“Is this what we want?”

While walking through Leeds city centre yesterday, something kept popping into my head.  It was a question: "Is this what we want? is this really what people want our country, our cities our urban life to be like?"  And even if it is, how would we know?  And if it isn't then what can I do about it?

I think it was mainly inspired by the contrast between the huge municipal and commercial edifices from the 19th Century, the glass and steel of the latest 21st Century builds and then the horrible concrete blandness of the stuff that sprung up in the time inbetween.  It's not a direct criticism of Leeds, all of the cities I've visited in the UK have some element of it.  And I'm not sure it's entirely a criticism either, it's more like unease.

Of course new forms in our cityscapes are created primarily by whatever the current dominant economic force is.  And I'm not nostalgic for Victorian times, but I couldn't help thinking, especially as I sat in the Tiled Cafe of the City's Art Gallery under a bust of Dante and facing one of Homer that at least the Victorians seemed to care a bit more what it all looked like and what it meant.  And, well, I suppose I'm not that keen on the idea that it's the modern equivalent of Mill Owners who have the most say about what goes on in our public and commercial spaces, even if the Mill Owners themselves seemed to have done not too bad a job.

I think we're just seeing the beginnings of the emergence of a desire for more interaction in all areas of our lives.  The interactivity of the web and the way that social media have created two-way streets where once there was only broadcast, together with the mobile devices we use to interact with each other are all raisng our expectations about having a voice, having a real say in things, not just being consulted, but being iinvolved in co-creation.  And the design of the high street and city centre and the uses to which those public spaces are put should be as much up for grabs as anything.

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous