Open Briefing Document – Movement

Week 4 of the Festival of York Central was focused on ‘movement’, asking how people wanted to get to, across and around York Central. We’ve gathered information through social media and through a series of events:-

  1. Beyond Flying Cars – sustainable transport on York Central – joint York Environment Forum / York Bus Forum open event
  2. Getting Out More – family drop in workshops leading to production of a zine
  3. York Central Transport & Access with Professor Tony May
  4. Connecting York Central & Holgate – walk with local residents re proposed southern pedestrian/cycle access routes
  5. Out and About workshop sessions with pupils of St.Barnabas and Poppleton Road schools
  6. What Makes a Good Cycle Route – guided ride and workshop with York Cycle Campaign
  7. Pulling together the Week’s Conversations – public workshop (with The Life Sized City film show)

We have also drawn upon movement-related discussions during previous weeks – for example on issues of legibility in shared space (from our Open Spaces discussions) and the role of transport in urban development (from the David Rudlin workshops). In addition, tagging of comments from previous events has allowed us to put responses from the week’s events in a broader context of overall comment, questions, etc.

Here are the main issues and comments:-

Some key principles:

York Central cannot be seen in isolation. One of the recurring themes of discussions on movement was integration – transport modes and routes need to connect to make them useful. A truly high quality transport network on York Central needs to integrate with a truly high quality transport network across the city. So:-

  • People felt that York Central should set an example of innovative, forward-thinking sustainable transport and…
  • York Central should be an opportunity to leverage change across the city and bring forward broader innovation – for example new networks (Very Light Rail, continuing through the city and onwards to Heslington / Elvington) and processes (freight trans-shipment for local deliveries, with small electric vehicles / cycle couriers).
  • We should design for behaviour patterns that we want in future rather than just to work with current patterns (for example prioritising active travel).
  • Prof Tony May set out the hierarchy of priorities within the draft Local Plan and stated clearly that design of movement infrastructure within York Central should reflect this, with clear and convenient walking/cycling routes occupying space best suited to them, and vehicular routes elsewhere. This was widely supported.
  • There should be better separation between vehicular routes and cycling routes – these should be truly segregated (not immediately adjacent) and walking/cycling routes should always have priority.

The need was identified for good-quality information to steer future decision-making. For example:-

  • What will changes in overall age of population mean for transport demand? Will there be more people with mobility issues? More mobility scooters?
  • Can we obtain information about what journeys people want to make (not simply traffic counts on roads – information about “why”) so we can consider and design for end-to-end journeys?
  • What is the basis for decision-making on car use/ownership? Is this simply the status quo (“most people have cars, so we design residential areas for cars since moving away from this would result in resistance”) or is this on the basis of alternative possibilities (“there must be lots of people for whom a car-free neighbourhood this close to the centre would command higher house prices”).

Reducing movement by reducing zoning

Can we reduce the need for people to move around by the way we plan the development?

“We thought the future would be working from home and having meetings via Skype; do we no longer believe that we’ll all be working from home?” “It’s not become an either/or, people are not using it as a replacement”.

There seem to be movement implications from this as follows:-

  • Working from home will still require movement but this can be largely walking/cycling
  • Small/medium businesses (for example creative industries) often involve “clustering” where good local connections (again walking/cycling) are important.

Public transport and the rest of York: Ease of use and Integration

  • Seamless connections with a wider network are needed to allow necessary longer journeys – simply getting to the city centre is inadequate if onward connections aren’t easy and fast.
  • This needs to consider both the radial routes and movement between them – York is poor for this.
  • Ease of use is essential – contactless payments on all transport modes, and operating times / pricing models which suit users rather than just operators (current Park & Ride arrangements were frequently criticised).
  • All of which points to a requirement for some over-arching strategy and an appropriate body to administer it, an equivalent to Transport for London – Transport for York – was mooted.

Pedestrian and cycle movement

Key points were that:-

Cars on York Central: Low car development and no through traffic

A crucial choice is whether there is through traffic across York Central. One comment was “If you allow through traffic, this is where all ideas of being radical evaporate”.

Many people noted that there seemed to be an assumption that “restricting car use/ownership” was seen as problematic and would decrease the appeal of living/working on York Central, but that this was open to challenge. There were many suggestions that a car-free neighbourhood would be very popular and would command premium prices. “People will have a choice – no-one is being forced to live here”.

Prof Tony May set out a proposal for York Central based upon the Freiburg Vauban development – allowing car access but with centralised parking, creating Play Streets and safe walking/cycling routes. It was noted that this would require consideration (for example Respark areas to prevent “overspill”) beyond the site. This side-steps the “ban cars” challenge by allowing ownership but passing on real costs and making alternative modes more attractive.

Prof May’s ideas envisaged centralised parking at the north-west end of the site, close to the access from Water End. Bringing cars deep onto the site to multi-storey car parking adjacent to the station was felt to be a backwards step, which would greatly reduce safety within the development. Parking for service use (tradespeople etc) was discussed and it was felt bookable spaces could be provided. Local deliveries could be to service points, combined with public transport stops or parking areas.

Marble Arch / Leeman Road tunnel: How to avoid traffic cutting up the New Square

People stated that the main access to the site (and NRM) from the city needed to reflect the City’s transport priorities – it should be a good route for those walking / cycling etc. Its poor visual appeal was noted and the question was asked “what would it take to turn it into the gateway to a major museum?”

The impact of through traffic on the new square was frequently mentioned. Both two-way through traffic and light-controlled alternate traffic (Option 2 on the Marble Arch board) were thought likely to lead to queuing traffic in what has been described as a pedestrian civic space, which should be avoided. Traffic was furthermore seen as a potential barrier between the NRM and the station / city centre.

National Railway Museum through access: A creative opportunity to celebrate movement

There was almost complete opposition to the closure of Leeman Road to pedestrians/cyclists outside NRM opening hours. It was noted that modelling suggests it would take people on foot 1.5 to 3.15 minutes longer when the museum was closed. There were comments like ‘it’s not about how much longer it will take’, ‘it’s the psychological factor of feeling cut off and that the museum is blocking you’.

More positively, there were comments like “I don’t think it’s about the time saved or not, it’s about the experience and qualities of being able to walk and cycle through the museum”. There were repeated requests for a more creative solution which celebrated movement (“it’s bizarre that a museum of movement would cut off movement”) and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was cited as a good example of what could be possible, with new opportunities for the public to see exhibits while maintaining out-of-hours security. Creative possibilities were identified around rotating doors or a turntable in the link building – “like the Gateshead Millennium bridge – people would come to watch it open!” and “the shadowy trains in the closed museum are far more atmospheric than when it’s open”.

Connections to existing communities

There has been an assumption that York Central should connect to surrounding communities but this was noted to have challenges:-

  • The simple fact that people who are used to being disconnected from public movement may be suspicious of change
  • Issues to do with alcohol and antisocial behaviour – new bars in York central leading to hen parties making noisy progress through surrounding communities
  • Places which offer security (for example Holgate Community Garden) becoming open and routes for (pedestrian/cycle) through-traffic.

There was a broad point made that the development needs to provide positive benefits for existing nearby residents and needs to clearly spell these out. “You compromise. Part of this is “I’m not going to get that bit that I really want but I’m going to get that other bit instead”. There has to be a quid pro quo”. This applies to movement as well as other facilities.

Discussion of the proposed southern connection is covered in a separate document.

Open Briefing Document – Work

Post-it notes contributed during the Living and Working Creatively on York Central event.


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:-

We are also currently developing an event: ‘How can York Central enable careers and businesses in the railway industry?’  details to be announced soon.

Accessible infrastructure

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.

Middle-sized businesses

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?

Open Briefing Document – Homes

Post it notes on Homes contributed at the York Central Exhibition

During Week 2 of the Festival of York Central we have focussed on the nature of home and the experience of living on a future York Central, looking at the kind of homes and indeed the kind of community that people want to see.

We’ve gathered information through social media and through a range of events:-
1. Meeting with Helen Fielding of Homes England
2. Housing Histories, Housing Futures workshop at York Explore
3. Forever Affordable: Community-Led Housing workshop
4. Quality in Housing: the Rowntree legacy at Derwenthorpe walkabout
5. Understanding housing density with Dr Roger Pierce walkabout and workshop
6. Feels Like Home, family drop in workshop
7. Post it notes through the exhibition and events
8. Pulling Together the Week’s Conversations – public workshop (with The Life Sized City film screening)

In addition, tagging of comments from previous events has allowed us to put responses from the week’s events in a broader context of overall comments and questions.

Here are the main issues and comments:-

An overall theme is emerging. This is to say a broadly cautious ‘yes’ to high density housing and commercial uses. But, and it is a big but, a form of ‘social contract’ needs to be set up with the people of York. To put it another way, there is a deal to be negotiated here. One that accepts higher density housing on the condition York Central deals with affordability, builds a mixed and diverse community, is high quality for all and makes the benefits of density really work for future residents. Here are the key briefing ideas.

Affordable – and Forever Affordable
The vast majority of the post it notes contributed at the exhibition relating to homes make this point: they need to be affordable, affordable needs mean actually affordable (not only the policy definition 80% market cost) and they need to not just be affordable to start off with but perpetually. This may well require, as discussed at the Forever Affordable event, a locally specific definition of affordable linked to earnings not the market. Many questioned 20% as a minimum and sought a higher percentage.

The growing ‘community’ tag in our Flickr album.

Community – what is it and how to make it work?
‘Home’ doesn’t end at the front door. There was a desire for home to mean the wider community too. We started to describe what we mean by community, prompted by the discussion with Helen Fielding, Homes England, at the Forever Affordable event and continued the line of discussion through the events. A mixed community was often welcomed – though some warning bells were sounded by others. More work on this is needed (further meetings and discussions are to be held at Derwenthorpe where 40% is affordable, amongst others).

Family homes, Inclusive and lifetime homes
There was a recognition that we too often tend to think of ‘family homes’ as a house with a yard or garden and that maybe we need to look more closely at what makes for good apartment living for families. There are examples of multi-storey family homes in London and elsewhere in the UK (plus a lot more in mainland Europe) so feedback will be sought. Similarly there was an interest that as many as possible of the homes work for disabled people and can be designed as lifetime homes.

Height+Quality (Or, how to encourage downsizers)

‘It can be high, but it needs to be great’
While there is some concern about height and what the proposed total housing number and density might mean, there is a very strong feeling that height can be ok if it is very high quality. That is, the flat is of a good size with high ceilings, is well insulated for noise between flats and has good sized balconies. Good apartment living also requires very serious maintenance and ongoing investment, this would need to be considered in service charges and how this works for the affordable housing would need to be seriously explored. One possible line of inquiry is that very good quality flats might well encourage downsizers and free up family-sized homes elsewhere – but that the quality is key (more on how to achieve this below).

Density+Benefits: Work the social contract
‘We don’t want it to be ghost town like Hungate. If it’s going to be dense, it needs to be alive’
Through the exploration of density, it became clear that a ‘social contract’ issue might be to really make the benefits of high density living clear and real. High density should for example mean: good local shops nearby and walkable; excellent public transport network (such as a tram or similar permanent and reliable system); close to gyms, childcare, schools and other community facilities. The most popular alternative name for York Central so far is ‘New York’: if we’re going to have high densities how do we really ensure the benefits of living in urban areas?

Mixed Uses
‘We need to stop looking at plans and think 3D’
Many have questioned the need to zone commercial development away from housing and have asked whether a vibrant urban area needs mixed uses. One quote was to ‘think 3D’ – suggesting there might be benefits in having shops, social and commercial at ground level, offices at first floor and flats above to avoid the ‘ghost town’ effect and drive life in the public realm.

High environmental standards…for all
There have been many comments supporting “highest possible” environmental standards. Going beyond current Building Regulation minimum standards would allow higher standards of comfort (see “it can be high, but it needs to be great” above), higher standards of sound separation from the surrounding railways (triple-glazed windows and mechanical ventilation reducing the need to open windows) and would reduce the likelihood of fuel poverty for those on low incomes. Costs would be raised slightly to cover this investment, but with land ownership being with public bodies, this is seen as a rare opportunity, and would also create a distinctive image for the development.

Make use of roofs
Gardens don’t have to be on the ground – reflecting also the Open Spaces work we did last week, people thought access to roofs, for gardens, for solar panels, made sense. And took advantage of the height for good views.

How to make this happen – the next steps:
Policy, governance and funding levers: Alongside developing this initial open brief, we were able to start to explore some of the policy, governance and funding possibilities to make this happen. We will be following up with Homes England on affordable and community-led housing, and developing discussion on what is true affordability. The case for a Community Land Trust has also been voiced – where public elements of the proposal, including public realm, community facilities and potentially affordable housing, could be invested into a Community Land Trust, protecting ownership and status.
Evoking ‘community’: Drawing on discussion started this week, we’ll start developing an open brief for a vibrant York Central community.
Understanding the housing challenges: Based on an idea that emerged at the Forever Affordable event, we’ll be seeking people who have stories to share about their housing challenges and how York Central might offer an answer.
Co-design? Clearly there is an argument that to get quality – and to really attract families, disabled people or downsizers for example – the housing could be usefully co-designed. We’ll be looking for people interested in exploring this idea further.

Open Briefing Document – Public Space


The ‘green spaces’ flickr tag

During Week 1 of the Festival of York Central we have focussed on Open Space and its role in the city, whether in residential or commercial areas, and whether green space or hard landscape. We’ve gathered information through social media and through a range of events:-

  1. Green Space and York Central – A Look At Your City walk
  2. York Central – Streets Reimagined walk with Finlay McNab
  3. York Central workshop – Liveable Streets with Finlay McNab of Streets Reimagined
  4. The Secret Life of York’s Urban Spaces – a workshop informed by a walk with key participants
  5. My Favourite Public Spaces – workshop sessions with pupils of Barnabas and Poppleton Road primary schools
  6. Pulling Together the Week’s Conversations – public workshop (with The Life Sized City film show)

In addition, tagging of comments from previous events have allowed us to put responses from the week’s events in a broader context of overall comment, questions, etc.

Here are the main issues and comments:-

The key role of public space

Public space should not simply be the space left between buildings – there is reference in the Life Sized City film to “public space being the main tool for urban change” and people overwhelmingly noted its importance. It was suggested that the planning of the site should start with the public space (and accommodation within it of foot and cycle movement), and that layout of the roads should then be subsequent and subservient to this. York’s adopted hierarchy of movement priority was referenced.

Public space has to accommodate a wide variety of uses and also a wide variety of meanings, and to serve both practical and symbolic purposes. It needs to accommodate movement (on foot, on bikes and in vehicles, and both direct and indirect), it needs to accommodate gathering (social in varied-size groups, places for meeting, and places for politics and protest) and it needs to accommodate a variety of practical activities such as eating and drinking, recreation and physical activity for health.

Creating connections

A key issue with public space was the role of public space in creating connections. People had looked at existing spaces in York and elsewhere and noted the value of putting “the best things around the edges”. It was suggested that public space might be created at the edges of York Central as a way of connecting with surrounding communities and bringing something new to them. Public space was seen as somewhere that encouraged activity, and this activity might build links between old and new communities. The bigger picture was also mentioned – if public space was going to bring movement into the site, where would it come from – the corridor extending to the British Sugar site and the Park & Ride beyond was mentioned.

Liveable streets

At a smaller scale, the design of liveable streets was investigated and discussed. The impact of parking on streets was felt to be critical – looking at existing streets suggested that even where they were quiet or free from through traffic, and well-overlooked, they didn’t encourage play as car owners were concerned about their cars. Where car-free spaces were created these also needed care in design – overlooking by windows (which in theory encourages use) results in “no ball games” signs, and spaces can remain dead.

Making public space legible

The “Legibility” of public space (at all scales) was discussed. People felt that public space should in some way make clear what it can be used for. This should not rule out flexibility, but spaces which were designed to accommodate every potential use were felt to be unlikely to work well for any of them. The Green Spaces walk identified a number of spaces which were adopted and used by local people and these tended to be clear in their purpose (food growing / meeting / climbing / wild play).

The same principle of legibility applied at smaller scale in respect of movement. The Urban Spaces walk looked at a number of locations where different types of user interacted (for example cyclists and distracted pedestrians, or mixtures of cyclists and pedestrians on intersecting routes). Legibility was felt important, whether by clear design and shaping of space to suit clear spatial distribution of uses, or by “signposting” using surface colour and texture, or a combination. It was also considered important to allow for conflict to be managed – when cues are ignored there needs to be sufficient spare space to allow people to work around any problems which are created.

The potential of edges and enterances

Entrances, “gateways”, and edges

People also noted that the principle of legibility should be applied to entrances and connecting spaces – “gateways”. Entrances needed to be special and have identity, and should ideally also be “enticing” – should encourage exploration and provide surprises.

This same interest in the role of buildings at the edges of spaces was felt to apply in general too – spaces are largely “created by what’s along their sides”. Discussion on liveable streets and reference to examples elsewhere flagged up the importance of edges as places where people can feel comfortable and will often linger or meet, and this highlighted the importance both of the interface between buildings and space and the provision of humane environment to allow people to be comfortable there (seating, shade, etc).

The scale of open spaces and community “ownership”

The scale of spaces was discussed repeatedly and at length. It was felt that a variety of scales of spaces was needed, and the Museum Gardens was cited as a good example of where this works well (large grassed space in front of the museum along with a variety of smaller, more varied spaces (the ruins, the storytelling space, benches surrounded by planting etc). The value of landscaping and tree planting in shaping space was noted and appreciated (although questions were asked about maintenance – “who will look after it?”).

The role of scale in the likelihood of use and activity, and indeed community ownership, was discussed. Smaller spaces – almost like outdoor rooms – can encourage small-scale but important activity. The unique character of York was discussed and felt to be in large part due to what happens here rather than just the city as container. Small spaces allow variety of use and enclosure provides microclimate which extends seasonal activities.

Shelter, cover and civic life

An extension of this discussion noted that not all public space should be simple outdoor space. There is a spectrum from outdoor to sheltered to covered to indoor, all of which can be public (as opposed to commercial). As with our work in Castle Gateway, many people (and especially young people) voiced a need for public space that they can use and occupy at any time and in any season. Examples were shared of the role in “furniture” in public realm – places to perch or sit which didn’t require spending, even if it was close to places which did.

This issue was considered important – it is vital to create spaces where both individuals and communities can function – the difference was noted between simply dwelling somewhere and being a citizen – and “citizenship happens in public spaces”. “This is where we do our giving” was an eloquent view on it. It was felt important that – whatever the use of public space by visitors / tourists – the new public realm should work for people already living and working in York.

Elevation and views

Alongside variety of scale, variety of elevation was discussed and felt important. Creating places where you can “stretch your eyes” was felt to be vital and should be considered alongside the issue of views and key buildings. The potential to use landscaping (it was noted that remediation will require large-scale earth-moving in any case) was discussed but also the idea that public space does not all have to be at ground level. Many recent buildings have given back public realm at higher elevations (sky gardens in the Walkie-Talkie in London for example) and both green / accessible roofs and public access to intermediate stories of taller buildings was felt to be a principle to form part of the requirements for (at least a proportion of) buildings.

Zoning and mix of uses

Although not strictly part of the discussion of public space, the general principle of zoning was discussed. There was dismay over the apparent segregation of work and home, and the missed opportunities to create public space that mediates between the two. The zone between public and private was seen as full of rich possibilities – shopfronts, front gardens and forecourts, places which shape the accessibility of buildings and the visibility of their indoor activities. The Reading Café in Rowntree Park was seen as a good example (learning and social use within a park setting). The vertical mix of uses within surrounding buildings was also considered and it was noted that a richer mix (flats above offices above shops for example) drove more rich uses of public space.

Safety for adults and children

There was extensive discussion of the other factors which have a bearing on use by specific or broader groups. Lighting was an issue considered vital – it needed to make places feel safe after dark and also be energy-efficient and avoid light pollution. The relationship between lighting, safety and frequency of use was discussed – a virtuous circle where places feel safe enough to encourage frequent use and hence improve casual surveillance with more “eyes on the street”. The proximity of roads to green space was discussed; it was noted that one of the reasons the Museum Gardens work so well is that they are contained – children can roam in safety.

The work with children in the local schools also brought up clear messages. Children are increasingly constrained (asking about favourite outdoor places brought as many blank looks as responses) and favourite places were often very specific and sometimes remote (zoos, riding schools, campsites, beaches) or very local (a traffic-free street outside home, or a garage court where car movements were infrequent enough to allow football). When asked whether the need to cross a busy road would prevent them being allowed to use a park (however attractive in itself) the children fell silent and looked thoughtful; “We can take that as a “yes” then”, said their teacher. 

Vital ingredients – trees, water, playfulness

Lastly, various “ingredients” were discussed at various points which seemed almost universally popular. Urban trees are important and were identified as key elements in existing urban landscapes (in King’s Square and Parliament Street, although their impact on paving in Parliament Street was noted). The creation of small “wild places” where planting and trees overwhelm built environment and allow wildlife into the city were considered important. Green walls, roof gardens also. The role of water too – a way of softening the city, bringing cool in summer, in addition to offering practical solutions to drainage. And playfulness…

The fountains in Granary Square, Kings Cross, cropped up in almost every meeting at some point, and led on to interesting discussions about how “artfulness” can make urban spaces humane. Using water, light and sound was discussed. Sound installations can make a tunnel appealing, and the sound of the trains was noted as one of York Central’s distinctive features (described as “almost poetic” by one resident). We should play with – as well as in – our new public spaces.