Musings and reflections on Leeds city centre – housing, consumerism and ‘narrowing the gap’ #1

One of the reasons for writing this blog is to help me make connections between the apparently disparate aspects of my practice, so I can reflect them and develop new ideas and approaches to my work. This space for reflection is even more relevant following my completion of an MSC in Urban Regeneration and Development (at University of Manchester), which combines with my 25 years as an artist and performer.

On a recent visit to my old home city of Leeds (1994-2014), I was struck by the changes to the Eastgate area of the city centre and the building of the new Victoria Gate shopping centre. I find it interesting how change makes a place unfamiliar, replacing the familiar with the new and not yet known (which can feel unpleasant and unsettling or alternatively it can seem refreshing and exciting). This sense of the unfamiliar has an impact on urban inhabitants who already live in a place. Similarly, these feelings are all encompassing for anyone who has newly arrived in a city (as I felt when moving to Manchester).

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Personally I liked the individual independent shops that used to be on Eastgate, the knitting shop and the herbalist were places I regularly frequented and felt a loss when they went (especially as the products they sold were hard to find elsewhere). There has been much criticism of Leeds’ focus on consumerism in the city centre, with its focus on ‘high-end’ shopping experiences, and the displacement of smaller outlets and more affordable shopping – especially when considering Leeds’ social issues, ‘In sum, it is our view that it is simply impossible for Leeds to ‘narrow the gap’ as the city centre continues to become the exclusive playground for tourists, students, the wealthy and the professional business class.’*

*Hodkinson, S. and Chatterton, P. (2007a), ‘Leeds: an affordable, viable, sustainable, democratic city?’, The Yorkshire and Humber Regional Review, Summer, 24-26

Image credits: Sarah Spanton

1. Victoria Gate on Eastgate, 2. Victoria Gate on Eastgate, 3. Skyline Appartments, 4. Victoria Gate from Duke Street

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About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking - www.waymarking.org.uk
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