The outlook seems to be slightly more rosy for Gosforth Nature Reserve following a very vigorous local campaign and some astute good work by supporters in exposing a rancid scheme to cement over Newcastle's Green Belt.
Hammering sounds drift down my street. The earliest of early Springs is here and the earth is moving.
Finally, after what seemed an age and at least four separate 'schemes', the old paint factory site is being prepared for building work to commence. In a way it's a relief. Now we (I?) can concentrate on what is coming into view rather than being plotted behind closed doors. I captured some of the activity, including, incredibly, a long shot of youths attempting to hold on to their precious piece of 'track' that had been their informal skate board park, while huge earth movers lumbered by them as in some dystopian fantasy film.
I doubt there would be much support for my own desire to see the site kept as open land, albeit with a purpose; skate boarding park, tree shelter belt and walks down to the Lower Ouseburn, coupled with spreading re-generation of old industrial and commercial sites to a variety of new uses. Instead a vast student city complex will rise up. It might be worse.
Hopefully the arrival of a large new population will encourage enterprises interested in cateing for the in-coming young people; two new supermarkets have opened in and around the district recently. I hope so. Maybe the field will interest some for it's potential as a free space. The more obtuse ideas planned for this piece of free land may not happen; the quasi-privatisation of urban green space delayed if not halted.
In any case I'll be watching, recording and reporting.
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.