Monday, September 22, 2008

Mean Streets Revisited

Today the news is all about the Credit Crunch and fears of a 'melt down' as one huge, vast even, financial mismanagement of the economy by bankers and financiers comes home to roost. In the light of this, development is a long way off for Battlefield. I now very seriously doubt whether the five hundred plus flats and apartments planned for the former paint factory site – is there a curse? – will go ahead. It is doubtful if the 'environmentally sound' offices due to be constructed on the old Reg Vardy car showrooms (see previous posts for images) will, either.

In some ways I am relieved. In others not so. (Quite apart from natural human decency in regardling the consequences for millions of people's livelihoods.) However, I would welcome appropriate development of the Shieldfield–Battlefield–Lower Ouseburn which respects the efforts that have already been made, enhances the character of the area and promotes a diverse useage. What is not wanted is a monoculture of rabbit hutch 'studio dwellings' and empty offices.

To continue ...

The route from Shieldfield to Stepney Bank, looking back towards Shieldfield. Just beyond the railway arch to the right is a pathway entrance to Battlefield Open Space. This area is rich in development sites.

One of the old, 19th century houses on Stepney Bank.

New build on Stepney Bank. The white painted building on the left is the home of Northern Print, an artist's printmaking workshop. Note the steepness of the roadway.

The bottom of Stepney Bank. The pale green ended building is a public house (pub) and beyond it is the entrance to Byker City Farm, one of the original pathfinder ventures in the Lower Ouseburn's regeneration in the late 20th century.

Another pioneer of the 'new' Lower Ouseburn was the Stepney Bank Riding Stables who have been providing opportunities for inner city kids to have access to horses and horse riding for decades. This view includes their marvellous new indoor facility (right). Peeping over the top of the nearest building is the 'staircase' of the National Centre for the Children's Book, 'Seven Stories', an important new cultural site in the region for book illustration and the celebration of children's literature. 

To come: More on the potential in the Shieldfield–Battlefield–Ouseburn area for a mix of open space, recreation, work and living.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A View from the Bridge

In recent decades areas of cities which were overlooked or simply remaindered by departed activities such as London's dock lands or New York's Tribeca have by master strokes of imagination been re-born as culturally exciting and commercially valued places for people to come and work, live and play. This model, whereby neglected commercial properties are given new life, often by arts based organisations, is so common today it is almost a cliché. However, when I once tried to enlighten one well fed member of the New Labour gravy train he bridled badly at the suggestion that his career in re-developing run down chunks of northern real estate with public money owed anything to 'perverts'.

What Mr 'Never Missed a Meal' failed to see was the essential creative background to city re-generation. His fat head was well stuck in the concept artists' aerial impressions of sweeping new zones spreading out across 'derelict' land which he paraded before the eyes of the credulous. The idea that there might be something there worth hanging on to – a history of place for example – was not on the agenda. Big vision means big profits, jobs on the boards of successful bidders and finally, retirement to the Caribbean where the sun always shines ...

Cities interest me. The great ones continually re-invent themselves, sometimes, as in Europe after 1945, by necessity, other times by the creative spur of a few less prejudiced minds. A good example of this is the Ouseburn, where already by the twenty first century some exciting initiatives had made an impact. Taken together with outlying areas there is here still a set of wonderful opportunities and challenges. In coming weeks I hope to celebrate this vision, one which depends on people, on a sense of place, of imaginative solutions to work, living and transport, one which enhances the environment rather than rolls everything up in corporatist ambitions.

First, some portraits of the place. These link together parts of Battlefield, Ouseburn and Shieldfield. 

Looking east at Portland Road. Battlefield Open Space lies beyond the trees at the bottom of the lane. This area is rich in development opportunities. Just to the right a set of offices, Maling Square, has given the area a new dimension.

Shieldfield Tower peeks over the Portland Road Halls of Residence. Just to the right, behind the shrubs is the southern extent of the old Berger Paint factory site, subject to a planning application for eight tower blocks of five hundred plus apartments. This road dips behind the re-developed building to the left. Part has opened as an Italian restaurant. Further down artists' and craftspeople studio spaces have been created. Other nearby businesses have had a face lift of repainted facades. The road leads beneath the East Coast Mainline railway a few yards away to Stepney Bank and onwards down to the Lower Ouseburn.

The railway bridges which are such a prominent feature of the Lower Ouseburn. The East Coast Mainline is on the left; the right hand tracks are those of the Tyne and Wear Metro light railway. A station was once proposed for this site and may yet be constructed. If so it would provide a very useful access point to the Ouseburn Valley and Shieldfield.

The area is rich in building land opportunities particularly for mixed use. Here the space on the left adjoins the new Maling Square office development. The building at the top of the photograph may well be re-developed as is or new build. Close by are a Chinese church and community centre and the locally well known Biscuit Factory commercial art gallery. There is also a large hall of residence here. This is a potential hub of Lower Ouseburn which together with a Metro stop could become a vibrant place to live and work.

A view of a new building going up just beside Stepney Bank. Many of the buildings down the steep bank towards the Lower Ouseburn are of some historic interest and reach back into the area's industrial past. Here there are stables and an artist's print workshop, Northern Print. Stepney Bank connects by an arch beneath the railway to Shieldfield. There is also access to Battlefield Open Space.

Coming soon: More images of the Ouseburn–Battlefield area and further thoughts on what makes the area such a special mixture of present experience and possibility for the future.

Ah! There goes Summer ...

The torrential rain has kept most of us off the streets and I am no exception. Here is one I made earlier, taken almost exactly a year ago it is proof the sun does sometimes put in an appearance.