Wednesday, 12 April 2017

My speech on Bradford City centre to Politics in the Pub

For those of you who missed last night's Bradford Politics in the Pub event, here is my short speech about the regeneration of our City centre and the Council's current proposals. We were asked "how do we solve a problem like Darley Street?"

"Forgive me for not answering your question. I really do think it’s the wrong question for all that we’re rightly concerned about the future of that street.

It’s more important, I feel, that we think about the longer term, about the future of the high street and the role of City Centres like Bradford.

When big and successful centres like Leeds and Manchester are starting to question the size of their retail footprint – about shrinking the centre, as it were – it seems silly of Bradford to think in a different direction.

The idea that retail alone – or even in large part – can deliver a future city centre is, I fear, delusional. Those things in your pockets and handbags ensure you can buy stuff at the flip of a finger and have it delivered to your door – city centres will never compete with this shopping offer.

We need a different answer. One that works for Bradford.

14 years ago, Bradford asked Will Alsop to provide a city centre master plan. I posted the result – or at least the video that accompanied the plan – on the Politics in the Pub facebook page – if you’ve not seen it, it is easily googled.

Once you got past the teddy bears and blobby architecture, Alsop’s plan was genuinely radical.

So genuinely radical that we ignored it.

Alsop proposed an anti-development masterplan. A completely different take on a city centre. One that played to the uniqueness of Bradford as a place and to the city’s challenges with land values and investment.

Alsop said ‘knock down the ugly stuff, the results of Wardley’s 1960s redesign of the City Centre, and replace it with a park.’

That was pretty much it. For sure there were bits of detail. Some debate about whether there should be no planned new development or just very little.

It’s time for us to look again.

What are centres for?

Here’s a list from American ethnographers Susie Pryor and Sanford Grossbart:
“…dining; window shopping; strolling for relaxation; jogging for health reasons; pub crawls; wine tastings; book clubs; language clubs; craft guilds; charity events; art events; parades; demonstrations; mass celebrations following major sports victories; and meeting friends.”
You might care to add to this list but I do know that, when Bradford City are promoted to the Premiership it won’t be celebrated by buying stuff on Amazon – the flags, parades, banners and beer will be here in the city.

Imagine that in a place that’s like a park? For a fleeting moment Bradford has a glimpse of that dream.

But we put it away. Searched instead for “high value demographics”, “enhanced land values”, and “new investment profiles”. Development bollocks.

Bradford doesn’t have the values right now to deliver shiny retail, grade ‘A’ office space or high quality market housing. So simply moving bits of the city about – fixing Darley Street by shutting down the main generator of footfall in the ‘top of town’ seems to be simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So let’s do to the top of town what Alsop told us to do – turn it into a park. A destination. That might just work. It seems right now a better bet than waiting for millions of private investment in housing that probably isn’t going to arrive in Bradford city centre any time soon."


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