Forget Leeds!

Demolition 006

“Glasgow is a magnificent city,” said McAlpin. “Why do we hardly ever notice that?” “Because nobody imagines living here,” said Thaw… “Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.”

A few months ago I was sat at one of the first Progress School events talking to Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) about how we felt about the city and why we chose to live in Leeds. Rob’s originally from Liverpool but he’s been here years. One of his most interesting observations, something that only an outsider could have picked up on, was that people who live in any part of the city, whether it’s Middleton or Moortown, Hyde Park or Holbeck, talk about “going into Leeds” when we venture into the metropolis. We don’t go to the city centre or go to town, we go into Leeds. In no other city would they say that. Which is odd. What is it about the place that even the people who live here don’t identify with it, or see the city as something separate?

Partly I think it’s to do with something that the quote from Lanark by Alasdair Gray, one of my favourite books, touches on; we seem to inhabit the city but don’t really live here imaginatively. Right now I’m sat in Beeston Hill looking out of my living room window, two flights up, looking down on Leeds sprawled out higgledy-piggledy like lego dropped from a bucket. There’s some of the old buildings I remember as a kid, the university – a proper Ivory Tower – and the Town Hall, Civic Hall, and I’m pretty sure I can spy a sliver of Park Row. But I’d be hard pressed to say where the centre was. The skyline is cluttered with some of the most vapid, vacuous, and often completely vacant office blocks, and apartments that look like they may as well be office blocks. Development, in a word. And, in the mile or so it takes to walk into Leeds there’s what one local councilor recently referred to as the “Donut of Despond,” a space that’s really, in the good old Yorkshire phrase, neither nowt nor summat.

My little slice of the donut, Holbeck, isn’t faring very well. There hasn’t been a supermarket in the area for years – nothing replaced the old KwikSave when they went under a while back and the likes of Tescos won’t touch the place. All but a couple of pubs have closed down, some like The Spotted Cow have been trashed and gutted by vandals, and the ones that are left, even the beautifully quirky Brittania, have degenerated into shabby, seedy little places, no more than a day centre with a license. Holbeck has also recently been subject to some radical urban intervention, blocks of flats torn down – including the Towers my grandparents were shifted into during the last swathe of urban cleansing when the smokey old cobbled streets were replaced by small 70’s centrally heated boxes, and where they died soon after – and whole streets of old back-to-back terraces levelled, leaving just rubble and dust. You wouldn’t even know what had once been there. All that is solid had been pulverized and scattered to the winds. This is called regeneration.

I don’t know where I am anymore. And it’s no good looking at the official Leeds websites for any orientation or enlightenment. Leeds, Like it or Lump it has lots of facts and figure, lots of stats, plenty of quotes . . . but I can’t say I recognise the place. “The city offers an architectural mix of old and new, with stylish modern flats sitting comfortably alongside red-brick terraces and elegant Victorian homes.” That’s nice, but it’s not Holbeck. Same goes for the “cultural offering,” which I take to mean something that might help me get an imaginative grip on the place; “The cultural offer is just as strong, and Leeds is the only English city outside London with its own repertory theatre, opera house and ballet companies.” That’s miles away from my experience. Certainly, it’s nice to have those things, and I wouldn’t knock them, but aren’t they there to impress the tourists, or for when you want a special trip? I’ve never been to the ballet, never seen an opera, and go to theatre so infrequently that it’s not worth talking about. I’m as likely to go to London or Manchester even to see a play anyhow. Those iconic cultural organisations don’t really figure at all in the way I imagine Leeds. Give me The Grove or The Brudenell any day.

So, I’ve been brooding about these things for the past couple of days – what is Leeds all about, how can we imagine it better, and what sort of culture makes the place livable, a good place to call home? – brawling on Twitter and getting into a bit of a tizz over a few pints down The Midnight Bell. I’m feeling more and more disconnected from “Leeds” and increasingly disillusioned and demoralised by the official narrative that steam irons and sanitizes a pretty messy, dirty reality, and doesn’t sound that appealing anyhow. I’m quite happy to be marginal. Most of the stuff I care about happens in the margins of the city, in the outskirts. Look at Neil’s post and the comments . . . it’s obvious that the real creativity going on in Leeds, the genuinely vibrant, lively, fun, interesting stuff is happening outside the centre in eccentric places like Mabgate, Chapel Al, Holbeck, Armley, Headingley, Hyde Park. There’s certainly no lack of imagination in these places or shortage of people telling fascinating tales and putting on exhilarating events. What seems to be happening though is that we’re all doing it in isolation and there’s no sense of circulation. This is probably a physical thing in the sense that the city itself hardly encourages movement around the edges, crabwise, sidewinding.

I tried to walk to Armley last week. a couple of miles, and I can see it from my window, but it took nearly an hour, half of which was stuck by the side of the road watching cars crawl by. Not a pleasant experience. But that aside, it does make sense that we join the dots, cross our wires, and maybe even share our different premises. Maybe then we’ll be able to inhabit the city with an imagination expanded into the margins.


  1. Nice post, for me Leeds is a broken city. Don’t get me wrong, it has its charms and its gems but it really doesn’t work, at least in any meaningful or holistic sense. I won’t win many fans by saying this but it could learn a lot from a place like Sheffield which is, for me, a triumph of modern urban planning and infrastructure. Arguably in the face of more challenges than Leeds too.

    As for the pisspoor marketing, it’s just that, bad marketing. I’ve yet to see a single piece of “place branding” that’s ever made me want to visit somewhere though.

    Still, it’s not all doom and gloom for Leeds. It can always look just a bit to the left and cheer itself up by looking at Bradford.

  2. Agree, Sheffield does development a lot more thoughtfully and with a hell of a lot more panache. And we spend so much on that marketing, why can’t we give a bit of that cash to people who give a damn and have something to say about the place. What’s best about Leeds doesn’t come from the top, and certainly isn’t the official party line, it’s what’s happening in the disregarded places, the patchwork of passion potential we need to start to stitch together . . . I’m starting to talk crap now. And leave Bradford alone! Needs all the love it can get.

  3. Fascinating. I’m originally from nearer Manchester than Leeds, but was ‘adopted’ years ago by friends in Roundhay and, as a result, have spent the bulk of my time there. To me, Leeds is FAR ahead in terms of integration – there is a real sense of pride in the city, I love it. Manchester is, once you’re half a mile outside the centre, disjointed, dysfunctional and truly ugly. Manchester has nowhere like Roundhay and the Park, Chapel Al, Headingley, Moortown etc. Maybe it takes an ‘incomer’ to really appreciate it? 😉

    1. I’m an inner city, South Leeds lad, so I know a bit about urban blight. Try walking into Leeds from Holbeck Moor . . . bet we could clobber Manchester in any ugly contest, hands down.

      I still love the place though, but more for its ghosts and it’s generativity than for anything in particular. Right now, Leeds is a bloody mess.

        1. I know,there’s no point in indulging in an ugly fest. It’s more about the story anyhow, why Manchester seems more self-confident (swaggering even) about itself and why Leeds is still a bit hands-in-pockets, slouching, with nothing very much to say for itself. That’s what we need to get right.

  4. I’m from Sheffield and was there at the weekend for the tramlines festival. It was a great weekend and achievement for Sheffield. But I’m betting 8 out 10 sheffielders had no idea it was on.

    I’m pretty sure that most people in most cities look at where they live with the same dispare as the people posting here.

    My thought is that it’s a very British disease and what the other “cultural giants” do is ignore what others are doing and just get on with what they need to do. We all need to stop following and start. Leading

    1. You are right, and of course it’s rose tinted specs . . . I don’t have to live in Sheffield, I’m just envious of that water feature outside the train station and the fact that people know where the hell the town centre is in Sheffield! I’m sick of being stopped by random travellers outside Leeds station and asked where the centre is! Shouldn’t that be kind of obvious?

    2. I think you might be a bit misguided on that tramlines comment there – even my nan knew it was on.

      One of the ladies at bingo told her about it! Yes. I know.

      Tramlines last year was so understated – this year it seemed to be everywhere.

  5. Sheffield? Oh dear…..

    Have we ever considered that these cities are actually past their sell by date entirely?

    1. superannuated cities? Perhaps, but isn’t the point that anywhere that hopes to be viable reinvents itself, tells a better story, gives some kind of imaginative grip or else the place just becomes a financial centre, a place to make a living, tolerate the drudgery, and with luck earn enough to escape??

  6. I am an outsider, although I have lived here for six years. In that time I have often wondered how I can stop feeling like a stranger just passing through. At times I have had an identity that drew me in to the city (writing, promoting, working) but once that quietened down the link to the city rapidly disappeared.

    I have yet to understand what Leeds stands for in my time here. It’s a vibrant, colourful city which often appear to try and adapt ideas from elsewhere. People travel from all over the country to visit its clubs, bars, restaurants as part of one off weekends, events or marauding groups – but for someone who lives here, I could quite easily fall in to the trap of sitting outside of the centre, never venturing closer than LS2. I don’t see LS1 as a separate entity to living in Meanwood – I’ll still say going in to town – I just see it often as an unnecessary inconvenience to head in.

    Excellent comments also about the ballet, opera, theatre etc. I haven’t once set foot in the WYP because my mind set isn’t trained that way. In London where I was born or Milan where I have worked, I could get lost in museums and galleries for days, but not so in Leeds. I prefer food, drink and good company – but with a new family I get that in my house, or at a push – in the more relaxed settings outside of the centre. There is much to do in Leeds. I just don’t always feel like I am being given a reason to try it all.

    The original, thought provoking post is crying out for a late 18th century style vindication. I just don’t think I have it in me to disagree to that extent.

    1. Cheers Chris. You coming along to Cultural Conversations on Friday? Sounds like the sort of thing you might be interested in. And very perceptive comment about C18th . . . I see myself as the Leeds version of Addison and Steele.

      1. Unfortunately not.

        Am working then manning the fort with the baby whilst the good lady is out tomorrow night. Though not sure what i would contribute at this stage as lacking in blog or major online presence.

        Maybe i should set myself up as a modern day essayist. Though is there the attention span out there to warrant more than 140 characters?

        1. It’s not just about blogging. And as for attention spans, Emma regularly asks her contributors to keep to 1000 words . . . none of us takes a blind bit of notice though. We just ramble away. Seems to work though. People do seem to read the stuff and comment.

          What would you essay upon?

          1. ‘On Apathy’ – the right of the world to get involved as and when they choose.

            Title lends itself to Cicero – as does the subject really.

        2. Then go for Apathy (before I do!) Cicero is too full of advice for me . . . more a Montaigne man myself.

          1. I agree hence my use of him.

            He was quick to advise people on how best to live their lives, when in truth if they really modelled themselves on his virtues, they would do only that which improves their status.

            Were he around today, he too would be an advocate of Big Society – just as long as he only got involved with the activities that aided his cause.

  7. Not true Phil. I’m a Manc, originally from Middleton (in Manchester(!) who now lives in Leeds. We always used to say ‘going into Manchester’ as much as ‘going to town’, as would anyone who lived in part of the Greater Manchester connurbation, whether it was Blackley, Salford, Rochdale or Stockport. Difference between Leeds as a city and Manchester its that Leeds has retained its relatively compact city centre while smaller suburbs and neighbourhoods have retained their identities as part of the larger city. If it was the other way round you would no doubt be moaning about loss of identity in the urban metropolis… Manchester, unfortunately, is a sprawling urban mess from Saddleworth Moor down to the Stockbroker belt.

    1. You’re probably right on all those counts. Perhaps it’s just a city thing. But do you think the way that Manchester portrays itself, or Liverpool, or even Sheffield, has something to teach Leeds? I know what those places stand for, can understand the story, but what’s the point of Leeds? Nobody I speak to who lives here seems to know quite what Leeds is all about. I know Manchester is a sprawl, but it’s a sprawl people seem to identify with, and a story that the inhabitants imaginatively buy into . . . or am I romanticising that too? Could well be.

        1. Cheeky . . . but bang on! I can’t keep up, and I’d get nothing done if I went to them all. There’s two ways of seeing it, that it’s a good indication of a resurgence of civic pride and that all that talk must lead somewhere; or that Leeds just has a surfeit of internet marketeers all trying to stake out their territory or corner the market. I’m pretty much cynical about a lot of the stuff I’ve heard about recently . . . Not all bad though, and see you Tuesday morning.

          1. I think its equally healthy and unhealthy. On the one hand many interesting voices are being surfaced; on the other, it’s a lot of activity and little achievement.

            A meetup is cool, but we’re not necessarily assembling the cultural institutions necessary for longevity. Also, there’s a subtext of “People’s Front of Leodis” emerging 😉

  8. I got hotlinked over here from the Guardian website. What a bunch of jaundiced miserabilists you all are. It’s quite telling that the outsider perspectives posted here all seem to be a lot more positive about the place than people who are long term residents. Maybe there is something in the Leeds mindset which has to put the place down all the time. “Oh it’s the bloody council’s fault for putting up all them ‘flats'” – actually it’s private investment and property development that’s driving the building boom. At least people want to invest in Leeds. People who live in Holbeck may not be experiencing the benefits of the money that’s coming into Leeds, but that might be that it’s a poor, undesirable part of the city that no-one wants to invest in.

    1. That’s the joy of this blog, if you took a moment to have a look around you will find that a great majority of the posts are very positive and with good reason, and that’s because there is a wealth of fantastic stuff and talented people happening all over Leeds.

      Having said that, we have a host of bloggers writing for us, and they all have a love of the place they reside in, and sometimes being a critical friend is as important as blowing smoke up everyone’s backsides!

      I’m also an outsider, and love Leeds having settled here 16 years ago! I love the people, the opportunties and also the fact there is so much more room for improvement, maybe that’s true of all places!

      So I do hope that you can take a look at the rest of the site, providing you haven’t already written us off, and see that there is a fair balance here!

      Thanks for commenting

    2. Obviously I haven’t made myself clear. I’m hardly miserable about Leeds; I’m one of Richard Hoggart’s cheerful existentialist types (quote’s from The Uses of Literacy, and he’s talking about the working class response to life in general, and South Leeds in particular.) One of Hoggart’s favourite quotes was from Ruskin; “the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way” How can I put my feelings about Leeds City Centre any clearer? . . . well, it does have some of the most fabulous empty office buildings and speculative apartments in the North! My sky line is full of them. I can’t see much of the old city centre as my view is obscured by decades of buildings chucked up in the boom and never, ever occupied. I’m so glad for the investors, they must be chuffed.

      And as for Holbeck . . . Urban Village anyone?

  9. Interesting article,I do agree with you in many ways, Leeds center does indeed feel disconnected from the rest of the city. But is that neccesarily a bad thing? One only needs to look on Google Maps to see that the whole of North Leeds suburbs are all disconnected from each other (Yeadon,Guiesely etc), of course each area is connected by road but they all have there own identitty. Even Horsforth classes it self as a village despite been surounded by Cookridge/Rawdon/Kirkstall and been very much part of Leeds. I would prefer each area to have its own identity rather than be lumped together as one. Perhaps living in the ‘wealthy’ north Leeds subrurbs have clouded my judgement as I never lived near Leeds so it always felt alien.

    Anyway I diasgree with some of the comments about Leeds needs to learn from Sheffield, far from it. Sheffield center is without a doubt a ‘dump’, the nearby shopping center sucked the life out of Sheffield, hardly what I would call thought out planning. If places such as ‘Sheffield’ were better than Leeds then why has there been a distinct lack of investment, vs say Leeds. There are reasons why Leeds is the fastest growing city, the biggest financial center out of London or voted the best place to Live. To me Leeds is a shopping destination and a place to eat and drink, to those who work in the Leeds financial center it is a top city to do buisness. Thats really it, but what it is good at (Shopping etc) it really excells in, you could say Victoria Quater is one of the best shopping centers in Europe, in terms of splendor and class. Or the Corn Exchange which without a shadow of a doubt the most unique looking place to shop in Britan, these all go in Leeds favour.

    Leeds does lack in-identity, but excelling in a number of things isn’t neccesarily a bad thing, is it?

    1. Victoria Quater one of the best shopping centers in Europe in terms of splendor and class? Maybe

      Corn Exchange most unique looking place to shop? Maybe… but is grossly mismanaged, has sold its soul and is now an empty shell where people have to jump through certain hoops to do anything in there.

      Leeds does excellently well in some areas of retail, but the current strategy by it’s nature means we can never take the step up to the next level which is what I think the ‘3rd biggest city in the country’ and the ‘biggest financial centre outside of London’ should be aiming

    2. The Corn Exchange might look nice, but there’s barely any bloody shops in it! We need to stop ‘regenerating’ places like the Corn Exchange that were doing well without it, and focus our efforts on areas that are empty/completely derelict. And regarding the original article’s point of all the interesting stuff happening outside the city centre, there’s plenty going on in the city centre culture wise. It often isn’t advertised by the powers that be, but it often also doesn’t get featured by people like yourselves. Art in unusual spaces, Light Night, exhibits in The Light, stuff on at the town hall. Every bit of Leeds is creative and thriving, there just needs to be a way to bring it all together.

      1. Totally agree about the Corn Exchange. I remember when you couldn’t move for people in there. It’s a bit of a sensory deprivation chamber these days, isn’t it.

        And I’m totally behind you on the Art in Unusual Spaces, Light Night, Test Space stuff etc. But I think of those as marginal too, that just happens miraculously to have wangled some creative space amid all that corporate getting and spending. Great! And I’m pretty sure they’ve all been mentioned here. I should know because I wrote some of the articles myself. As I’ll probably do something on the drawing event in the Corn Exchange this Saturday.

        Not sure that “every bit” of Leeds is in such great shape creatively . . . you been to Beeston recently?

        1. I love living in Beeston.

          The summer bands in the park a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and the Beeston Festival is always great fun and a hive of community activity.

          Beeston lacks an obvious creative focal point or cultural venue, yes, but you just need to pop into one of the churches or the local Coop, or speak to anyone at any of the regular community events to find out that there is so much going on you can get involved in.

          A lot of the feedback that came from Light Night visitors focused on how great the event was and why was nothing else going on, and we always said the same: it just takes a little bit of searching and asking and you find there is something cultural to do or see that costs nothing every single day of the year. And the more you go and see and do and talk, the more you find out about.

          There may not be lots of flashy brochures about the Leeds cultural offer (if there were, they’d probably be crap) but I personally love the journey of discovery, which is so much more rewarding when you have made it yourself.

          And absolutely I love living in Leeds! 🙂

  10. I agree with the above statement – Sheffield city centre is vastly inferior to Leeds’ in terms of its business infrastructure and range of shops, bars, restaurants and leisure. Has Mr Kirby ever taken a stroll down the Moor or been to Castlegate? If he had he’d know there is nowhere in Leeds quite so awful.

    Sheffield has some lovely public spaces, such as the Peace Gardens and the area outside the station, but this is because it has received many millions more in government and EU funding as a result of its deeper social problems.

    1. Must admit I haven’t done that stroll but might get @richardmichie to introduce me. But it’s not really about comparing urban awfulness, is it? When you mention Sheffield to anyone they instantly get the story . . . but what’s Leeds about? I’ve spent most of my life here and damned if I know.

  11. Having grown up in Kippax (which is probebly the as far out of Leeds you can go whilst still having an LS postcode) and now residing in Manchester for the past 7 years I find massive similarites within the 2 cities. As previously mentioned perhaps by Emma there is alot of regional pride within both cities, the architecture at times maybe abit wayward and wonky but it’s reflective of a time and a fashion which is merely outdated, almost like the last items on a marks and sparks sale rail. But there was a time where these things represented the new and the exciting and inhabitants thrived on that, things move on, fall out of favour and maybe become abit ugly but the people stay the same, and I think it’s this sense of community and a readiness to make an investment in the local area should the oppertunity present itsself that really is the core of a city. Cities are a sum of there parts, the centre merely fulfils a function, shopping, culture, businesses etc, and the suburbs provide homes and community. I think it’s quiet normal to get abit of a grass is always greener syndrone from time to time, but cities are what you make them, and you take the rough with the smooth (could I fit anymore common place turns of phrase into this post?!). As for the going into Leeds/going into town debate once your deicated 1 hour 10 minutes of your life on a 168 getting to Leeds from kippax, you don’t care wether it’s Leeds/town/the big smoke so long as you get there before the shops shut or last orders!

  12. There sure is something in the water right now, we’re all discussing Leeds…this can only be a good thing right? Undoubtedly we care enough to contribute, even if it’s chewing up a webpage

    The Guardian Leeds has a feature right now about independent retail or lack of

    Other Leeds people stirring it up alongside @philkirby are @mikechitty @hebemedia @imran @johnbaron @gdnleeds @culturevultures to name but a few…

    Something in the aire?

    1. There’s some very exciting things happening at Bird’s Yard on Kirkgate right now!

      And how fantastic to see young artists and designers taking the bull by the horns and making things happen for the future of Leeds’ independent retail sector, as opposed to simply mourning past losses.

      Good luck to Factory4 and the rest of the guys at Bird’s Yard 🙂

  13. nothing is more interesting to read then blogging about the urban blight of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, etc…especially when one lives in the largest Wal-Mart in the world smack dab in the middle of a hot dusty desert (aka. Las Vegas) where “culture” implies 24 hour video poker bars and “urban planning” means endless strip malls and tract homes 🙂

    1. Hey @thepetshopboy, fancy seeing you here. If ever you need news about urban blight you always know where to find me . . . usually slumped in a corner at The Midnight Bell . . . and, when you do make it to Blighty I’ll have to take you for a pint of Yorkshire Blond down The Grove. You would love the music scene in that place. It’s like the 80’s never went away.

  14. All most tasty food for thought here – great article Phil. Speaker’s Corner is fast becoming the hottest area of this blog. I’ve shared my thoughts about Leeds over on Neil Owen’s also fine piece on Leeds and culture But I have to speak out about Sheffield here: saying it’s a dump or past its sell by date isn’t helpful. Yes we just lost out on the City of Culture but there’s cultural reasons aplenty we got shortlisted in the first place. And then some. There are magnificent public spaces in the city centre but that wider regeneration project, like everything else, takes time. And all the while, Sheffielders, like in Leeds, are contributing, crafting away creatively, and forging new things from the spaces of old industry.

    1. I’m really not interested in silly city competition. Why would I want Leeds to become a pale, second rate copy of Sheffield? Or Manchester? Let’s develop what’s distinctive about the place we choose to live. They all have very different stories . . . I just wish Leeds could tell a better tale.

      1. Perhaps you expect too much? All one needs to do is visit Bradford to see how a city really doesn’t deliver in-terms of identity and anything for that matter.

        1. Play nicely! Like I said earlier, what’s the point in the silly game of compare and contrast? Instead of looking at other cities with a mixture of envy and inferiority let’s work to make the place we choose to live a better place. My point is simply that I don’t really know that Leeds has much of a story yet, and perhaps if we start connecting all that’s going on in the margins a bit more effectively we could transform the place from the outside in. Leeds might not be dead at the heart it might just need a bit of a jolt to get it pounding again.

  15. . . . I just wish Leeds could tell a better tale.

    I agree Phil. But since the marketing pencil heads took over (Leeds, Live it, Love it or F**k Off: they have defined Leeds as a city I don’t recognise when I wander through its streets. Full Disclosure: I run and marketing and communications consultancy.
    And, I suppose it is a sign of the Leeds’ inferiority complex that it constantly compares itself to the likes of Liverpool or Manchester or Sheffield. But the reality is that it, and it’s inhabitants, should be defining the city by who they are and what they want from their city.
    Like your mate Rob Greenland, I too am from Liverpool. Born in Scotland Road (all torn down now – I was a child of the Sixties) but my parents moved out to the new town of Halewood which is about eight miles from the city centre – which for me as a teenager was Erics and Probe Records.
    But on a Friday or Saturday night we NEVER said we were going into Liverpool – we said we were going into town, or going to Erics, or the Grafton, or the Crack in the Wall.
    Interstingly, my teenage children (I live in Menston) always say they are going into Leeds for a night out as if they were headed into another city and a place they are completely disconnected from.
    Good post – many thanks.

  16. I agree with much of this…however…

    The council and the RDA have long had a basic default position that says we will partner with architects and developers in the regeneration of the City. Perhaps if they had instead had a default of partnering with (even better facilitating)residents and local groups in development then both the process and outcomes would have looked very different. More engagement, more relevant and accessible development and genuine evolution for the city.

    ‘People’ don’t want to invest in Leeds. They want to invest wherever the local authority and their funding partners offer the most attractive packages. They follow the subsidy and opportunity. There is no real commitment to the people of Leeds. In fact the opposite. Once a developer had thrown up their new apartments or got yet another award for refurbing the old ‘Viking Way’ Council estate then their interest is in displacing local people with outsiders who have the economic clout required to pay the inflated rents.

    Councils and development agencies collude in this economic exclusion through judicious use of funding and planning levers as the resulting short term economic gains (GVA increase) please the treasury no end.

    It is the unwritten, perhaps even unconscious, policy of economic cleansing that has of course created the language of doughnuts and rings.

    We need to change tack and start working seriously with what we have got in the city in terms of talent and potential more than ‘physical infrastructure’ if we are to really weave our own stories.

    1. All this infrastructure, it’s really getting in the way. I agree, Mike, and I don’t see there’s any choice other than to dig deep and foster the talent, creativity and imagination of the people who are already in the city and do everything to keep hold of them. It’s a bit of a guerilla strategy, preserve your forces, strike swiftly and only when you know you can make a mark, and talk yourself big . . . guerillas have to tell the best tales. I could start quoting Gramsci, but I’ll resist.

  17. Couldn’t agree more Mike. So what is your solution? When everything these days is driven by monetary considerations, how does a working class resident object to a £40 million project on their doorstep?

  18. Great post Phil, and fabulous discussion.

    I for one, don’t think Leeds is necessarily as bad as you paint it, but then I don’t have to live there, and my time there is mainly spent in the City Centre (which I define as anywhere I can walk to in less than 10 minutes from the station).

    I think people are always harder on the place they come from than anyone else is. I’m from Nottingham originally, and was taken aback, when I first left, by the numbers of people who told me I came from a beautiful city. I actually had to go back and have a look around before I could admit I agreed with them. I just hadn’t noticed before.

    1. I love the place, but it is, as one of our local heroes once said, an Upside down, back to front, inside out city . . . and was getting more so with every useless block of bland, anodyne, insensitive office space that got thrown up in the boom. And Mike isn’t being metaphorical when he mentions cleansing; right now from my window I can see half of Holbeck being pulverised and towed away in a truck . . . half of Holbeck that no longer has shops, schools pubs or people . . . we got plenty of shiny happy office space though, all of it brand spanking new and empty . . . tempting, huh!

  19. The real problem of course is the silver spire of Quarry House: a giant Apathy Ray gently pumping out undulating waves of upset and general malaise.

    Until we join together to destroy this building, nothing will change.

    1. I’m assembling a crack squad of guerilla bulldozers . . . we got plenty of demolition kit laying around my part of town . . . we march on Quarry House at dawn . . . bring your own pick axe. It’s gonna get dusty.

  20. It is good to see such a lively debate taking place on the way Leeds is shaping up as a city. For my part I see a thriving city centre and a top rate cultural offer as a good thing. Having said that I am off to the rugby in Headingley tonight and I am looking forward to the live music at the Rodley Beer Festival.

    Live performance always adds to the experience. With this in mind would Phil like a couple of tickets to come along to one of Northern Ballet’s next performance in Leeds?

    1. Ballet? I’d give it a go . . . I did fib a little bit about the ballet, there was that school trip to see The Nutcracker. Didn’t go that well, I’m afraid, and somnolence got the better of me. All I remember is being shaken by Mrs Reynoldson the English teacher and waking with a start to clapping and bright lights. Not exactly the best introduction to high culture.

      And I’ve nothing against the City centre. Heading off to Corn Exchange later for a bit of artistic edification.

  21. I’ve lived in Leeds all my life and I’ve always gone to ‘town’ for shopping, nights out etc. A lot of people refer to the city centre as ‘town’ in my experience, but I’ve always assumed that the habit of saying ‘going into Leeds’ comes from the fact that many of the outlying villages and hamlets were absorbed by Leeds over the years. As others have said those areas maintained their own cultural identities, and if your grandparents and parents thought of it as ‘going into Leeds’ then you’re going to pick that up too.

  22. Fantastic writing thankyou.

    I love the seperate little identities the different areas have here but the better you get to know the city the easier it is to see that the movement of wealth, immigration and a good mix of generations ( community proper ) has left a traceable timeline on each place.

    Really shocked by the latest set of regenerations in holbeck, it does bite seeing a place you know and loved just disappear. I always remember learning about the quarry hill flats that were torn down in the 60’s (?) when I see those godawful city centre apartments sprouting from every spare crack in the pavement it speaks of future slums and regeneration to come.

    You know instead of a ‘brand new’ city every 30 years I’d like to see a return to actual architecture, to beautiful legacy laden ideals that take a lifetime to arrive

    Peace and love loiners x
    Lou x

    1. I think “future slums” just about says it all. Maybe it might be good if the city just said Stop! Think for a bit, then decided what it was about. I must admit, I loved Quarry Hill, an absolute architectural gem . . . not sure if I’d have wanted to live there though. Remember a comedy called “Queen of the Castle?” Filmed in Quarry Hill.

      1. There won’t be future slums fotunatley as occupancy of city center flats is 92%. Perhaps the recession was a good thing for Leeds, we needed a break from this rapid growth. Hopefully the council will have better planning this time as I can see another boom period for Leeds coming once the recession clears.

  23. Phil, at yet another networking event in Leeds, for some reason, you mentioned the novel, Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse. At its mention, I instantly felt a warm glow of endorphins released into my system. When I read it, years ago, I dearly loved that book.

    I later meditated on why I loved the book. The reason I came up with was because it told my story. As a working class kid, growing up on a council estate in a Yorkshire town, it validated my existence.

    Someone from the same background, who had the talent and the drive to see an idea through to completion (one of my favourite jokes in the book was narrator’s explanation of why his novel was taking so long – he couldn’t decide which format to have for his book title and name on the cover of his book), made me aware that working class stories were just as valid as ones about kings and queens. Except, of course, working class stories are largely ignored by the publishing classes as they are unfamiliar with them. They prefer the stories that validate their own lives.

    And here is the crux of the story of any town or city. The developers and architects are the new kings and queens. They like to tell stories about themselves (which is natural), so they tell them in bricks, mortar, glass and concrete. The working classes can only watch these stories and shrug their shoulders. They are not stories which they can relate to. They are not even a footnote in these stories; slums got bulldozed, not, communities of people got displaced.

    This is why most inhabitants of any city couldn’t care less about the place they live in. It doesn’t tell their story, it’s someone else’s story and they are forced to read it, so why should they care about its ongoing narrative?

    Until we reclaim the stories of who we are and where we come from, we are just transients, passing through another cloned kingdom of the developers.

  24. I feel I have come to the debate slightly late, but I was indulging in the community vibe of my disjointed from the city but defined by it’s individual and vibrant nature of Headingley/Meanwood.

    I have returned to the city of my youth after a long time away, with some of those years spent in London where culture literally seeps out of the concrete pavements and stone buildings. I was slightly fearful that I would feel stifled and understimulated back in Leeds, but two years here now and working for Opera North, I think there is so much going on and so much more depth to the city.

    This is not a promotional tool, I genuinely do feel that the organisation I work for offers an incredibly exciting dimension to the city of Leeds – scratch away the title and there is so much more than opera, especially in the Howard Assembly Room. I don’t have time to feel bored. And I would never have placed opera ‘in my bag’. Or for that matter ‘folk rock’, ‘electronica with traditional Indonesian music’ or ‘literary talks to music’!?

    Perhaps it is more that the arts and culture offering is not all in the same location, which makes it harder to feel a vibe or cultural breadth, but I am not sure what we can do about that logistically.

    Leeds has a long way to go to match other leading cities for arts and culture, but it’s definitely already got a good base.

  25. I’ve lived in or just outside Leeds for seven or eight years now and it does have a lot to offer. Having said that, there is a feeling that it is so massively aware of what Manchester and Sheffield (in recent years) are up to that it’s not got the balls to grow into what it thought it was going to be say five or six years ago. I spent most of my formative years in Bristol then I moved here. On returning to that place after being in Leeds for a few years you can really see how they have developed it and got the city centre and surrounding communities behind it all. Fair enough, they’ve got a harbour to play with but it wasn’t too long ago that a BBC programme declared Bristol the nation’s worst toilet.
    All they’ve done is promote it well, develop it’s cultural side and really push it almost as an identity as opposed to just a place where lawyers that don’t fancy London can come and frolic in posh bars.
    I agree with the comment that the Headingleys and C. Allertons of the world are actually where the creative and engaging elements of the city are – the single most effective trick Leeds can learn from other cities is to link these bits with the rest of it and let that exciting element bleed into the centre. “Cross our wires”

  26. Late again!

    Just to discuss your second paragraph. A few years ago my son did a (I did my son’s) Tudor project! Instead of doing the Royals we did local Tudor history & life has always been so in Leeds. Liam mentioned earlier the Rawdon/Yeadon/Horsforth/Guiseley area which we focused on in the project – people from these places are now and were then from either one or the other and not immediately from “Leeds” or even “Yorkshire”, it’s identity and I likes it.

    Also, (I won’t get the stats correct but something like) 25 years ago there was one person living in LS1 so people went to Leeds, it was an event when I was a little girl.

    When I’m away I’ll always say I’m from Leeds – and people around the world generally know where Leeds is. That is something to be proud of.

  27. Hi there,

    Very interesting article, but I am actually emailing about the photo you have. I am very interested in the recet derelict past of Leeds. I wondered if you would be able to tell me the location of this tower block. I would very much appreciate it.

    Kinds Regards,

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