a Thursday, which means it’s a no-car day within two miles of the city centre. The success of the Tuesday no-car day prompted its expansion, until the whole mid-week (inc. Wednesday) became almost entirely car free. Of course, some vehicles are still allowed, but a sufficiently useful reason must be provided, and the fines for infringement are deterringly tough. I breathe in the clean air, and the familiar smell of some tree that grew in my garden when I was a child.
I’m planning to meet Henry in the centre, but he’s not around when I arrive at the fountain. I sit on one of the new ergonomic bench-couches that are dotted around the square while I wait. He turns up before long, and we stroll around admiring the plentiful flowerbeds which border most of the buildings. We walk in and out of a few historical and artistic exhibitions that are sprinkled around the centre, particularly enjoying one which is lined with panes of coloured glass. The humidity of midday breaks with an abrupt rain which catalyses our stroll. We deliberate on where to go for some lunch – I’m paralysed by choice. He suggests the community centre on Goodramgate. I haven’t been there in a while, so I agree and we make towards it, following a line of automatic rain shelters which are unfurling themselves out from the sides of the buildings to create a sheltered strip.
The community centre, housed inside a huge and attractively simple building, welcomes us in from a brisk wind that slants the rain. To the right is an open plan food court stocked with a small bar and a community kitchen. The latter is one of my most valued enterprises in the city, and a place I try to work whenever I have spare time. All food is sold at the cheapest possible price, and all profits are thrown back into either expanded food services, or the community centre as a whole. As we make our way between the rows of long tables (designed so that strangers may meet and talk more easily) towards the counter, I meet Jim and Ripper sitting in a group of friends and eating what I assume is paella. He greets me with his distinctive laugh and starts talking excitedly about his reunion with his brother. Jim’s living in one of the rooms upstairs; the community centre accommodates a hundred or so people when they’re hard-up, combined with an optional rehabilitation program and a life/career support programme. I smile as I think of the advances made by Jim and the many of the people who were formerly living destitute on the streets. When I’m done talking to him, I sidle off to check out the options on the menu. It is indeed paella, made from ten or so seasonal vegetables. The portion is massive, but it’s delicious so I demolish it unhesitatingly.
Stuffed, I sit in silence and think about bees. Henry starts humming a familiar tune, and I’m reminded that I intended to rent a keyboard today. One of the major functions of the community centre is a resource library, in which is contained a broad array of items – tools, instruments, media, cameras, kitchen equipment, and of course books. Renting is free of charge (though for some items a deposit is needed), and loans typically last around two or three weeks. I couldn’t reliably estimate how much money I’ve saved over the years on temporarily required items, but I would guess it to be upwards of £1000. I muse gratefully on this as I carry a beautiful (and seemingly brand-new) Casio keyboard under my arm and down the street. I call Ben and swing over to his to show him a strange Bowie-esque riff I hope to develop – he’s living in a large flat a few streets away, where he’s working on a book about animal rights. We chat a little and drink some beers while the sun’s friendly orange glow fades.
Around midnight I leave and meander contentedly towards home. I don’t mind leaving my bike in town; the walk back to my house is flanked with a plethora of tree species. Their diverse leaves are just beginning to proclaim their sublime Autumn spectra.
My normal day consists of getting up early, doing my exercises, having breakfast, then getting on my bike (between 7:30 and 9, depending on the day) and cycling along the mess that is Piccadilly on my way to work in Museum Street. I work in a 140 year old listed building which has damp issues due to blocked drains (because the council hasn’t got the money to spend on regular clearing of drains, so they only go out to those who shout the loudest or are in the most urgent need). Parts of the building are not accessible to people with mobility issues, which makes every day a challenge as we need to work round this. We are trying to find a better premises to move to soon. I usually need to stay at work until about 7pm, and then I hop on my bike and shake my head in exasperation at the car drivers who insist on turning right from Lendal into Museum Street, even though there is a sign clearly saying no right turn…Then I dash home to potter in my back yard (if there is still daylight / no rain) and have some supper and get on with evening jobs to do with my voluntary work. Some days I have meetings at different parts of the city, and I usually cycle – worrying about the amount of fumes I am breathing in and trying not to get hit by car drivers who are oblivious to bikes and may very well knock me over at any point (has happened twice now in the past few years)
In 10 years’ time, I imagine that I am living in a carbon neutral home in a community setting, where some people work from home, there are some local shops and services, but we are still a part of the city of York, which has had many many more trees planted so we can breathe again in the city centre, and there are streets that have trams, buses and bikes but very few cars, with traffic flowing freely and smoothly. People are healthier, happier and less aggressive on the roads. My workplace has moved to a ground floor, accessible city centre location and I can still cycle or walk to work as I choose, but Piccadilly is now a tree-lined boulevard with beautiful buildings on each side, that are constructed in an environmentally sensitive way and include some lovely homes for people on low incomes / retired people and people with young families. I could go on but have run out of time – in 10 years’ time, I will have all the time I need to do the things I want to do!
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.
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.