Within the Leeds city centre, the oldest buildings are churches and pubs; somehow, those twin continuities say a lot about how we view our own history, and perhaps the people who lived here.
The burial ground at St Peter’s Church (the Parish Church, or Leeds Minster as it is now) was dug up and the headstones moved for a railway line. The dead shouldn’t stand in the way of progress, after all, and that piece of land was worth more developed into roads and track and buildings that as a home for old bones. For Leeds history.
But there are other pieces of our history that have been quietly swept away. The oldest house in Leeds, which stood on Lower Briggate, went in the mid-1950s. For a while in the 1990s the council stood in favour of getting rid of Kirkgate Market.
The same council that loudly trumpeted the Motorway City of the Seventies idea. A city centre full of cars and pedestrian on elevated walkways.
These days that seems crazy. Back when it was mooted, it offered a science fiction future.
Cities evolve. They have to, in order to meet the changing needs of their people and businesses. But looking ahead at the expense of the past isn’t a solution.
We’ve discovered that our parents and grandparents had solutions we were quick to ditch in the name of progress that have proved more sustainable than the things that replaced them. The reusable shopping bag, hanging washing on the line rather than using a tumble dryer…make your own list.
The point is that we’ve become too ready to jettison the past for the latest fad. And while this isn’t my bailiwick, it seems been the case in planning Leeds, too. Abandon manufacturing and jump on the retail bandwagon. Meanwhile, the Sheffield area has redefined what manufacturing can mean and is poised to move ahead on a sound financial footing.
I love Leeds. The city, the team (and yes, we are up!). I want the best for everything here. But the first step in running any city is to make it a good place for all the people who live there. A tricky balancing act, and one I wouldn’t want to have to administer.
Yet…are we asking the right questions about what we want and need in this place?
What do you think?