Guest post Henry Raby: York in ten years’ time

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

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

A contribution by Henry Raby

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

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

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

Never Fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: Citizen Engagement

Photo credit: York Stories

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – –

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

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

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

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

Contributed by Lisa@yorkstories

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

. . . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post by Lisa@York Stories: ‘Ways in: looking back …’

Since 2004 Lisa@York Stories has been documenting the city under the heading ‘a residents record of York and its changes’. As part of the My Future York project we’ve been asking people to look forward and imagine their lives and York in 2026. In the first of three posting for the My Future York project, Lisa looks back ten years to 2006. What difference can 10 years make?

A contribution from Lisa@YorkStories

The My Future York project is asking us to imagine what life might be like in the city of York ten years from now. It can be difficult to think ten years into the future, into an imagined future. It can feel like quite a long period of time.

Perhaps, as a way in, looking back ten years could be a useful exercise. Giving a perspective on what has changed in the ten years just gone might help us imagine what ten years on might look like.

In my online ‘record of York and its changes’ (www.yorkstories.co.uk) I’ve taken photos around York and written about York for more than a decade. I’ve been going through the photographs I took on my York walks ten years ago, in 2006, and reading the website pages I wrote about some of them, focusing on our lives here in this particular city.

The photos include some things that are no longer part of the cityscape, and many things that still are.

Back in 2006 the sugarbeet factory was a prominent feature of the skyline on my side of town, and the announcement of its imminent closure led me to take many photos of it, from the other side of the river, across Clifton ings. Its familiar smell was part of the local landscape at certain times of the year, a reminder that a sense of place and ‘our heritage’ involves all our senses, as we live and work and walk through the local patch.

November 2006, looking over Clifton Ings to the sugarbeet factory – now closed, taking with it familiar smells. Photo credit: York Stories.

What will York smell like in 2026? Will the smell of cocoa still drift across from the Nestle (formerly Rowntree) factory? And will the blue signs for the cycle routes still point the way to ‘Rowntrees’, or by then will they be replaced with ‘Nestle’? The disused part of the Rowntree site, Nestle South, has been marketed as ‘the Cocoa Works’. By 2026 will it have been redeveloped, and will the signs point the way to ‘the Cocoa Works’? Will locals of a certain age always call it Rowntrees, regardless?

But back to 2006. The photos remind me that there wasn’t yet a Sainsbury’s on the corner of Bootham Row, where a new tall building has replaced the former garage building, low level and set back from the road. Just like all the sites built on in the last ten years in or near the city centre, the new buildings are much higher, making as much profit as possible on valuable land.

In the heart of the city, the Minster’s East End was covered in scaffolding, back in 2006, and old carved pieces of stone were stacked on the ground nearby. After painstaking restoration for so many years it was recently unveiled in all its glory. In 2006, around the Minster’s south side, Deangate still had kerbs and tarmac, an obvious road. Now it’s repaved with expensive stone, a shared space where cyclists whizz through and pedestrians are wandering.

Back in 2006 King’s Square still had its 1970s paving scheme, since controversially replaced. Similar major repaving work has occurred in the last decade in part of Exhibition Square, and in Library Square.

The library has been renamed York Explore, and it now has the city archives housed in an impressive added extension. Major work here on this building and all the others around it in what was called for a time the ‘cultural quarter’, though that phrase didn’t seem to catch on. But in the last decade we’ve seen work on the Yorkshire Museum, the art gallery, the theatre, the De Grey rooms alongside, the public loos by Bootham Bar, and most recently St Leonard’s Place. All emerging as handsome and new, and some of them in some ways more accessible, in other ways less accessible (because of increased entry fees, or because bits of them are no longer open to the general public).

Also in the ‘cultural quarter’, at the Lendal Tower corner of the Museum Gardens, the former engine house and the land behind it was scruffy and intriguing in 2006. Now it’s the Star Inn, and very posh. There’s a new access point through an archway in the wall, which in 2006 was used as a storage area for old bits of wood and the like.

Across the other side, the ‘tunnel’, just inside the Museum Street entrance of the Museum Gardens – still an unexplained and intriguing place in 2006, with sarcophagi along its walls. Now it’s a display space for information boards.

Beyond the historic core we’ve lost many buildings that had heritage value but no listing to protect them. Attempts to compile a ‘Local List’ drew attention to many buildings of interest, many of them demolished in the last decade. Including the old iron foundry buildings on Leeman Road, Reynard’s garage (aka the former Airspeed factory), St Barnabas old school building, and the Burnholme WMC, housed in a fine and fancy Victorian villa, now demolished, with a new club and housing in its place.

The Bonding Warehouse was empty in 2006, had been that way for some years, with its plastic letters dropping off: The Boding Warehouse by then. It’s now fully renovated and occupied, with offices in the place we used to booze and dance and laugh. I hope people still laugh there, even if boozing and dancing isn’t on the cards.

The photos from back then also remind me that there were the usual seasonal floods, in the autumn of 2006, lapping around the Boding Warehouse and other buildings by the Ouse. I have many photos of the riverside areas, Clifton ings and Paddy’s Pitch, covered in water, and gulls. But nothing too dramatic, over the ten year period, until of course the major incident in late 2015, with the failure of the Foss Barrier. I have photos of the Foss Barrier in 2006, when like many people I didn’t really appreciate just how important it was. It was rather taken for granted back then. Begging the question: what do we take for granted now that in ten years time we might not?

By the Foss, back in 2006, the old Stubbs ironmongers building was being converted to a Loch Fyne restaurant, with a new residential block behind it. I have photos of it mid-conversion with its new lettering painted on the brickwork and the old Stubbs signage still above the shopfront. The 2015 floods left it closed for almost a year. Another restaurant nearby still hasn’t reopened. Will we be better able to control and cope with the effects of flooding in the future?

June 2006: the conversion from Stubbs ironmongers to the Loch Fyne restaurant is underway. Photo credit: York Stories.

Nearby, walking down the characterful Straker’s Passage off Fossgate in 2006 meant passing the side of the Barbican Bookshop, where a side window held a selection of interesting books. The Barbican Bookshop is one of many familiar well-established shops to have closed down in the last decade. New shops have appeared, but bars and restaurants are more common.

June 2006: the Barbican Bookshop side window down Strakers Passage. New shops have appeared since, but bars and restaurants are more common. Photo credit: York Stories.

Near Fossgate is the Hungate redevelopment area. In 2006 it was still full of the functional low brick-built buildings dating from the mid-20th century. I’m reminded of this by a photo of the buildings on Stonebow taken from the Peasholme Green end. The demolition of those buildings led to a marketing suite on part of the site and a fine buddleia forest behind hoardings on the other part. Behind that, in the intervening ten years, tall blocks have been built. Some private residential and some student accommodation.

June 2006: buildings on Stonebow, since demolished. Looking very different now, with a marketing suite for the new Hungate development. Photo credit: York Stories.

Which brings us to the main change in the city over the last decade. There has been a huge increase in the student population, and that has had a noticeable effect on the city, in terms of the built environment and culturally.

If in 2006 you lived on a quiet street of residential houses occupied by families paying a mortgage and now you’re living on the same street surrounded by rented houses occupied mainly by young people only living there for a short time then your neighbourhood will have a different feel to it. In recognition of this there have been attempts to deal with the large increase in the student population by building huge blocks of purpose-built accommodation. Large accommodation blocks for students have appeared in the Hungate development area and on Navigation Road and Walmgate, and outside the walls along Lawrence Street and Hull Road, where the older properties of the Poor Clare’s and the former St Lawrence WMC/Tuke house are also being converted to student accommodation. The changes on this side of town are quite dramatic.

The changes between then and now stand out. But photos from 2006 also focus the mind on the things that haven’t changed much, the things that endure, much the same, maintained. I have many photos of Homestead Park, York Cemetery, Clifton ings and the riverside areas, Rawcliffe Meadows. All as lovely as they were, actually better than they were, as our appreciation of our local natural environment deepens.

In the paragraphs above I’ve focused on the changes. But ten years isn’t really that long, certainly not in the context of a historic city like York. So how will it change in the next ten years? With competing interests and opposing viewpoints? Technology will of course be part of the mix, and wider cultural changes. But for York, specifically, what changes in buildings and our use of land can you see being likely? What would you like it to be? How would you like it to look? Will it feel ‘like home’?

2026: After the 2020 Great Flood of London, tough times but also social solidarity

'2026: more flooding in York and worldwide. But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, there have been many positives. 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.' Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran
‘2026: more flooding in York and worldwide. But along with the social unrest and disruption caused by the disasters, there have been many positives. 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.’ Photo credit: Catherine Sotheran

Contributed by John Cossham

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.

A 2016 Day in the Life of York’s Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress and visions for 2026

‘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. […] 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.’
‘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. […] 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.’

Contributed by Lord Mayor, Dave Taylor and Lady Mayoress, Susan Ridley

2016

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.

2026

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. 

2026: Satirical expectations of derelict student castles and an inner ring road round every house

2026: '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. . . !'
2026: ‘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. . . !’ Photo Credit: Catherine Sotheran

Contributed by Christopher Styles

2016

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…

2026:

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. . . !

Dreams of a Low Carbon Future: A Vision of York in 2150

The graphic novel project ‘Dreams of a Low Carbon Future’, launched in 2013, was coordinated by James McKay, a comic artist and manager of the doctoral training centre for low carbon technologies at the University of Leeds. The novel – a collaboration between engineering researchers, students, artists and school children – explored different versions of the future based on questions around the environment and sustainability. The launch of the novel was accompanied by an exhibition at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery (University of Leeds), which included items from the University Library’s Science Fiction Collection in Special Collections. Following the success of the first novel, James is now working on a second novel, to be launched at the Thought Bubble Comic Art Festival on the 5-6 November 2016.

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.

york-view-of-streets-and-minster-2150
View of York’s streets in 2150

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.

2016+2026: Community Centre, Music and Cheap Good Food

'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.'
‘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.’

Contributed by Joseph Wolstencroft

2016
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.

2026
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.