Fair point, David.

It must seem to a lot of people in David’s position that I concentrate unduly on the negative.

Focus on the unaffirmative.

Harp on about the woebegone.

True, I don’t paint the aspirational, vigorous, vibrant picture of the city that only people paid handsomely to look at Leeds through rose-tinted lenses would paint.

But I’m born and bred Leeds. You don’t have to sell it to me.

And Leeds is a great city. Totally agree with David on that. I choose to live here because I love the place. I walk the streets, drink in the boozers, shop on the local high streets, and catch the buses here (anyone from Leeds will have groaned knowingly at that last phrase.)

I think I write about Leeds with love. Certainly, when I write about the Culture with a capital C in Leeds it’s done with an admiration bordering on awe – which doesn’t mean I lose my sense of humour. I’m a Leeds lad. Understated irreverence and a sly disrespect comes as a birthright.

But I also think about culture in exactly the same way as the new Leeds Cultural Strategy. It’s the ordinary stuff that we do every day. Common as muck. Which is why I write a lot about phone boxes and park benches and bus stops and Pound Shops.

After all, these are the places in which we live and move and have our being (as certain of our poets might have said.)

I spend more time at bus stops in a day than I do at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in a month.

I spend more time talking to strangers on public benches in a week than I do watching ballet or modern dance in a year.

And I spend more time in the Pound Shop in a month than I’ll ever spend in The Henry Moore Gallery in a lifetime.

That’s just reality. Why shouldn’t I write about it?

Should I pretend not to hear and see and feel what’s happening around me because it doesn’t suit the internal investment goals of the cities leaders?

It’s not “pessimism”. It’s what’s going on.

This is my reality

Not this

It doesn’t stop me thinking Leeds is great or getting behind the bid for 2023 European Capital of Culture. It makes me think about the massive disparity between the “culture” of Leeds (the stuff in the cultural quarter) and the rest of the city. We have a job on our hands reducing the gap in the two tier city.

Not pessimism, just realism.

And I hope we manage it. But I’m not going to stop going on about the bottom tier until we do.

(Btw, most of this was written at the 47/48 bus stop opposite the Corn Exchange, while waiting for the next bus. The previous one failed to turn up. Great public transport for a great city?)

One comment

  1. Personally speaking the nearest person thinking the way I think was Anthony Clavane in his book Promised Land who saw Leeds as a city always seeking to achieve its potential as “great city” but up to now always falling short. Being a sports writer Leeds United is a persuasive metaphor.
    I think it is unclear by the end of the book in which the layers of argument become increasingly confused whether he thinks redemption from this hubristic cycle is ever likely to be overcome (possibly yes) or whether the city by the nature of its enduring political and economic elite is bound into a cycle of self-acclamation and public policy failure indefinitely.
    I would distance myself from Clavane’s view in two ways. While I would agree place matters and we all probably have feelings either positive or negative towards our “home town” – cities and towns are only unique and distinctive to a degree and arguably have become less so. So rather than banging on endlessly about “this great city of ours”, making empty competition with other places and setting up endless vacuous comparisons “faster growing” etc. people should be more modest and say “that like (somewhere else) Leeds faces problems of… ” or “unlike (somewhere else) Leeds does not have a “.
    I did read somewhere about the notion that “competitive cities” was a policy preference to not only to encourage more efficient, effective and innovative local policy-making but was an effective way of dividing cities and regions in wasteful project making but also to avoid any collaboration in dissent against centralisation and neo-liberalism. But that is bye the bye.
    The second point I have against Clavane is that I think the evidence he produces of Leeds’s various failures over the years both politically and on the football field rather defeats any ambiguity in his conclusion that things might possibly come alright in the end. I certainly don’t think so.
    40 years ago I was one of those who thought that things could only get better but when I began to bump into the reality of Leeds’s politics I asked an old Armley Labourite why “this great city of ours” was not leading the way on social progress. His answer has stuck with me ever since – “Just look at the quality of the people in the Civic Hall”.

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