Saturday Night!: Exploring York’s Streets, Rivers and Public Spaces

Looking back into the bright lights of Saturday Night in York from King Staith

9:00pm Saturday 14th October 2017

Six of us gathered for the night walk, slightly concerned that it was a race weekend and the town might be full of unavoidable drunkenness. In the event the over-riding feeling was of emptiness – public spaces were generally quiet and under-used. It didn’t feel particularly dangerous and where people were drunk they were misbehaving harmlessly (insisting on karaoke with a busker’s microphone etc). There was rubbish everywhere though, and Coney Street smelled of urine (which it does pretty constantly now, though…).

In more detail:-
Minster Yard. The lighting is about right – the space is lit but no glare. It felt like a quiet place to stop – there were a few people perching on the ramp coping. The through cycle route had little traffic but there was discussion about how it worked during busier daytime. It functions well – cyclists avoid wandering tourists without fuss. There is plenty of width and the level transition to the surrounding paving means cyclists can plot a safe route. It was described as part of a “cycling inner ring road”.

King’s Square. It was described as “just like a proper European city” – people were using the benches and there was noise from the pub, but it felt safe and welcomed lingering. But there was no activity – the pub is prevented from putting tables/chairs on the square and apart from the benches/walls there is no infrastructure for people to bring and eat food. There were families around – this could be a family-friendly space. There was the suggestion of having shared tables/chair out in the evenings and persuading surrounding cafes and shops to try evening opening. During daytime buskers provide vibrancy to the space. They need room to perform but could tales/chairs remain with the right location – “cabaret-style” seating? Could there be local storage for tables/chairs as happens in France?

Shambles Market. Absolutely dead at night. Lovely paving sparkly lighting (as if night use was intended but never happened). Open feel and eye-level views made it an attractive space but there was no activity. Daytime use was felt to be borderline – apart from fruit & veg many of the stalls weren’t felt to be an attraction. Could we bring uses which could provide evening activity? Evening family theatre (as Martin Riley in Leeds Market)? Could we bring similar uses to those at (over-subscribed) Spark York – people who make and sell things?

Parliament Street
– “the fountain”. Comment – “it’s very continental having an outdoor urinal”. The fountain is the “popular” centre of York and a much-used meeting place but the quality and design of the structure is poor and it doesn’t even work. Could we have a proper fountain – Sheffield, Granary Square at Kings Cross, etc. A place for kids. The space is much-used during festivals but deserted inbetween – could there be better infrastructure to encourage casual use? Cycle racks were still full despite the time, and there was discussion about the all-day lack of parking. Could there be proper secure parking for commuters to free up street racks for visitors? Secure key-fob parking in Coppergate multi-storey?

King’s Staith. Fairly deserted apart from outside the Kings Arms, where the fixed furniture was in full use by drinkers. The route of the road discouraged use of the outside space by other pubs/restaurants. Pub has banned Stag/Hen parties.

Tower Gardens. Completely deserted (no through traffic due to Blue Bridge repairs). Comment that despite being a green space it didn’t feel like it – felt like “a wrong-shaped room with furniture that didn’t fit”. There is traffic noise and no focal point – the circular seating doesn’t work in use and there is nowhere else to sit. It doesn’t work at night but then it doesn’t work in the day either, people said. Area near the river doesn’t work – it’s muddy and trees/shrubs obscure the water. Could we pave the lower section (better access to the riverside – and Arts Barge – plus easier to clean after flooding, and gives an area for seating) and look at changes in level to better differentiate area which readily floods from the remainder. Any further flood measures need careful consideration. Could we use lighting of trees or light sculpture to make it feel more welcoming?

Eye of York. Completely ruined by the high-pitched sounder on the museum – evidence of complete failure of use of space. Buildings inconsistently lit. Space is short of variety of uses to attract people – daytime and night. Relationship between public space and new Piccadilly development needs thought – don’t want to simply be looking at the back of buildings.

Fossgate. Transformed by traffic modifications (although still some cars going down the wrong way). Street still has many parked cars and pubs unable – officially – to use the street due to licencing restrictions. Felt like an attractive, welcoming space – surfaces and buildings are interesting, lighting works well. Plenty going on and people on the street. Gathering on pavement wasn’t problematic as people are aware they can safely walk on the road.

Some thoughts:-
• Could we get one-off activities happening in underused spaces by working with adjacent businesses?
• Could we set up one-off gatherings in underused spaces by encouraging people to bring folding chairs and set up in the street or squares?

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