King’s Square in York unveiled: Welcome to Milton Keynes!

A forlorn protest – the cobbles are gone in King's Square
25 Nov 2013 @ 9.28 am
| Opinion
A forlorn protest  – the cobbles are gone in King's Square
A forlorn protest – the cobbles are gone in King’s Square

chris-titley-headshotDoes a clinical makeover of one of our public squares really “reinvigorate York” – or ruin it, asks Chris Titley?

Barriers around the King’s Square improvement works have come down, giving York its first glimpse of the repaving and remodelling.

Having walked past the work being undertaken every weekday since it began, I know the care and craftsmanship that has gone into laying the new square.

And as a long time advocate that York should be allowed to grow and develop – not be preserved in aspic like some giant museum piece – I really hoped that the revamp would work.

But it hasn’t.

True, much of what has been taken away had no great historical significance. But what it did have was character. York character.

Yes the cobbles were uneven, yes the cart track was untidy. But what is York, if not a jumble of untidy bits of history coming together to create a uniquely charming whole?

For all the quality of the materials used, now what we have is a modern, uniform, clinically tidy space which would look perfectly at home in Milton Keynes.

But wow, it doesn’t sit well in York.

Cycle tyre tracks across the square
Cycle tyre tracks across the square
The ribbon of Tarmac: soon to be replaced?
The ribbon of Tarmac: soon to be replaced?
A view from the raised platform
A view from the raised platform

The shiny new, brutally geometric path alongside York’s Chocolate Story and other shops clashes badly with the old cobbles that lead into Shambles.

And here is another worry. Once you embark on this sort of piecemeal, disjointed “improvement” work, where does it end? Because to some reforming eyes, the shiny new King’s Square will now make Shambles look unbearably old and tatty by comparison – so will it be next for “regeneration”?

Not everything about the reconstruction is bad. It has opened up the square and the removal of some of the unnecessary clutter helps with that.

Although this openness may bring with it its own problems: the square is now a perfect cycling shortcut. On Monday morning I witnessed a man ride across the square from St Andrewgate to Shambles without a care in the world.

I realise the square’s shiny newness will weather in. But no amount of rain or frost will soften the hard lines and sharp corners.

And hopefully, the ugly ribbon of Tarmac connecting the old raised area with the new paved section will be replaced.

This completes phase one of the King’s Square makeover. It has been finished in time for the St Nicholas Fayre this week as promised. The second phase, to reconstruct the road, will take place next spring.

In total the council is spending £490,000 from the £3.3 million Reinvigorate York project on King’s Square.

On today’s evidence, this is the municipal equivalent of a 50 year old businessman buying a shiny Harley-Davidson to alleviate his mid life crisis.

That’s my twopenneth spent. YorkMix is open to all opinions. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.


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