Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Outside The Box in Sheffield: Steel City Revisited

Avoiding the Royal Wedding dzn_A-Very-Modern-Royal-Wedding-by-KK-Outlet-1 with Republican friends in Sheffield, it was pleasing that the city has moved on from what Jan Gehl would probably have called an “invaded city” - one where a single use, usually car traffic, has usurped territory at the expense of the other uses of city space. Now, Sheffield is taking steps towards being a reconquered city – “where the powers that be are working to find a new, up-to-date balance between the uses of the city as meeting place, marketplace and thoroughfare.” station 1P1060937 This means a city centre that is connected, legible, and more attractive for pedestrians. The railway station was formerly a lay-by off a thundering stream of traffic. Now, an impressive stainless steel water feature shields pedestrians from the traffic, now tamed by narrowed carriageways and responsive pedestrian signals for crossing the road. station 2 P1060977 When last I was in Sheffield, for a Living Streets annual conference, I gave the leader of the council Jan Wilson (who has, sadly, since died) a hard time because of the appalling pedestrian experience, starting with the station. I was sceptical about the changes which she promised were in the pipeline – wrongly. Sheffield has been transformed for the better. Cheese grater P1060979 The policy doesn’t always add up - Sheffield continues to increase its car parking provision, sending out ambiguous signals to motorists with new multi-storey car parks which seem to say “Drive Here.”  But there’s a free bus which loops around the city centre, and the people who walk are treated to poems on the side of buildings – a poem by P1060935 former poet laureate Andrew Motion adorns a Hallam University building, one of three poems found on buildings: Roger McGough has a poem on the glass of the Winter Garden, while verse by Jarvis Cocker adorns the side of student flats near London Road.
walk P1060978
Which brings us back to where we started - the station, as featured in What If…? by Andrew Motion.
O travellers from somewhere else to here
Rising from Sheffield Station and Sheaf Square
To wander through the labyrinths of air,

Pause now, and let the sight of this sheer cliff
Become a priming-place which lifts you off
To speculate
What if..?
What if..?
What if..?

Cloud shadows drag their hands across the white;
Rain prints the sudden darkness of its weight;
Sun falls and leaves the bleaching evidence of light.

Your thoughts are like this too: as fixed as words
Set down to decorate a blank facade
And yet, as words are too, all soon transferred

To greet and understand what lies ahead -
The city where your dreamling is re-paid,
The lives which wait unseen as yet, unread.

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