Week 3 of the Festival of York Central was focused on ‘work’, asking what kind of work and ways of working might York Central enable. Getting engagement with the mainstream business community was problematic – “commercial confidentiality” seemed to prevent a lot of possible avenues for discussion on what was wanted on York Central. However, we still had useful discussions and some very creative input. Special thanks to York@Large and the Guild of Media Arts. Our open briefing document is based on the following:-
- Living and Working Creatively on York Central – A workshop to develop ideas and networks
- Growing a Garden City – Uxcester and York
- A meeting with Heather Niven, Science City York, who has been leading on a piece of work in collaboration with local creative, digital and science and technology businesses looking the work space needs in York.
We are also currently developing an event: ‘How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?’ details to be announced soon.
A key theme – which stretches across all of the Festival of York Central themes – is that York Central has the opportunity to create an underpinning accessible infrastructure that enables gender equality and is not a disabling space. This includes easy to access crèches, accessible buildings, child care facilities, spaces where you can be with your children, gender neutral and accessible toilets. The definition of “work” was also questioned during conversations – much work is unpaid but contributes to economic activity, and this should be considered too.
Hubs of similar businesses
‘A hub of people doing the same things helps everyone thrive’
York was seen to be doing okay in terms of creating space for very small business and is becoming a well-established centre of excellence in media industries, although the “low profile” of these businesses mean that this would probably be a surprise to many in the city.
Rather than see each other as competitors, the existing community of creative and digital agencies was seen as positive and York Central was seen as an opportunity for this to grow and develop.
There is a missing “middle band” of size of business and premises for them. An example given was that of architects with staff of ten in an office which fits seven with no space to expand beyond that. If middle-sized businesses do want to stay in York they are forced out to Clifton Moor. ‘If you bring a client to the centre of York, that’s great – Clifton Moor… not so much’. This issue of the wider setting of the workplace was mentioned many times; bringing a client on foot from their train through a buzzy neighbourhood to a workplace with good cafes/restaurants/meeting places nearby was seen as massively positive.
Freelancers, flexible and networking space
‘In the future, there will be much fewer paid salary jobs. A lot of people will be forced back onto their own devices’
There was support for the idea of co-working hub spaces where freelancers could share facilities (printers or craft materials), book affordable meeting space for clients and network. An example given was Melting Pot in Edinburgh, which has been operating successfully for over a decade.
Living and working in an integrated way
An interesting dimension of the discussions was the sense that there was no need to zone or separate living and working strictly. Many small-ish creative businesses are both good neighbours to each other (as they often collaborate) and also good neighbours to other uses – including residential – as they create little nuisance. In fact there were benefits in having the kind of activity throughout the day and night that happens when work and homes are linked. Furthermore as many of the types of jobs that York is seeking to cultivate are not strictly of the 9-to-5 variety that life-work proximity enables child care and might also enable the new 21st century version of work-life balance where work time is not zoned into certain temporal parts of your life.
Open Source Planning: being able to change use of your home easily
A popular idea from David Rudlin’s talk on Grow Your Own Garden City was open source planning where a planning authority could pre-approve a variety of possible uses for people’s homes so they could turn them easily into small scale workspaces (open a hairdresser / set up an office). This is an issue which leads immediately to consideration of Neighbourhood Planning – what will be the status of York Central (will it simply be part of one or more existing wards? How will neighbourhood planning issues be dealt with as the community – residential and business – develops?
Affordable places to live are essential to keeping graduates and York’s young people
Keeping graduates is seen as crucial to growing York’s own talent. But this was seen as intimately connected to housing costs, as graduates can’t afford to take risks because housing costs are so high. Graduates have to work so many hours to cover living costs, so there is a greater hurdle to jump in terms of getting starts ups happening. Affordable housing is not just a “housing” issue, but has an impact on economic activity.
Unpaid work and enabling contributing and taking part
It was noted that many people the future will simply not have jobs and they will be looking for creative ways of spending time and contributing. Some will be doing unpaid work of various kinds, including caring for children or older relatives. The design of the city should facilitate this, again pointing towards a mixed environment rather than one where work and homes are strictly zoned. This was already touched upon during our “homes” discussions, flagging up the possibility of older residents wishing to have the option of inclusion within economic life, with the option to “invest” capital or time (or both) in nearby economic activity which contributes to their immediate environment.
The cultural hub: Draw creative contributions (paid and unpaid) together
‘Having a variety of spaces which allow different uses is powerful’.
Mixed uses has been a theme of the Festival of York Central discussions, and has been driven by many of the examples from The Life Sized City film series, where community initiatives have made use of unused or under-used urban space to bring activities that would otherwise be excluded by strict zoning. The idea of York Central as a place where there are always exciting and creative things going on was discussed. How to make this happen was debated and the idea of spaces where things could happen was a key idea. This would include places which could provide venues for lunchtime talks and films, places for broader thinking and debate open to all. Libraries were often seen as “anchors” for this type of activity but it has a breadth which goes well beyond the conventional definition.
Shouting about what is already going on
There was a strong sense that York needs to make more of what is already going on as a way of attracting more interest and activity. Could York Central offer an exhibition space that showcases innovative work going on in York? Can we explore ideas both short-term and long-term – “meanwhile” and permanent – where a “gateway” between station and the rest of the city provides a showcase for the talent, energy and creativity which powers the city but is otherwise hidden?