Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Byker from the back

Shields Road runs up through Byker. According to reports in the local media last year it was voted as 'the worst shopping street in the ..." U.K. or England. I can't say I remember or care. I like it.

Despite the fact that Byker was once a integrated community it was the subject of the kind of social experiment that became very popular among planners in the 60s and 70s, now the Empire had too few natives to expend their energies upon, an experiment that carved a dual carriageway through the centre of the district that ends up accomplishing little, but gave a fashionable architect (who made sure he didn't live there) a chance to win multiple international prizes for his 'Wall' (I presume a cynical play on Hadrian's Wall built alongside 1900 years earlier) and dislocate (de-house) thousands of people from basically sound homes that might easily (and have been) renovated to a modern standard for less money.

So then: Byker.

It intrigues me to wander about and note the incoherence that accident and neglect have brought that planning, detailed and much admired (by sociologists) sociological research could never achieve. A sense of place. The back ways, the unsuspected enclaves and pathways between settled estates with a hedge here and there and lichen covered trees. The back ways of comings and goings, small caf├ęs (caffs) that the smooth operators would shun thankfully. And then, suddenly a glimpse of a near copy of a highland railway line complete with rocky outcrops and fir trees.

Byker photographs here (off site link)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

News Feed

Garden birds: No more scoffing now

Last century someone had an idea to help a membership drive and raise useful funds. The idea was to get people to count birds in their gardens. It wasn't meant to be serious; more a fun way to enage with an audience. It turns out the audience was vast and increasingly this fun piece of public relations took on a new and perhaps deadly serious purpose. Out national bird populations were in steep decline.

Studies of farmland birds were turning into obituaries. Small birds were vanishing. Species that no one had much bothered with since there were so 'ubiquitous' had numbers dropping like stones into a gulf. Suddenly the amateurs with their notebooks and peanut feeders across the realm were promoted like some birdwatching Dad's Army into the front line of British ornithology. Bird counts taken in overwhelmingly urban and suburban gardens were vital. It also turned out to be tens of thousands of all ages and types of people who could also be counted on. No one was patronisingly smiling on granny and grandad's gnomes and bird table any more.

Birds are shifting into the suburbs as never before. Birds that never used bird feeders such as the brightly coloured Goldfinch turn up mob handed and breed increasingly across cities; a pair nested in a street tree outside HMV in Newcastle's teeming Northumberland Street three years ago. The nest was still there recently.

Switching direction very slightly, another fact intrigued me.

There is no more competitive and ruthless business than general and household retail selling on the British High Street. Large companies that get their business wrong go under – fast. It is not sentimental, nothing like Open All Hours. So why does Wilko's Byker sell so much bird food and bird food dispensers?

Typical: Wilko's sellers of quality bird food

Byker's Shield's Road was described by some journalist as possibly the worst shopping street in the country. It has about nine feet by over six feet (in old money) of shelf space devoted to many kinds of bird food and bird feeders, plain and workmanlike to fancy and ornamental. A cashier told me she had no idea there were 'so many kinds of bird food'. Does it sell well? "Oh, yes. Lots."

So why is 'possibly the nation's worse High Street' buying so much bird food? Because they care. In a tough place to live through Austerity 02, people yet have a thought (and cash) to put out bird food in this somewhat benighted and severely under rated inner city district*.

I am more and more persuaded that if protecting 'nature', as the valiant Save Newcastle's Wildlife group are attempting to do, means anything it must include more of this overlooked group, the bird lovers of the inner city. I also believe that the term nature conservation should itself be broadened to include more of the what some of the more serious minded would consider inconsequential to its purpose: The transient nature most of us meet with everyday. The rapidly diminishing Green Belt isn't all of it. Not by a long way.

*Photographic essay on Byker coming soon!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bubble or froth?

A Fallen Angel? From the article cited below.
It is a scene familiar to anyone who has walked around
Newcastle and Shieldfield in the past few years

Oh, dear! The news about the wave, tidal wave even, of speculative student dwelling construction, financed by off shore investor's and others, is not good.

More here;

The amount of such building in Newcastle in the last few years has been staggering. The need for social housing has not even been glanced at leave alone addressed. Instead, more and more schemes to build aspirational homes, frequently also bought by investor's continues. A salutary lesson in what happens when investment (sic) does just what it fancies.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hanging on

February is the month that paces up and down like an expectant father. Spring has not arrived; it puts in fleeting hints on the edges of days only now showing signs of lengthening, albeit, very slowly and some days hardly any movement by the clock. Winter hangs on. It snaps back on days of wind, sleet and rain. "I'm not finished with you yet." We may see more snow.

A portrait then of the Battlefield on top of the Lower Ouseburn here. (off site link)

I began by snapping the slower progress of the new independent cinema, the Star and Shadow's replacement on Warwick Street. A faithful band of volunteers and a small grant are beginning to make a difference. The opening  date – never a fixed objective – has had to retreat. Maybe later this year the lights will go on and the doors open. I hope so.

Around the fringes of the Battlefield more student housing has gone up. More rapidly to consume the speculative money on offer while the going is good and the students are still rolling in to the universities. It  could have been worse; it could also have been a lot more interesting.