24 Hours in the Life of Coney Street, Pt 2

Morning deliveries on Coney Street

If you’re a York resident, you’ve probably walked down Coney Street: the focus of our StreetLife workshops with York Civic Trust. But do you experience Coney Street throughout the day? For our opening workshop, we wanted people to think from morning deliveries, to daytime shopping, and evening leisure. We wanted people to consider other users of the street and identify how differing needs might be handled successfully. ‘Public realm’ was our topic, but to avoid that dull term, we framed it as ‘24h in the life of Coney Street’. We took ‘public realm’ to mean all publicly accessible space on the street.

We posed the following questions to our participants, and Stephen Lee Hodgkins captured the answers in visual minutes with his amazing doodles.

  • What do you find distinctive about Coney Street today?
  • What aspect of the public realm would you prioritise for improvement?
  • What challenges do you identify in meeting the needs of multiple users of the street?
  • What would you like the experience of Coney Street to be for the next generation?
'Visual minutes' from a StreetLife workshop by Stephen Lee Hodgkins

The last question is really important for us. We focus on the heritage of Coney Street; heritage plays a huge role in creating characterful, distinctive places that people want to spend time in. It is key to revitalising the street for the future.

So, what do people think about the current Coney Street, and what do our workshop participants want to see for its future? Here are a few key points:

  1. Look up! It’s interesting up there!
    Coney Street has distinctive architecture, but you need to be looking above the ground floor levels to notice it. The clock at St Martin’s is a particular landmark feature. Amongst York’s historic streets, Coney Street may not be top-rated, but when compared to other UK high streets, its range of architectural styles does have historic character. Perhaps us residents are getting a bit used to it all...
  2. Coney Street is a thoroughfare.
    This came up in conversations time and time again. We walk down Coney Street to go somewhere else, we’re passing through, or going to a particular shop and onward. But we don’t stop, sit, pause, on Coney Street. It’s not a destination. In fact, there is nowhere to stop and sit on Coney Street. But people would like there to be. Participants speak about Coney Street becoming somewhere to spend time with seating (indoor or outdoor) and entertainment for children.
  3. Coney Street is full of large retail units... and it’s suffering because of it.
    The walls of our public realm on Coney Street are shops. And at the moment, many of them are empty. Unlike other streets that have attracted more independent retailers to smaller units, Coney Street has, in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, been dominated by larger high street chain stores. With less demand for this size of retail space, Coney Street is starting to look a bit drab. Participants suggest smaller units might be the way forward.
  4. Isn’t there a river back there?
    You can’t see it, you can’t hear it, but, yes, the Ouse is there. Opening up access to the river is a top priority for participants. This links to making Coney Street more of a destination. People are keen to see Coney Street with something fun to do, social spaces, seating, and signage - as a minimum - to direct people to the riverside.
A StreetLife walking tour.

Many thanks to all our wonderful participants for your contributions, and for so neatly predicting our second workshop, which is called... Back to the River!