The Club has set itself the challenge of coming up with a handful of simple, practical and easily implementable suggestions for urban repairs for each of the places we visit. Plus one or two more ambitious ideas… These are our suggestions so far:
Expedition No.1: St Pauls & the City of London
1.1 In front of St Pauls Cathedral, remove the outdated and mean-spirited railings around the base of the statue of Queen Anne in the centre of the public space, and let people sit and enjoy the steps, like Eros at Piccadilly Circus.
1.2 More trestle tables, more street stalls, more chances for real start-ups of every kind. Not just in One New Change shopping mall, but on the widened pavements of the main streets too. And more chances too for independent retailers.
1.3 The democratisation of the Corporation of London: the handing over of its assets and the considerable talents of its staff to a properly elected public authority – we would suggest to the elected Mayor of London and the Greater London Assembly.
Expedition No.2: South Birmingham
2.1 Could a civic activist organisation re-open a closed pub of real importance to Digbeth heritage on the same business model as Birmingham friends of the Earth’s Warehouse Cafe, cross-subsidising a community/activist resource with drinkers’ dollars?
2.2 A widely-distributed simple map of the combined rail and bus network to the main Birmingham suburbs – Birmingham’s answer to the London tube map.
2.3 Make more of the Parry People Mover as a unique Stourbridge phenomenon. And how about some ambition? Get it across the ring road on a level crossing and run it straight down the old High Street, on flywheel power.
2.4 What Sparkhill needs now is a relatively modest amount of continuing investment to maintain and refresh the renovation and improvement projects of the 1970s and 90s.
Expedition No.3: Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Bacup, Burnley, Clitheroe
3.1 Some kind of town-twinning between neighbours Bacup, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge, to see if there could be cross-fertilisation of ideas between the three communities. Just comparing the three towns’ community websites of HebWeb, Todmorden Pride and Bacup Pride, it is hard to believe that they have nothing to offer each other.
3.2 An architectural model – or perhaps a computer visualisation – could be built of the most wildly ambitious dream for the full conservation restoration of Burnley’s Weaver’s Triangle (with, say, the full gamut of Hebden Bridge-style quality businesses and cultural facilities), and put into a suitable exhibition space in the Triangle. Then dare Burnley’s people to share the dream.
3.3 One next step Clitheroe could make on the journey from being a normal middle-England rural market town towards being a full blown English funkytown would be for one of the independent café-delis in the town to try putting on an evening shift, and so provide an alternative hang-out to the pub in the early evenings for those who don’t just want to go home to watch the telly.
3.4 Burnley: turn the M65 into a wooded cycle path; convert Tesco Extra into a state of the art factory, exporting textiles to China; put some Strict and Particular Baptists onto the licensing committee and launch a massive culture war against the vertical drinking industry.
Expedition No.4: Birmingham Jewellery Quarter
4.1 Do nothing in a panic in response to the recession. Allowing overdevelopment by relaxing conservation standards may give businesses and property investors what they say they want in the short term, but would quickly ruin the Quarter’s unique selling point.
4.2 A modest programme to spread the ‘rus in urbe’ quality of St Paul’s Square by planting street trees across the Quarter. If the trees could be planted in what is currently carriageway space, they might also help to slow the traffic down – perhaps backed up by a 20 mph zone.
4.3 The encouragement of a stronger walking culture in the Jewellery Quarter by the development of an evening passeggiata around St Paul’s Square and along Ludgate Hill. Celebrating the quarter and strengthening its community spirit simply by strolling around it regularly.