Interesting things have been happening down at Granary Wharf in Leeds over the last few years. It is a part of town I did know well. Some 25 years ago, when I was doing my Certificate in Education, I surveyed the site for its field trip and educational potential for teaching geography, history, science, environmental studies, design and biology.
But these days the area is hosting a very different crowd to my Fifth Formers with clipboards and quadrants.
With the development of City Inn, Candle House and a car park under the once vibrant dark arches the area is becoming another beautified waterfront development where those with access to cash can choose whether to invest or spend. Both City Inn and Candle House offer spectacular views and the latter at least is a genuinely interesting piece of architecture (not that I am qualified to comment beyond my own personal aesthetic).
Once the enormous ‘wem‘ that is the Southern Entrance to Leeds Station gets built I am sure that we will have yet another riverside development to be proud of. The perfect infrastructure in which the magical process of regeneration can happen. New life breathed into a barren wasteland by a consortium of socially aware developers, architects and planners with low carbon credentials and a commitment to community consultation.
What is not to like?
Let’s assume that things go well. Retail spaces around the dark arches fill (once again) with quirky, well capitalised, independent retail and hospitality businesses. The ticket barriers in the new southern entrance are a delight to use and lead to a train system that is clean, efficient and reliable. The new apartment blocks fill up with resident’s who sustain sufficient incomes to pay their rents and mortgages. Dozens of jobs are created for residents of the ‘southern rim’ with ‘high grade concierge’ and similar skills. Taxes are paid and redistributed. Surely everyone is a winner? And no doubt this development will be presented as phenomenal example of regeneration in Leeds at MIPIM further fuelling the cycle of regeneration.
But even in this optimistic scenario who benefits from the development of the city? Who makes money? Who has access to opportunities to broaden their capabilities and develop successful careers? Who gets to play in the new waterside development? And who doesn’t?
Perhaps this video offers some clues?
‘at least they’re honest about their vision of Leeds, and the intended beneficiaries’
Remarkable the control software gives over building surfaces, colours and textures yet public places are only populated (apparently) by shiny, happy and skinny Caucasians.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not anti development. Nor am I anti business. And some of my best friends are architects, planners and property developers. They are ‘good’ people, using their talents to the best of their abilities to build a better city. Just like most of us. They play an important role.
But I do see a pattern of investment in regeneration that prioritises physical development and pursues shortcuts to increased GDP based on the importation of ‘talent’ rather than a genuinely inclusive investment in ‘proper’ education. For me regeneration starts between the ears of the people who live in a community. Not between the ears of a well meaning planner. And it is not about engaging locals in the visions of the anointed – but rather finding ways to engage the anointed in the many, disparate and personal visions of local people.
(I know we are investing lots in re-developing our schools. We now have academies in yet more new buildings. We are getting more young people than ever 5 grades A-C that educationalists and politicians promise will provide some kind of magic key to the kingdom. But our schools and colleges continue to fail large swathes of the community.)
I don’t know what gets me more fired up – watching Sports Relief portray as some kind of failure of morality and civilisation children in developing countries both going to work and school, or the fact that we, here in the UK, now have millions of people NOT in education, training or employment. Physician heal thyself. It’s not as if we have magic solutions to export!
I do think we have got the balance of our regeneration investments badly wrong.
That we rely too much on ‘placemakers’ and imported talent to make our city work. That we spend too much on strategic planning and not enough on responding to the real barriers that prevent people from developing their capabilities. We may not be Mother Glasgow but perhaps we too are clipping wings?