John Baron over at Guardian Leeds is running an interesting poll
at the moment, asking about whether Leeds City centre is sanitised and sterile, whether we should welcome the development of yet more retail space in the city and whether Leeds should aspire to be the Knightsbridge of the North.
And I am genuinely surprised that the majority of pollsters seem to think that the ‘Knightsbridge Strategy’ makes sense….(NB the poll is still open so perhaps things will change).
As one who remembers when the Merrion Centre was new, and has seen several new developments ‘revolutionise’ the retail experience in Leeds, I am far from certain that they have helped to achieve any real progress for the city.
I can think of worse fates than to be the ‘Knightsbridge of the North’ – but not many.
It will commit us to a long term strategy based on retail infrastructure development and we will witness the ‘old’ centres going to the wall as newer, bigger more glamorous centres come to take their place. The centre of retail gravity will shift around the city as too much capacity fights for too little footfall.
Developers, planners and builders will be happy. So too will the politicians as they can keep announcing the ‘creation of new jobs in construction and retail’. And those of us that can afford to buy our way to consumption fuelled temporary contentment may enjoy it for a while, before the more or less inevitable existential crisis, or whatever we use to keep it at bay, eventually gets us.
When I am working with people on their personal and professional development I ask them three questions:
- What do you want to have?
- What will you do in order to have it?
- If you do that what will you become?
In the case of Leeds the answers seem to be:
- We want to have – A prosperous economy based on tourism and retail (finance may still be crucial but is no longer flavour of the month), creating lots of low paid jobs and providing a great playground for those with disposable income
- What are going to do so that we may have it – Pursue ever greater retail and leisure development projects. Allow our city to become a giant retail hoover to suck up capital from across the north and put it in the pockets of retailers and developers who can afford to play the game.
- What will we become if we do this – The ‘Knightsbridge of the North’. A northern simulacrum of a London suburb where the ‘haves’ can flaunt their wealth while the ‘have much lesses’ work the tills and warehouses and the ‘have nots’ are pushed out of sight. A city where the gaps between the rich and poor continue to rise, but GVA, like exam results, continues a relentless rise. Where we rely on trickle down and Victorian philanthropy to retain an air of decency.
Often with personal and professional development the secret to getting a better future is to start the process with question 3.
Then, ‘what we do’ and ‘what we have’ might just serve our dreams rather than sabotage them.
That is why it is so important that we get a Vision for Leeds that works for all of us in the city.