Monday, 20 February 2012

Living in the City Centre

In the blog post about 'opportunities' for Bradford City Centre, living was identified: "There is some living in the city centre already, many buildings in the ‘Goitside’ area are unoccupied, as are many floors above the shops.  Given the housing waiting list figures, the general shortage of housing in the city – there is scope for the city centre to provide more housing in the long term and for facilities such as health centres to have a presence in the city centre." - The issue hasn't been explored much in this blog, but it has until now.

I tried to think about reasons people choose to move somewhere, so I took the imaginative step of Googling "reasons for choosing a place to live" and going straight to the first page that came up.  The idea is then comparing each of these reasons with what is happening Bradford, an amazing concept right?

Public Transport Links
The city centre scores very highly for this, it is one of the main reasons why myself a seasoned public transport user, chose to move here.  Pretty much all of Bradford district is linked by bus, as well as areas around Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax, Dewsbury, Wakefield.  The train links to Leeds and the Aire and Wharfe Valleys are frequent, and trains to Manchester aren't bad either.  

Links to motorway networks 
I'll take this to mean motoring in general.  Its a non-starter to have a car in the central apartment blocks, but is possible in Little Germany and other peripheral areas.  City centre living is unlikely to be as popular in the UK as other countries, not only because of the whole 'there's no culture of it here' thing but because of how car dominated our society is.
Bradford rooftops
Travel time to your workplace(s) 
This is linked to the above two points, if you work in the city centre, then great.  If you work near the centre or somewhere in Bradford its not bad as everywhere is easy to get to on the bus and you're generally going away from the flow of traffic.  But, the economic focus is very much on Leeds - if you work in Leeds City Centre, then its great to get the train in to work though watch out for overcrowding!  If you work to the east of Leeds City Centre or near the motorway, then its not ideal.

School Catchment area 
It would take a massive change in culture and a massive investment in central Bradford to make living around the centre an option for families, but soon there may be no choice.  Most apartments are too small for children and there's a real lack of play space.  It would be possible to be within good access of a good secondary school, but Primary provision may be more problematic.

Proximity to neighbours 
City centre places to live are high density, so there's not much getting away from neighbours.  The way many of the flats are designed aren't very neighbourly, i.e. you don't have a front garden space where you might see your neighbours.  Plus, the population is very transient and so finding that sense of community would be some way off.  This is probably linked to the above and the lack of settled families.

Woolston Warehouse, Grattan Road

Do you prefer to buy a house in a bustling town or out in the suburbs?
In a country where living in the heart of the city isn't really something that most people aspire too, the city centre probably loses out on this count.

What amenities (gym, shops, local pub etc) would you like to have close by? 
Amenities are a big selling point of the city centre.  There are lots of different places to buy food in the market and other specialist food shops, but these don't open 'out of hours', there is Morrisons in the centre which opens quite restricted hours and then the 24 hour Tesco on the edge of the centre.  Fashion retail is quite limited but public transport to other nearby cities is easy enough, until we get our shopping provision improved!  The city centre has a range of pubs, there is scope for this to be improved, but this needs more people to live and work in the centre.

This comes down to personal preference and potentially you could have brilliant views of rooftops, amazing listed buildings and even be able to see out to the moors.  Conversely, you might just be able to see straight into other buildings and on to a service yard or busy road.

Desirability of the area
This is perhaps the biggest challenge to living in the centre of Bradford.  Its a challenge making living in the centres of Manchester and Leeds to be something to aspire too.  It would take an massive change to both people's perceptions and the image of Bradford, as well as actually changes to crime rates, schools etc to ever make Bradford desirable.  Places like the Goitside area (Thornton Road / Sunbridge Road) are ripe for residential lead regeneration, but there's the matter of the red light district being there.  A high number of well paid white collar are unlikely to come to Bradford any time soon (perhaps in the long term), the creative sector isn't likely to be a hugely significant generator of jobs - so there would need to be significant investment in the city centre to make it an attractive place for the 'bright young things' to live as a commuter destination.  The low property prices, coupled with an upsurge in the evening economy and independent retail could help, but this needs a whole lot of work.

Gatehaus, Bradford

Off Street Parking
Kinda already covered this in the motorway bit.  Bike parking tends to be overlooked in most developments, it wouldn't do most people harm to cycle out of the Bradford bowl everyday!

In the short term, a whole lot of work needs to be done with the authorities, property owners and businesses to help make Bradford a bit of a cooler and more desirable place.  In the longer term, there needs to be massive investment in schools in the centre, a change in planning policies, the promotion of family housing via larger apartments and the provision of green space and play space, massive investment in public transport to foster a change to our car dominated society.  Then, just then, might city centre living be a long term solution for everyone!

I noticed the website I consulted missed off quite an important issue (!), the price.  As  mentioned in desirability - low prices and a good range of things to do might meet in the middle in Bradford's favour.  The price is something I'll look at next time!

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