Look at Your City: The power of 10 and the power of the perch

The power of the perch in action on Duncombe Place.

14th October 2017

Five of us undertook to Look at York, spending time in a variety of the city’s public spaces and trying to work out what was going on. To set the scene for our walk we looked at the Project for Public Spaces Power of 10:

‘The idea behind this concept is that places thrive when users have a range of reasons (10+) to be there. These might include a place to sit, playgrounds to enjoy, art to touch, music to hear, food to eat, history to experience, and people to meet. Ideally, some of these activities will be unique to that particular place, reflecting the culture and history of the surrounding community. Local residents who use this space most regularly will be the best source of ideas for which uses will work best’.

So with this ethos in our minds… off we set.

Museum Gardens
In terms of the Power 10+ Museum Gardens probably comes pretty close. There are destinations, like the Yorkshire Museum. The Hospitium and St Mary’s Abbey. It is a place for spending time. There were couple and groups of young people sitting on the grass. Popular at lunchtimes for sandwiches ‘before you have to go back and be an adult’ as one us said. You can buy Ice cream and tea/coffee. It was being used by a lot of parents of young children. Free – no entry fee – and you could choose where you wanted to be as there are quite a lot of different kinds of spaces. When we were there the Owls on display were drawing a crowd. Beautiful planting ‘gardeners are miracle workers’. It was also remarked that it always felt Clean – no rubbish or dog poo. Although it is a destination, it is also a route through, ‘as a local, I use it as a shortcut’. Close to bus routes. It is also close to other destinations such as the Library and the Art Gallery. It is shut over night – what difference does that make? one member of the group asked.

Reflections on comparison with Castle Gateway’s very own Tower Gardens: grass recovers more quickly at Clifton because of the sun and, to carry on the Trees debate, one member comment and was supported by another: ‘the Trees need a good trim’.

Exhibition Square
Exhibition Square was full of people using the Café No 8 tables outside the Art Gallery. The benches were full and people we perching on the sides of the fountain. There was an ice cream van doing brisk trade. It was noted to be a ‘space to look at – don’t want to stay here’. This as felt to be about the traffic noise – could there be planting, shrubs and screening to take the edge of the traffic noise off? It’s a bit like ‘sitting in a motorway having a cup of tea’. However, we spotted a very good view over towards the Minister. The Fountain was thought to be ‘little people friendly’ (there was a four year old with their hand in the fountain) but ‘you can’t let the children do anything because of the road’. In the group there were good memories of the York picture trail. One ideas was to think of these different spaces as ‘outdoor rooms – that we can do different things in’. Could the foreground of the square be used for children’s games?

Outside the front of the Minister felt like a temporary tourist space, people were sitting down but ‘it feels like a waiting room’ as one of the group put it. The low wall on the edge of the war memorial, an asset for perching, but few go inside to the war memorial, possible because it was too shaded.

Dean’s Park
Dean’s park was full of couple and families with young children running around. Noted by a member of the group as another good lunch / sandwich space. You can sometime get ice cream/tea and coffee, though not on the day we went.
One member of the group said they liked the atmosphere ‘sense of time and history’ and that it was a ‘quiet space’. Another said, ‘It is like being in the garden of the minster’. Another noted that there were ‘Lots of trees, like an arboretum’. Unlike Museum Gardens this is ‘not as much as a thoroughfare’. ‘Feels like there is pride in this space’. There was a man, possible homeless sleeping. Like Museum garden’s – and unlike the public spaces in Castle Gateway – this is also shut at night.

St William’s College area
Outside St William’s College there was more testimony to the need for more benches, all packed, and to the power of the perch as the area has some excellent perching opportunities. Cafes had tables with people sitting out. It is not itself a thoroughfare but is near a busy pedestrian throughfare of Goodramgate. Noted by the group as ‘one to come back to for somewhere nice to sit’.

In front south side of the Minister
We came round to the other side of the minster the steps were full of people sitting, though it is a wind tunnel. Buskers on the piano was ‘creating an atmosphere’.

St Helen’s Square
In St Helen’s Square, the Glass Caves were busking and drawing a crowd. The square seats were packed full, even though the old planters have started to act as bins. It was noted by one of the group as being noisy. Cars pull through some times and even though is a footstreet the space is still designed as if there is a road there: ‘the space is about the cars and not the people’. Why are there little fences around the tables Harkers and Carluccio’s. ‘Other than alcohol culture what other options are there?’ There did seem to be a power of 5 or so at work here: post office, cafes, shops, buskers, soon the Mansion House…

St Sampson’s Square
The benches of St Sampson’s Square were all full, no perching options. Morris dancers were getting ready: ‘could have a wall, make the most of the perch and createe a busking auditorium’.

Parliament Street
A theme developing, in Parliament Street the benches were all full. Are the trees in the right place? Is there enough choice between sun and shade There is a mix of shopping, no niche. It is a bike park. There is a lot of Pedestrian movement. Good memories of when Parliament street is taken over the events Yorkshire Fringe, St Nicks. Last year charismas market ‘there was no need to go to Bruges, York nailed it’. Though another described the same fair as ‘sheds of shit’.

Final thoughts:

Not just Locals + Tourists, what about the regional catchment
A member of the group noted that York is not just locals and then tourists. There a large regional catchment. One member of group grow up in Ripon and York was a big day out.

Public art
Could be do better street furniture that works with local distinctiveness.?

Café culture option in the evening
We need other options. Fossgate shut off to traffic at night, can we reclaim the streets.
You didn’t used to be able to get breakfast but now you can – will there be a similar change for early evening non-alcohol options?

And the Power of 10+
The busiest of the spaces probably had 5+ things going on – which any new public space in Castle Car Park will probably need to achieve to be really successful. Those spaces like Dean’s Park and outside St Williams College which have most in common with Tower Garden’s work better due to more benches and better grass and perhaps not being quite so much a thoroughfare route as Tower Garden’s is…

But if the Power of 10 is perhaps not quite required more activities are still better and, anyway, it is clear we need to plan for the opportunistic perch in Castle Gateway.

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