Blog post by Helen Graham @myfutureyork
The My Future York research project is working with people who live in York to explore and understand the issues facing the future of the city.
We have been collecting stories of a day in the life of the people of York, now in 2016 and then their ideal day – a work day or a day off – in ten years’ time.
The aim of asking for their 2016 and 2026 days is so we can identify what should be taken into account in planning for York’s future. We will use the stories shared to pull out a ‘brief’ for the future of the city. We will share emerging ideas for the brief with all who contribute. The process will end with us sharing a final brief with the City of York Council. We hope this research process will help lead to a better city for all of us to live in.
Below are a few of the collected stories, many more can be found on My Future York website:
Contributed by Lord Mayor, Dave Taylor and Lady Mayoress, Susan Ridley
It is a Saturday in September and we have an amazingly wide range of things on the agenda today. In the morning we go up to Poppleton Community Railway Nursery. It is the last of its kind. It was set up in 1941 when nurseries were constructed next to railway stations as part of the Dig for Victory campaign to grow food and get it easily distributed. The Nursery is right next to Poppleton Station. After the war effort there was no long any need for food and instead they started to grow flowers for all the railway stations around the country. In 2009 it closed and now it is a charity and also commercial. The Railways buildings are part of York’s railway heritage. We were there for the 75th anniversary. The Sherriff, Jonathan Tyler, who came with us, is a railway man. We travelled up to Poppleton on the train from York Station. It was a lovely event. The lady who greeted us had made us a cake, with a beautiful green ribbon.
Then we came back to York for York Civic Trust walks ‘Know Your York’. Which also allowed some fundraising for the Lord Mayor’s charities, of which York Civic Trust is one. We spent some time giving out leaflets in St Helen’s Square. We raised £600 each day.
Then to St Sampson’s Square for the Festival of Traditional dance – Morris Dancing day – we were offered tea and cake by Brown’s as we watched the finale.
Then we had to dress up to go to the Goth Ball, a masked ball held at De Grey Rooms. The De Grey Rooms looks very beautiful following their restoration by York Conservation Trust. We were raising money again, doing a raffle. The LGBT Forum and York Racial Equality Network, two of my charities, were invited to have stalls. We were raffling two books about Sophie Lancaster, who was beaten up and killed for being dressed differently as a Goth. The authors had signed and donated them to me.
A day of four very different events in the life of the Lord Mayor of York 2016-17.
We get on a cable car from York Station to take us to the Knavesmire. It’s been great for tourists, race-goers, and the few commuters we still see. Traffic has radically reduced since petrol and diesel vehicles were banned from the city centre. Investment in electric cars, bikes, buses and taxis came quickly after that, although there is no longer any need for us to travel as much every day, since most people work from home. Houses are now built with office/work space and that has made it easier for tradespeople and visitors to get around.
We’ve developed a really positive relationship with our tourists. Visitors can find their way around easily with geo-positioning incorporated into everything and attractions and businesses contacting them directly when they are in the vicinity. York introduced a Tourist Tax as soon as Central Government permitted . I was always happy to pay this overseas and visitors to York feel the same as it supports the historic environment of the city. This has enabled the Art Gallery to open for free to York citizens once again.
An inspiring idea from York: City Beautiful has been developed. We’ve really started to make the green corridors approach happen, river banks link in with parks and strays and allotments to enable insects, birds, bees and mammals to migrate within those areas. At last York is starting to benefit from a strategic plan to include the development of open space and leisure space as well as providing better homes for lifetime use.
By the end of the day we are looking for something else to do. York is now a 24-hour city. The event notice-boards that we clamoured for ten years ago to overcome flyposting have become unnecessary with advances in communications. Events have started earlier in the evening and are regular and popular. At 5pm we headed for a chamber music concert in York Art Gallery. The example provided by Aesthetica of arts, music and film spilling out all over the city has been taken up by lots of different organisations.
As a 24h city, life also goes on later. We go to a one of the great York restaurants – Indonesian this evening – we’re so international as a city because of our visitors. On for a drink in the tiny basement bar Sotano and then much later we walk home. There are lots of people about but nothing threatening or violent. We’ve found a positive way of dealing with antisocial behaviour at night – people are drinking less or just spreading it out over a longer time, not having either the old closing time or 3am bottle-necks.
York has always been a lovely city and it’s through the international appreciation of it that we can keep it special.
Contributed by Joseph Wolstencroft
My irritatingly cheerful alarm rouses me at 8.30. I sit up and look around my room – a box room no larger than a double bed; the best I can afford on my endless string of zero-hours contracts. The house smells damp (because it is damp) so I leave quickly, walk across Little Hob Moor and out onto Tadcaster Road, where there’s a dense chain of traffic leading all the way down the hill and up the other side. I call Henry to arrange to meet him in town, but have to strain to hear his voice over the cacophony of traffic. Beyond my nostalgic fondness for the smell of exhaust, I contemplate the damage the fumes likely does to my throat and lungs.
Once I reach the junction between Blossom Street and Micklegate, I’m obstructed by a cackling pack of hyperactive men in shiny suits, who seem oblivious to both the size of their group and the disruption they’re causing to the commuters struggling around them. With difficulty, I squirm amongst them and emerge on the other side, cursing them and the whole world of horseracing under my breath. I bob and weave my way down Micklegate and across the bridge, sometimes having to step precariously onto the busy road in order to pass the dense clumps of tourists. From up on the bridge I glance down at the swollen river below – the Ousewaves licking at the doorstep of the marooned King’s Arms.
At the other side of the bridge, leaning against a traffic barrier, I see Jim; a homeless guy I speak to on my commute in and out of town. Ripper, his dog, sits beside him as he explains his recent issues with angina, and the difficulty of getting regular medical attention while living on the streets. I walk with him around the corner to see his friend, another homeless man called Sam, who stares into the distance as we talk. Checking my phone, I realise I’m late to meet Henry. I hurriedly tell them I’ll see them later and dash off.
I wait a while before I can cross the main road – the traffic is even heavier in the centre. The air, here too, feels noxious. Henry is waiting for me beside the fountain in the centre of town, looking a little exasperated. I hug him and ask where he wants to go. He shrugs. I check my pockets and unearth a grand fortune of £3.45. We sit down on the unaccommodatingly-tilted edge of the fountain (the sparse benches are full) to decide where to eat. Being vegan doesn’t help our choices. We eventually relent and go to Sainsbury’s to buy the familiar resignatory choice- a baguette and a tub of houmous.
We walk over to Minster Gardens and sit down to eat in its great shadow but, before long, it starts to rain – I scan my brain for an indoor alternative but can’t think of anything that doesn’t involve spending what meagre money I have. We walk around a little and take shelter down a narrow alley. The rain worsens, forcing us to consider something more permanent. I call around a few people and get hold of Ben, who invites me out of the rain and into his flat. He lives in a modest one-room flat above a cafe. The landlords, with whom he has no formal contract, have just jacked up the price of the room by an extra £100 a month; and unable to muster the extra fortune required to move house, he has accepted his fate stoically. We drink a cheap version of Lambrini and talk intermittently about the Roman Empire. Henry leaves, citing his 6am cleaning job and sighing.
Around midnight, I leave and walk strategically to avoid the thoroughfares of the drunken masses by arcing around the train station. The streets, though mostly vacant now, are strewn with all kinds of alcohol and takeaway waste. A distended kebab box filled with rainwater makes me retch. I pick up some waste – bottles, cans etc, and take them with me, but am burdened for a long while, stunned by the paucity of bins. No wonder there was so much litter. I walk home slowly, smelling the sweet ripeness of the full trees and sensing the imminent arrival of autumn.
My exquisite alarm clock (a Chopin crescendo) gently rouses me at 9.00am. I look around my room, a wood-panelled studio flat – one wall entirely a window. There’s no rush to leave the house (it’s one of my three days off a week), so I listen to the news – a wash of natural disasters in the third-world – and gaze out at the the hypnotic forest of small wind turbines adorning the roofs of my neighbourhood; a charming microcity of new build “eco-homes” I moved into a few years ago.
On my way out of the house, I greet my neighbour de-weeding a patch of onions in his front-garden, which functions as an allotment. In this area, and indeed much of the city, many gardens have been converted to semi-agricultural use through a government incentive scheme. My runner beans are looking scarce, but my kale is thriving, and I can see the beginnings of a raspberry beginning to bulge. The neighbour is laughing and talking about the American election: Kardashian is surging in the polls. I laugh with him, then mount my bike and start cycling towards the centre. On the corner of my street, I stop and throw the previous day’s recycling into its respective chutes in the pavement, then listen to it clunking into the ample containers below.
Re-mounting my bike, I swerve nonchalantly to and fro about the road. It’s a Thursday, which means it’s a no-car day within two miles of the city centre. The success of the Tuesday no-car day prompted its expansion, until the whole mid-week (inc. Wednesday) became almost entirely car free. Of course, some vehicles are still allowed, but a sufficiently useful reason must be provided, and the fines for infringement are deterringly tough. I breathe in the clean air, and the familiar smell of some tree that grew in my garden when I was a child.
I’m planning to meet Henry in the centre, but he’s not around when I arrive at the fountain. I sit on one of the new ergonomic bench-couches that are dotted around the square while I wait. He turns up before long, and we stroll around admiring the plentiful flowerbeds which border most of the buildings. We walk in and out of a few historical and artistic exhibitions that are sprinkled around the centre, particularly enjoying one which is lined with panes of coloured glass. The humidity of midday breaks with an abrupt rain which catalyses our stroll. We deliberate on where to go for some lunch – I’m paralysed by choice. He suggests the community centre on Goodramgate. I haven’t been there in a while, so I agree and we make towards it, following a line of automatic rain shelters which are unfurling themselves out from the sides of the buildings to create a sheltered strip.
The community centre, housed inside a huge and attractively simple building, welcomes us in from a brisk wind that slants the rain. To the right is an open plan food court stocked with a small bar and a community kitchen. The latter is one of my most valued enterprises in the city, and a place I try to work whenever I have spare time. All food is sold at the cheapest possible price, and all profits are thrown back into either expanded food services, or the community centre as a whole. As we make our way between the rows of long tables (designed so that strangers may meet and talk more easily) towards the counter, I meet Jim and Ripper sitting in a group of friends and eating what I assume is paella. He greets me with his distinctive laugh and starts talking excitedly about his reunion with his brother. Jim’s living in one of the rooms upstairs; the community centre accommodates a hundred or so people when they’re hard-up, combined with an optional rehabilitation program and a life/career support programme. I smile as I think of the advances made by Jim and the many of the people who were formerly living destitute on the streets. When I’m done talking to him, I sidle off to check out the options on the menu. It is indeed paella, made from ten or so seasonal vegetables. The portion is massive, but it’s delicious so I demolish it unhesitatingly.
Stuffed, I sit in silence and think about bees. Henry starts humming a familiar tune, and I’m reminded that I intended to rent a keyboard today. One of the major functions of the community centre is a resource library, in which is contained a broad array of items – tools, instruments, media, cameras, kitchen equipment, and of course books. Renting is free of charge (though for some items a deposit is needed), and loans typically last around two or three weeks. I couldn’t reliably estimate how much money I’ve saved over the years on temporarily required items, but I would guess it to be upwards of £1000. I muse gratefully on this as I carry a beautiful (and seemingly brand-new) Casio keyboard under my arm and down the street. I call Ben and swing over to his to show him a strange Bowie-esque riff I hope to develop – he’s living in a large flat a few streets away, where he’s working on a book about animal rights. We chat a little and drink some beers while the sun’s friendly orange glow fades.
Around midnight I leave and meander contentedly towards home. I don’t mind leaving my bike in town; the walk back to my house is flanked with a plethora of tree species. Their diverse leaves are just beginning to proclaim their sublime Autumn spectra.
Contributed by Philip Crowe
York is a walkable city, so why do I have to get in my car to go out-of-town shopping because the decreasing number of retail outlets means I can’t find what I want at a price I can afford? Shopping on-line is definitely not the answer. I could eat and drink myself silly all day, but is this what residents want? Not to mention the street disturbances on Friday and Saturday evenings.
So here I am stuck on the A1237, having picked just the wrong time of day. Mind you the Council still allows disabled parking in the city centre, but how long this will continue is anyone’s guess.
As for the market, apparently not thriving, even after consultants’ fees and an inappropriate new look are factored in. No-one knows where it is because of totally inadequate signage and pathetic ‘heritage” colour scheme. Markets used to be fun places, full of colour and interest, and I like to shop there. But it needs a rethink and proper “marketing”. I must say I haven’t a lot of time tor the constantly congested Parliament Street scene – to get to M&S front door often needs a great effort of will.
Cuts in the public realm maintenance are really beginning to show. The road drains in Davygate haven’t been cleaned out for months, and last time I went after a heavy shower the road was almost impassable.
I do wish they would get on and sort out the development along Piccadilly – why does it have to take so long? I always thought that an offshoot of the Air Museum was a good idea.
But it is not all doom and gloom. “Events, dear boy, events” – we can’t get enough of them, which is surely a good thing, and the Council does its best to set the scene with its flower displays.
My message would be -“keep it clean”. York is still a great place, if you would only stop rushing about, dropping litter, and perhaps indulge in a bit of ‘mindfulness” instead.
Making my slow way round the centre of York I notice how well kept our parks and public open spaces are now – city centre streets clearly pressure washed and cleared of litter; risky uneven slabs relaid; pedestrian Petergate sparkling in its new block paving; flower beds to rival those of Harrogate!
All the noxious alleyways are now clean and cleared of obstructions, so that to explore the often unseen secrets of the city has become a pleasure, rather than an ordeal, and the “GOOSE PROBLEM” has been finally resolved (ask no questions!). Even the Foss is kept much cleaner now – fish galore, and more wildlife too.
It is good to see many more substantial trees planted, with helpful seats for those needing a rest from the increasing heat or torrential showers, which are such a feature of our new climate.
It is clear that the bicycle is finally accepted as a legitimate way of getting about, with more secure storage, despite rumbles of objection from those who can’t bear to share road space, and even the bus services are more user-friendly and reliable, now that measures to reduce car use and inner city congestion are beginning to take effect.
Those advocating dualling the ring road gave up years ago, I am glad to say, while the much-vaunted York Central ‘business district” was similarly put to rest, and we now have a delightful mix of housing and well-wooded parkland, much enjoyed by our residents and visitors, with the expanded world-class Railway Museum on its doorstep.
Best of all has been the transformation of the area round Clifford’s Tower, banishing the cars to an underground car-park, and giving us a fine city-centre park complementing the fabulous Museum Gardens on the other side of town.
More people live in town now, after the conversion of many uneconomic hotels into flats, and more living “over the shop”. I wouldn’t mind living in town myself.