York – so scared of change

The Press, a couple of months ago, included an interview with City of York Council leader James Alexander. He expresses a view I’ve heard many times before and which maybe many years ago I would have agreed with.

‘The fear of change is a cultural problem in York, he says – and not only in the city, but in parts of his own council, too. “The biggest change that the city centre has seen in years is the demolition of some toilets,” he says, referring to the former ‘splash palace’ in Parliament Street. “You can see how difficult it is to get things done.”
The Press, 4 May 2012

Never changes round here. We’re all unbelievably backward. I’ve just come back from washing my clothes in the Bur Dyke with bits of ground-up weeds, and dyeing them with woad. The honest god-fearing yokels were hanging about in the fields talking about the local squire’s latest suggestion. It’s taken two months for the news to reach Clifton. We were all struggling but now a great leader has come to save us and show us the way. I thought I would record this on some parchment. If only I knew how to write.

. . . . .

Only joking. It’s 2012, and I have history books, and the internet, and access to archives. And years of observing this city and its cultural problems, and people attempting to ‘get things done’.

How lucky we are to have our understanding enhanced by historical perspective.

Mr Alexander’s predecessors on the council, a couple of centuries back, removed bits of the city walls and would have happily carried on demolishing, in order to ‘improve’. No doubt the council’s men then were making equally patronising comments about the dumb locals and their resistance to change.

That’s a while back, so how about more recent ideas to improve York. One of the local authority’s finest ideas was to have one of those vast inner-city ring roads cutting right across Bootham. Just about here, where beech and chestnut trees grow at the edge of Bootham Park hospital’s grounds.
If only we’d not been so resistant to change.

That fear of change is also known as ‘preserving the assets’. It’s why the leader of the council and his colleagues have so many handsome backdrops for their ‘York 800′ celebrations.

There are many ways of seeing. James Alexander sees only demolished toilets and feels frustrated. I see constant change, constant evolution and adaptation, centuries of it.

Much of it the product of the efforts of ordinary people, either individually or collectively. Small-scale, making up the fabric of the place, giving the texture and detail and interest we all love so much.

. . . . .

I’ve run out of space on the parchment, and so I’m going to stick this message in the trunk of a hollowed-out tree, on my way to milk the cows up on Clifton ings. After that I’ll just sit about waiting for news from the squire. I’ve heard that a building in the city, near Pavement, has been taken down. But nothing else has happened.

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on www.yorkstories.co.uk. She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
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  1. Andy Tuckwell

    Beautifully put! This page, alongside your support for the under-appreciated Victorian buildings, makes me hopeful that York will be properly looked after. I just hope the councillor in question reads it – I think he should. Perhaps you’d like to comment, Mr Alexander?

  2. YorkStories

    Can’t claim to be looking after York, but glad that we have so many organisations and individuals who understand the place and do so much to protect and enhance it in so many ways.

    Your appreciation is appreciated Andy. I doubt James Alexander visits this website – the tedious ramblings of an old crone from Clifton.

  3. Andy Tuckwell

    Well I was hoping that York Councillor James Alexander Googles his own name from time to time, and might find his way here! (Paging York Councillor James Alexander…)
    This reference is not in the first 20 pages of hits yet. I wonder if it will be now?

    (and I’m not sure where to find the rambling old crone either!)

  4. YorkStories

    Don’t want to get into an argument with Cllr Alexander Andy, still dealing with the legacy of the famous ‘York Stories Turf Wars 2012′ (!)

  5. Stephen Clark

    I think that change is more noticable when you have been away from York for a long time. My wife and I were born and raised there but left for Australia 34 years ago. We have been back a few times and when we walk up Layerthorpe or Fossgate/Walmgate the changes are quite dramatic.We are returning for a holiday in 4 weeks so no doubt will discover more of unfamiliar York

  6. I’ve been stewing on that quote for weeks.

    “The fear of change is a cultural problem in York”

    If the people of York dont want ‘change’, then I thought his job was to represent this?

  7. YorkStories

    You’re right that councillors are supposed to represent us, but if you’re council leader I guess it’s different, includes setting ‘policy direction’, etc.

    Mr Alexander seems to have a lot of support from younger York folks, and I wonder if reactions to his comments above are dependent on age group. I realised a while back that different perspectives because of age affected my reactions to him and his approach – hence the comments above about old crones … ;)

  8. YorkStories

    Stephen, those areas you mention have certainly changed dramatically in recent years. The pace of change has slowed a bit because of the economic climate, of course, but I think there’ll be a quite a few noticeable changes since your last visit! Hope you enjoy your time ‘back home’ here in York.

  9. YorkStories

    I’ve just discovered the text of James Alexander’s recent Inaugural Mansion House Speech:
    which may be of interest as a follow-up to the comments quoted above. It’s a long page – search for the phrase ‘pace of change’ for the most relevant paragraph. The ‘cultural issue’ is here presented as a British one, rather than specific to York.

    Worth a read. Though I almost stopped reading after the first line, which repeats the rather misleading statement I keep hearing – that it’s ‘eight hundred years since democracy came to York’. I’m not an expert in political history, but I’d question that ‘democracy’ arrived 800 years ago? – women have had the vote for less than a century, and I don’t believe many people benefited from ‘democracy’ in 1212?

    Anyway, interesting to read the speech.

    • Oh dear, that link is now a 404!

      Also, perhaps, ‘self-governance’ would’ve been a better term.

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