Contributed by Paul Osborne
My son wanted a new phone. It’s a weekday and I’m not working so I offer to go and help him ask the right questions. We walk in to the city centre, It’s pleasant weather and we take a direct route with interesting views all the way – the river, Cliffords Tower, green space and the pedestrian square in Coppergate. There’s a plethora of phone shops to choose from, both new and second hand. What will these shops become in ten years time? They weren’t here ten years ago. We open a new bank account now he’s earning from his brass band gigs. The staff are helpful. I walk to my in laws via Micklegate and think how lucky we are to have such varied architecture, small scale independent shops, and memorable streetscapes. I could look at a picture of any street in this city and I could tell where it was. I’m not sure you could do that in any other city. Every third shop is a bar, a takeaway restaurant or empty and it’s a shame these can’t contribute to the life of the street during the day.
There’s an absence of trees on Blossom Street, and I feel compelled to detour via Scarcroft Green. The sound of children playing in the school yard is timeless and makes me feel young again, but sad too thinking that I have no reason to enter a school I used to visit every day. There are dog walkers, toddlers playing and people crossing the green. It’s a popular, safe place. It’s calming too and if I had more time I would linger on a bench or a swing. You hope this space and its trees will be here forever, available to all, its value priceless.
Son and daughter have come to visit for the weekend. Having moved away, they miss home and are thinking of renting in the new settlement on the edge of the city, attracted by the thriving tech/arts economy, and cheap transport – an all-night express bus service and parallel illuminated cycleway have recently been completed. We walk into the city centre, the same route we’ve always taken. What’s changed? Electric cars mean you have to be careful stepping off the kerb. But there are fewer cars now and they travel slowly, their speed inhibitors primed to detect pedestrians and bikes at the roadside. The footways are more attractive, the services have all been moved beneath them to minimize road closures and this has gone hand in hand with investment and maintenance of new block paving, its colour and pattern setting a unique continental signature for the city.
The Arts Barge is flourishing – during the day soothing classical music drifts across the water, and there’s laughter at the tables. On the river, a suspended walkway offers an uninterrupted route to the city centre on each bank. It’s wide enough to attract a variety of street vendors selling local wares. In Piccadilly a thriving bazaar quarter is established where old office buildings have been offered at low rents to house start up shops and cafes. New pedestrian routes and suspended walkways penetrate the ground and lower floors forming part of an aerial walkway linked to the city walls. You are immediately aware of more young people, now encouraged to stay in the city once they graduate, investing their ideas and energy in start up businesses, all conspicuously branded Made in York.
The weather is fine today. Seats and benches are put out on most street corners, attracting older residents, some chatting, some playing the latest board games with local youths, a recent revival since the demise of handset culture.
You can just make out some of the brightly coloured residential blocks which fringe the city walls. These high density units have brought young and old back to the city centre. Some of the units operate as retirement complexes with free accommodation offered to students who support their elders. The city feels vibrant on days like this. The tourists are here to see the street life, just as much as the history, of the this, the North’s ‘Greenhouse City’.