CONVERSATION | A Place for Hate?

I hate the broken bottles, beer cans and decomposing burgers that litter my local park.

I hate the stinking bonfires of stained mattresses, unhinged cupboard doors and discarded birthday presents that regularly torch the local playground.

It burns me up when I walk through the city centre and another great chunk of pavement has been wrecked and uglified by an advertising corporate sticking another useless screen on Briggate.

I get incandescent when subjected to yet another instance of gormless developer hype disguised as “public space”.

Hate it.


That word’s been howling around in my head since I read my friend Ronnie’s piece on the conversation quite a few of us have been conducting on Twitter this weekend. We’ve been talking about how we criticise a place we love.

Ronnie quotes a Leonard Cohen song and “the thoughts of beauty, love and gentleness that had first made me think of it,” and he goes on to explain why he writes the way he does and how he goes about “bringing some criticism, doubt, or even possible wrongdoing to the attention of someone we loved.”

And that set me thinking about why I write about the city I love, and what song would sum up my own feelings.


Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy
Anger is an energy

There’s some great words in this song but especially that line, “the written word is a lie”, hits the nail in the stigmata.

Because what makes me hate, what fuels the rage that makes me put pen to paper, is the civic spin.

Being told by people paid to feed us bullshit what to think about where I live.

The lies that deny our everyday experience and seek to distract with some shiny, happy, smirking delusion.

The words that obscure rather than reveal what’s in front of our faces.

The PR that turns culture into an inward investment opportunity.

That’s why I rankled at the suggestion that I was “pessimistic about our great city”, which instigated the original piece of writing.

“Pessimism” sounds like a character flaw. If only you could just look on the bright side, Phil, you wouldn’t be so down about our great city.

Cheer up.



Well, tell you what. I happen to live in Armley. I’d be a damn sight less pessimistic if I could afford to live in Adel.

I’m sure the things I’d see in Adel would be more salubrious than LS12.

I write what I see.

Half an hour ago, coming back from Armley Town Street, I came across two very inebriated men slapping the face of another who’d collapsed in the middle of the street (The Gang to be precise, where you get the Amber taxis from.) A fourth chap was crouched against the wall, deathly white in the face, moaning incoherently, a small puddle of vomit pooling around his orange trainers.

Wouldn’t see that in Adel.

There’s no call for anhedonia in Adel.

Sadly I can’t afford to insulate myself from realities like this. I’m just about scraping a living in Armley – and I could quite easily see myself sprawled and drooling in a dark alley, being shaken and smacked till I regain my senses, dragged out of the way of an approaching private hire by a couple of pissed up pals. It wouldn’t take much. Not much separates me from those four poor buggers out there now.

So, yeah, being called a pessimist did tick me off.

As for “great city”, that again depends the height you are looking at it from. It looks lovely from the sky bars and atriums and balconies of the city centre. Down Holbeck or Gipton or Churwell Hill things might not seem so pretty.

But at least “great city” is better than “best city”, which our council leaders are encouraging us to buy into.

Leeds is the “best city”. At least aiming to be “best city”.

Which makes Liverpool second best?

Newcastle, runner up?

And Sheffield? Not even in the rankings.

I’m pretty sure even Ronnie would hate that idea.

It’s using words to bamboozle. Swindle. Con.

Pure civic boosterism.

We should hate that.

But as Public Image said, I could be right, I could be wrong.

They put a hot wire to my head
‘Cause of the things I did and said
They made these feelings go away
A model citizen in every way


  1. Hi Phil

    You are sounding more like me every day. “Civic boosterism” I
    wonder where you got that one from. There’s no need to apologise or feel guilt for being labelled as pessimistic or angry. Place relationships are always a mixture of adoration and deprecation. So, having
    negative feelings towards Leeds is no disgrace but are entirely appropriate in the present circumstances and considering the near future.

    What was it I read a few days ago – oh yes Leeds would be
    one of the worst hit cities with Brexit because our much- vaunted finance and legal sectors will drain away, undermining its recent “improvements” in the city’s ratings. In general, in the North manufacturers are more dependent on European markets than those elsewhere.

    Of course, I cannot compete with the visceral experience in
    living where you do, and I can only match it in a small way with the example of girls smoking joints outside my house the other day. All ways up though your descriptions are enough for me to recognise that Armley has changed quite a bit from when I lived there. Back then it was quite a social blunder for me to turn up in The Nelson or the Malt Shovel on a Saturday night in my faux working- class donkey jacket and flares with everyone else dressed to the nines.

    No what I want to say is that I’m sure if you lived in Adel or some other posh area like I do you would still find would find plenty to be angry about and things to make you pessimistic. Of course, in these places the
    signs of social collapse are not in your face rather, socially speaking, what is more than evident, it is that smug inward looking self-satisfied myopia just below the surface that drives our divided society.

    Of course, you wouldn’t think so looking at the inclusive vibrancy of the local scene. I mean up here we have a farmers’ market, craft fayre, community cinema, a one-week autumn festival, an annual art trail and a
    day of open gardens. This weekend we have a day of celebrations to mark the switching on of the Christmas lights. We have artisan bakeries, a retro green grocer, a vintage shop, a craft beer emporium,
    “ethnic” and up- scale restaurants and curb side café- deli’s. We have an
    environmental action group and an edible bed. We have conservation groups looking after our built and natural environment. We have Leeds’s most expensive urban street. We are the most culturally connected ward in the city.

    Obviously, this is a totally brilliant community despite the shortage of school places for our youngsters and the fact that we have been overtaken by Horsforth in a recent survey by the Sunday Times as Leeds’s best place to live. Fortunately, house values have not been too much affected as yet.

    You get the picture.

    Now I’d like to flip things over and illustrate what might
    be indicative of why you might be hacked off living here with a tale of three pavements.

    Now I have to walk around a lot to fulfil the requirements of my NHS Leeds care plan – strap line “Show self-help or you won’t get care”
    so where I put my feet is important to me.

    So, three pavements – one, the posh pavement: this runs along the main road through the park. Now this one is so immaculately smooth
    that it now makes an informal shared space for cyclists who prefer contact with pedestrians rather than riding in the road. The story behind this was that it was the finish of the first Tour de Yorkshire. Obviously for the sake of the “millions watching on TV” it had to look its best along with other aspects of the “frontage first” city council planning policy of the time.

    Second, heritage pavement: now as you may know the most
    prestigious streets round me all have original Yorkshire stone pavements enhancing the aesthetic experience of the conservation area. The problem here is that they get dug up for the lucrative after-market and leave unsightly gaps, much to the annoyance of the various conservation lobbies. Now I don’t know if any of these guys do much walking but if they did they would be with me in saying that it is a blessing that these slabs have been removed and replaced by tar because they are “treacherous when wet” and I don’t want a fall to commit me to an ambulance ride and a four hour wait in A&E.

    Finally run- down pavement: now my local area is not entirely homogeneous in terms of ethnicity or wealth. We do have what was
    labelled on a “gateway” heritage sign “a former council estate”. I like to walk there out of nostalgia for the welfare state but sadly to the admonishment of my neighbours – “You don’t go there do you? – isn’t it a bit rough?”. Well, I know what they mean, the pavement I use is rutted and in parts over grown – neglect stares you in the face as you carefully position your feet to avoid a twisted ankle.

    I won’t go further because I think the implication is obvious and shows why anger is an appropriate response.

    Yes, you can say this is nothing more than elderly middle- class angst, the psychological price of privilege, but frankly I’d rather hassle the local councillors about pavements on the estate than be seen dressed
    up in a polar bear suit in a north Leeds car park imagining I am “impacting climate change”.

    You can see why I’m ….


    1. Apart from the comment about “boosterism” (I nicked it from H L Mencken via Camille Paglia) I agree with every word. And good luck with hassling the council, though I can’t be the only one regretting that you didn’t take the polar bear impersonator route.

      1. I got boosterism from Mike Davis’s classic “City of Quartz” the Leeds version badly needs to be written.
        The Polar Bear car park “manifestation” was by N. Leeds environmentalists G4C – that’s the Golden Generation Get a Guilty Conscience.
        Finally I thought you might have attended the 4X4 farrago on Culture and Place at the Art Gallery last night where I was gratified to learn that a major aim of LCC’s public realm programme was to rid the city of “the unwanted” in order to boost the tourist economy. You couldn’t make it up.

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