The Harehills Masterclass
Culture Vultures is a good stopping-off place for previews and reviews. Cleopatra, Of Mice and Men, Fiddler on the Roof, and walks on the roof of Temple Works. And recently, there’s been plenty of architectural gubbins too.
A week or so ago Editor Kirby talked us through The Human Scale film and mentioned the ‘masterclass’ the day after, where the great and the good and the slightly scruffy got together to discuss city development. A twitter storm – or more like a heavy shower – followed including good ideas about making a new public space in front of The Belgrave and taking out parking in front of the Town Hall. Good ideas that will make going into town a more enjoyable experience. You’d be forgiven, however, for thinking that all this liveable cities stuff is about that compact square mile in the middle.
David Sim – the visiting architect bloke – suggested that we’re not doing badly in the city centre. Briggate is almost wholly pedestrianised. We have a massive shopping complex that is covered and central and accessible. We have (mostly) public squares where we can sit down and chat (albeit with uncomfortable seating that assumes people have squared-off backsides). Some green spaces (maybe not enough), and lots of coffee shops. Starbucks, Nero, Costa, all that stuff.
But how far does the centre spread? Do we feel all interconnected anywhere else in Leeds?
I was surprised and pleased to find that the ‘liveable cities’ masterclass did not focus on the centre. Our area for consideration was the bit North-East of the centre – Sheepscar and outwards including Harehills.
We were charged with thinking about how we might wish to develop the area in line with the liveable cities ideas we had picked up from Sim’s presentation.
Here’s a link to a helpful(?) map to show you where I mean…
And it’s my manor! You may know the place inside out but if not, there are a few things that are worth knowing about this area.
Sheepscar is big and scary and built for cars. Even the most avid cyclist finds it a bit intimidating.
As a pedestrian, well to give you a flavour… Crossing the roads means waiting and being a bit concerned sometimes. The green man doesn’t leave you much time to cross the many-laned highways and sometimes drivers accelerate through amber lights so you have even less time.
There is very little greenery on my walk to work through Sheepscar. Curiously, a couple of months ago, some hi-viz boys from the council showed up and gathered some cast off snickers wrappers and soggy crisp packets with those picky-uppy things. Then shortly afterwards they gave up and cut half the bushes down with a chain saw. Then a while later a sign appeared saying that this low level deforestation was a part of the ‘Leeds Corridor Initiative.’ I’m quite interested to know about this but the google search function doesn’t seem to be able to identify it. Some other initiative, incidentally, has bulldozed the park opposite The Reliance and Leeds Building College too. They haven’t got any signs so I don’t know who or what that bit of de-greening can be attributed to.
It’s not much easier getting around the main bit of Harehills, particularly the junction where Roundhay Road carries on and Barrack Road splits off, so lots of people are put off walking and cycling there too.
I don’t know the most recent stats but Harehills used to be one of the most densely populated areas of Europe.
And it’s an area of mixed but not particularly integrated communities. A stopping off place for people who’ve just arrived to the UK but also a place where people have put down roots second and third generation and more.
I live up the road in Chapel Allerton these days but I lived in Harehills in the ten years between finishing college and getting enough of an income to afford a place with a garden. That was back in the days of 100% mortgages – who would have thought that banks could be that reckless?!
Like any place, there’s lots of variability across the area.
Living in the Bayswaters was not my favourite time. Way too many people in a tiny area, literally no green space for streets and streets, negligent landlords. When we moved further up, just off Harehills Lane close to where the mosque had just been built, things were much better. Rows of shops and lots of people out walking. A library, a park, a decent sized supermarket, although not so big that the checkout girls didn’t recognise you.
My first own home in the Nowells had a tiny but colourful front garden, and a corner shop that sold everything from milk to nappies to the latest Rocky video. The street had its characters – a feral three year old that tried to terrorise our cat; a bloke with an Alsatian he had actively trained to keep any and all visitors at bay, and our local ward councillor who eventually resigned after offering to move a single mum to the top of the council housing list in exchange for sexual favours… Not that that has anything to do with the place, it’s just an interesting story.
On Thursdays, we’d walk down to the Fforde Grene for the pub quiz – at least until it went the way of The Hayfield and The Gaiety as pubs that the Police believed were keeping the drugs trade going – and closed it. On occasional weekends we’d walk a bit further to Gledhow Valley Woods to see the squirrels or take the bus up to Roundhay Park and stroll round the lake, much like lots of the rest of north Leeds.
I realise, typing this, that my list of facts further up this post may be quite different to those that other people and groups picked out. But that’s the point really. In the masterclass, there were about ten groups and each must have identified the facts that they thought were most relevant. I can only really reflect one group and maybe tiny bits of the others.
The way the groups worked was that we were given post-it notes to fill in with problems (blue) and opportunities (yellow) so we ended up with a big map with lots of notes on it … with details on a bit like this.
Inevitably we got dragged into conversations about who knows the area and whether they drive through there and what the council’s already planning but… we decided that the key factors were: lots of people; no green or active space; need a central place for communities to get together.
And we decided that the Thomas Danby college site is an immense opportunity. Big enough for sports facilities – all-weather football pitches, a park for mums and prams, more activities for all ages, a building for a community kitchen specialising in international cuisine, local events with the centre as a focus, walking and cycling access taken as standard.
And that’s where Phil’s blog from last week made me think.
If you look at Harehills from a community perspective, there is no question that the Danby site must be used to support the heavily populated community by having places to meet, interact, be active.
If you look at Harehills from a ‘site that could benefit the Leeds City Region’ perspective, then you might say it’s about jobs for local(ish) people and a boost to the economy via the pockets of the Leeds middle classes. For example… an IKEA store has been mooted.
And that’s when Leeds as the ‘best city’ needs to make a call. Jobs are very important but you cannot be the best if you sacrifice the emotional, social, cultural needs of local and deprived communities to serve a purely economic regional agenda. A political statement there but I think you reap what you proverbially sow.
Oh dear, I think Phil may be disappointed in me. I keep meaning to write open invitational blogs that generate debate and leave the outcome hanging but then end up telling you what I think the answer is. Oi Leeds! Get your act together!
So… anyway… the masterclass was great and we chatted about loads of stuff and some other groups didn’t talk about the Danby site. Some wanted to open up Meanwood Beck and have that as a showpiece/centre of activity, and other people… well my view is one response of hundreds, maybe thousands. And that is why this should really be part of a conversation. There are plenty of people out there who know Harehills better than me and have more recent, direct experience.
We also have volunteers to blog the Harehills treatment about Holbeck; about Cross Green; about Tinshill & Ireland Wood. We could write another couple of dozen blogs and only have touched the surface of Leeds, let alone the rest of our region.
So lucky Culture Vulturites – keep a weather eye over the coming weeks… the architect’s story is coming to an area near you soon! And remember that there’s more in the #cityseriesLeeds – next film is Urbanized on the 25th March – book here.
Thanks for photos to:
yourlocalweb.co.uk for Lowther Street pic
yelp.co.uk for Belgrave and Compton Road pics
geograph.org.uk for Meanwood Beck