Thursday, March 1, 2012

Learning to plan Part II

I like dereliction.

So did John Constable, one of the 19th century's great landscape artists. He once wrote (in defence of his vision then so out of kilter with the accepted taste) -

"The sound of water escaping from Mill dams ... Willows, Old rotten Banks, slimy posts & brickwork. I love such things ..."

In cities the equation of dereliction to crime and even disease is simply made. Yet, the fact that such places exist and go on being recreated by a restless economy intent on consuming its own innards as it were, producing fertile ground for those whose means are perennially slender and tastes lean toward the frankly neglected and, or, unprecious. Le Bateau Lavoir in early 20th century Paris, Docklands in London towards the end of the century and New York's Greenwich Village post World War II, Berlin's 'artist quarter' latterly, may today be chic addresses for the wealthy; once they decidedly were not. I had these thoughts in mind as I continued my recent walk around Rye Hill in Newcastle's west end.

Reaching the foot of the bank that runs down from Rye Hill through Newcastle College's ever expanding campus, I was confronted by Jury's Inn, built a few years ago over what had been a car park and long before that, the old Cattle Market. A frightful prospect it is too. It took something like genius to squander the opportunity this magnificent site had going for it: A commanding position overlooking the Tyne Gorge and the western approaches to the city, it is also the first building one notices entering the city by train from the south. It is so trivial it is not even banal.

I turned away, attracted by the back streets. First I had to pass by the graphite coloured walls of the newest building on the campus.

Beside the newly built Lifestyle Academy (the worse feature of which is, perhaps, it's name) begin a series of back lanes and alley ways that sidle around 60s era commercial premises, characterised by that baldness of purpose, designed with a lack of any pleasing detail, that are the trademark of all trading estates everywhere. Many of these low yellow now red brick 'units' with metal roller shutters and close wire mesh over metal framed windows embrace a run down look they were always destined for, moreso for their misplaced confidence in the authority of gaudy plastic signage. Some of these 'business premises' are ear marked for demolition to make possible further expansion of Newcastle College. One old filling station and forecourt have gone already and the site is presently being re-developed for a new Sixth Form College.

Yet, I hope not all of this maze of time expired investment goes for re-development. In my mind's eye I see in this present neglect a chance to do something on the margins, where penniless creative talent lives. Following London or New York, I could imagine here clubs, bars even health and fitness centres, specialist food shops, and more besides, bringing life where today students take short cuts and the pigeons wrestle with gulls for bits of 'berger.

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