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.
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:
‘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 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…’.
‘Smell of logs burning, street vans, mulled wine, donuts, not rubbish’.
‘Fresh coffee, cinnamon, the first raindrops on aspelt, incense, pine trees, sometimes fresh paint and petrol, freshly baked bread, apple pie’.
‘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’.
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.
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.
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.
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. . . !
Rather than multiple visions, this second novel focuses on one dream of a low carbon future, viewed through the eyes of a young girl in the year 2150. The story unfolds in the form of a history lesson, which goes through the changes to the environment that have taken place in the last 100 or so years, particularly in the northern region of England. York is featured in the novel, in the image below. The caption for this frame reads:
Lazing in the sun, the port of York straddles the estuary of the River Ouse where it opens out into the saltmarshes of the Bay of York. Once Caer Ebrauc to the Celts, Eboracum to the Romans, Eoforwik to the Saxons, Jorvik to the Vikings, and finally York, its days are numbered, with scientists predicting it will be fully under water within a century. Already, although a thriving port with floating leisure complexes, large numbers of residents have had to evacuate, to be replaced by Da Hai You Min (Sea King) settlers in kychys (floating communities), gaining a living in the ocean of reeds that line the bay.
The inevitable submersion of York under water (by 2250) is not portrayed negatively here. James’s thinking is that our current challenge is to attempt to imagine environmental change positively, in contrast to the dystopian tropes that pervade disaster movies.
While coming up with solutions to the environmental problems humanity faces is no easy task, the novel explores such possibilities. The emphasis is primarily on low-carbon technologies but also on changes to the way people live. In this sense, the project echoes the utopian thinking of My Future York, and the recent workshops and discussions around cooperative housing and transport, food assemblies and collaborative city planning.
Difficult as it is to think of ourselves living and being otherwise, the project shows how stories and SF narratives can help us to try. Less a plan or roadmap to the future than an imaginative response to future eventualities, these types of visions allow for reflection on the hopes and fears of the present moment.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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’.
A post exploring the what the 1911 Census can tell us about Hungate written by Hungate Histories team member Catherine Sotheran
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.
Written by Catherine Sotheran as part of Hungate Histories Research Team
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.