Sunday, 10 February 2013

Labor omnia vincit

Wincit or vincit? Either way it's pronounced it's the motto of my home city of Bradford. A wonderfully evocative motto of Victorian values - work conquers all. It's also the title of my first self-published ebook.

The title of the blog is linked to the genesis of this book. I came into town planning and urban studies from a undergraduate degree in History. Way back when I'd wanted to be an architect, but couldn't do GCSE Art so couldn't then go onto apply to architecture courses. Doing my history degree I became very interested in urban history and modern history - particularly the agenda set by Peter Borsay's The English Urban Renaissance, Asa Brigg's classic Victorian Cities and post-war history. These interest coalesced into a dissertation where I researched the comprehensive redevelopment of Bradford City Centre in the 1950s and 1960s, which famously led Bill Bryson to describe Bradford thus:
"Once this was one of the greatest congregations of Victorian architecture anywhere, but you would scarcely guess it now. Scores of wonderful buildings were swept away to make room for wide new roads and angular office buildings with painted plywood insets beneath each window. Nearly everything in the city suffers from the well intentioned but misguided meddling by planners."

Broadway in the mid-1970s after pedestrianisation
(on the site of the buildings in question were very few Victorian buildings of note, bar the Swan Arcade, and the insets were marble, not plywood, but that's by-the-by).

Given I had the research written up and ready, it was recieved well at a seminar at the University of Bradford two years ago, and there is renewed interest in Bradford City Centre due to "Wastefield", the City Park (one of the best urban spaces I have ever seen, ever in the World ever), and the campaign to save the Odeon, I thought it was an opportune moment to publish it as a book. All yours for £3.60.

And to give you an idea what your £3.60 will give you, here's an exclusive excerpt of the postcript that I've written for it, almost ten years after I completed the original research:

Postscript: 10 Years Later, Wastefield

When this research was being completed the buildings around Forster Square and Broadway were being emptied ready for demolition. I could peer into the lobby of Forster House and see the dated frieze on the wall of what was once the pride of Bradford city centre. The other of the two large office blocks that flanked Wardley’s civic way to the Cathedral – Central House – was only occupied by Bradford Metropolitan District Council, a hangover from a deal with Hammersons in the mid-1960s to complete this building if the local authority agreed to be a tenant in perpetuity.

Bradford Metropolitan District Council and the Regional Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward, had agreed a deal with the Australian shopping centre developer to build a new shopping centre, with a new road layout, on the site leased to Hammersons. Then 2007 and 2008 saw a run on the Northern Rock Bank and the seizure of global credit markets in the wake of Lehman Brothers Bank. Proposals for Westfield Bradford were rapidly shelved and Bradford has been left with a large hole – colloquially known as Wastefield.
In many respects this mirrors the story from 1945 to 1965. In the post war stop-go, Keynesian controlled economy, plans often came to fruition in the fevered heat of a boom which quickly had its steam taking out. Plans were halted or scaled back. The unregulated boom from 1993 to 2007 was an even more dramatic example of this. During this period Bradford’s broader economy has also weakened as the wool industry has now almost completely collapsed.

Bradford, like many former industrial towns and cities in the north of England, is now a rock-pool of unemployment, both unemployed labour and land. The long boom meant the tide of economic growth poured credit into the redevelopment of the City. Now it has receded back in the long period of economic slump, it seems impossible to imagine this neap tide will ever get high enough to lead to a rejuvenation of Bradford City Centre.

Returning to Bradford as a qualified town planner I can now also see how development trends since the late 1990s have also limited the chances of a rejuvenation of the City Centre. Wardley’s vision was for a tight-knit City Centre served by buses and car parks around his inner ring road. That inner ring road has now been largely removed. The inner ring road now is that planned by Wardley’s successor – the large dual carriageway circling the city centre from Great Horton Road and round to the Hamm Strasse. This has led to a development pattern driven by the car. The city centre has turned itself inside out, becoming a doughnut of developments with vast acres of tarmac given over to car parking. The Forster Square retail park is largely the retail centre; the office blocks between Leeds Road and Wakefield Road are the commercial centre; and the Cineworld complex is the arts and culture centre. All the parts of Wardley’s 1948 plan for the City Centre are there, just one mile outside the traditional centre in urban wastelands, disconnected from the traditional civic core.

As with the redevelopment in the 1950s this has been driven by market trends and the actions of planners. The office space in the Hammerson development was poor quality and investors and tenants, to be tempted to a marginal market like Bradford, needed modern office space with car parking. Bradford needed the jobs provided by major employers such as Santander and the Yorkshire Bank, so was seemingly willing to allow their offices to be built on the periphery of the City Centre. Similarly, the units in the Forster Square Retail Park are ideal for modern retailers, compared to the cramped, awkward, old shopping units in the core of the City Centre.

These planning and development decisions within Bradford have taken place within a context of a changing regional pattern of development. In the late 1960s retail development in Leeds struggled as much as that in Bradford – the Merrion Centre was one of Oliver Marriot’s “white elephants” that remained vacant for many years. With the redevelopment of the Victorian Arcades and the opening of Harvey Nichols in Leeds in 1996, led to step-change in the retail offer in the city. Increasingly Bradford, and the other smaller city and town centres in West Yorkshire just could not compete.

The draft Regional Spatial Strategy developed by Yorkshire Forward initially had Leeds marked as the regional centre for the greater West Yorkshire conurbation. After lobbying from Bradford it was included as a regional centre in the final plan. However, in reality, continuing planning decisions and the real estate investment market have relegated Bradford to a subsidiary shopping centre behind Leeds, exacerbated by the out-of-town shopping centres and large supermarkets. Does this mean Bradford city centre is doomed?

The story above is strangely quiet on one of the biggest changes in Bradford over the period – the impact of migration into the City. Labour shortages after the Second World War led mill-owners in Bradford to seek migrant labour firstly from Eastern Europe and then from newly created Pakistan from the late 1940s onwards. During the research the impact of this migration would appear from time-to-time in racist letters in the Telegraph & Argus or quaint articles about how the new settlers were, supposedly, settling happily into city life. One of Wardley’s last acts for the Public Works Committee before his early death was to listen to delegation from a group of local “Mosselmen” who wished to find land to build a temple. At the next meeting it was noted that land had been found for a mosque for the moslems (terminology was almost correct by then) at the junction of Westgate and Lumb Lane.

The impact of migration into Bradford has clearly had an impact on the development of the City. As with most new ethnic minorities in cities, the Pakistani migrant community clustered in Little and Great Horton and Manningham, moving into cheap Victorian terraced houses left vacant as the white working class, increasingly affluent in post war Britain, moved into the new, suburban houses that were planned in Wardley’s 1953 Development Plan in places like Heaton, Wrose, Bierley, Buttershaw and Eccleshill.

The riots in 1995 and 2001 were the shocking outcome of this spatial and cultural divide that had emerged in the City. A broader story that has come to dominate Bradford is an implicitly racist story that links this increasing ethnic and culture diversity to Bradford’s economic decline – a story used to drive politics of race hate. The third or fourth-generation migrants who are now very much Bradfordians are disparaged as living off benefits, being stupid and lazy, and a burden on the City. This ignores the amazing growth of entrepreneurship in the City, with companies associated with Bradford’s ethnic diversity being nationally and internationally renowned. As someone who’s left Bradford, I find my fellow white British people have usually been to the City for the National Media Museum; fellow Asian British people have usually been to the City to buy clothes from Bombay Stores, visit relatives, or get long-missed foods from shops.

The story of Bradford in the 1950s and 1960s told here is one of wily London property developers and a planner who was keen to see his vision realised. Bradford in 2013 can tell a different story in the development of City Park. When this was first announced it was mocked as being a “puddle”. By closing off Channing Way, the Bradford planners in the 2000s inadvertently did what the civil servants in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning wanted Wardley to do in the 1940s. The resulting civic square, owned by the people of Bradford through the Council which can be enjoyed by all of them for free is a real testimony to excellent planning and urban design. It is one of the best urban spaces in the UK.

This publicly owned and developed space and the ethnic diversity of the City come together in what could be a new vision for the City Centre. A centre of civic life that celebrates diversity through a range of shops and nurtures civic life and creative industries through free space or low rent property. Bradford will never be able to compete with Leeds. However, it can cut out a new niche for itself in the modern World.

So, get this, and more, and learn all about the unique history of a City that comprehensively redeveloped its city centre even though it had not been bombed - for £3.60.

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