HERE'S a poser for you. Should York try to be more like New York?

It was a question children from primary schools across York were batting around earlier this week with all the glee of Eoin Morgan smashing another six against Afghanistan.

Of course York should try to be more like New York, said Emmanuel Oyeniyan from Westfield Primary, donning a hat sporting a mini Empire State Building to ram home his point.

Have you ever been to New York? he asked his schoolmate Hania Dudek. "It's a marvellous, bustling city. I think York should be more like New York. Then it could be new New York. York - except new."

"No, no, no!" responded Hania. "It certainly should not. York has its own history and its own character."

But New York has so many great new buildings, pointed out Emmanuel. "And it was chosen to be the base for the UN!"

Hania remained unconvinced. "But New York is so much younger!" she sniffed. "With age comes wisdom..."

York Press:

Should York be more like New York? Emmanuel Oyeniyan and Hania Dudek of Westfield Primary can't agree...

Welcome to the annual primary school public speaking competition, staged each year at the Merchant Adventurers' Hall by York Civic Trust.

On Wednesday night, children from 11 primary schools across York came together for a grand head-to-head to debate the great issues of the day: with a £25 Waterstones voucher and a beautiful obelisk trophy designed by York carver Dick Reid up for grabs.

With one exception, they debated in pairs. And they had a range of topics to go at, including is York safe for cyclists? Which are the best York buildings of the last 100 years? And 'If you met a Roman centurion today, what parts of York would you show him?'

But it was that question about whether old York should try to be more like New York that sparked the liveliest debate.

Luke Fewster and Aziz Thamer from St Lawrence's both agreed that obviously York was a much better place to live than New York.

"But our teachers said we have to talk for five minutes, so we will have to give you a long answer!" said Aziz cheekily.

That answer took in the massacre of Jews at Clifford's Tower in 1190; the placing of traitor's heads above Micklegate Bar ("I'm glad it's not like that any more!" said Luke) and a comparison of the relative merits of the Empire State Building and York Minster. "Imagine what it would be like if they swapped!" said Aziz.

York Press:

Building swap? Luke Fewster and Aziz Thamer from St Lawrence's

But York was safer, less polluted, less congested, and not so loud or brash, the pair agreed. "So should York be more like New York?" Luke asked. "The long answer is no!"

Annie Smith and Ruby McGuiness of Dringhouses Primary agreed. It might be cool if York could get its own Statue of Liberty, Annie said. But York's Harry Potter connection trumped that, both agreed. "Diagon Alley is based on Shambles!" Annie proclaimed.

The Naburn Primary pair reached the same conclusion. OK, New York had skyscrapers, yellow cabs and was the city that never sleeps, admitted Florence Anderson. But York had its history, said Amy Farmer.

Both cities suffered from long traffic jams, the pair agreed. "But at least we're not surrounded by towering skyscrapers when we're stuck in them!" said Florence. Touché.

Several children tackled the thorny issue of just which parts of modern York a tour guide should show to a Roman centurion visiting from the past.

"Roman centurions? You don't see many of them 'roaming' around York," offered Jack McCardle of St Wilfrid's. "Get it?"

His schoolmate Gabriele Conde groaned. He'd probably want to see the porta principalis dextra - the ancient gate into the Roman fortress which was roughly where Bootham bar now stands - she said loftily.

Good idea, said Jake. There was an ice cream shop nearby. "Italian people like ice cream!"

Gabriele looked at him witheringly. "The Ninth legion was Spanish!" she said.

York Press:

Gabriele Conde and Jack McCardle of St Wilfrid's

Nola Fleming and Oliver Kettlewell of Robert Wilkinson Primary agreed that their Roman visitor would probably enjoy a day at the races (Romans loved chariot racing, after all, Oliver pointed out), and that they'd also enjoy a visit to the NRM, the Minster and, of course, the Roman Baths. Afterwards they could take him to see a film. Gladiator, of course. Or perhaps The Eagle, the story of what happened to the Ninth Legion after it disappeared into the Scottish mists and never came back. Great idea, said Nola. "We could ask him what really happened!"

Eleanor Laird of The Mount School took on the part of the visiting centurion - while schoolmate Lucy Roddis was the guide showing her around. A visit to see the dinosaur footsteps at the Yorkshire Museum, lunch in Shambles, a quick call on the Roman ghosts in the basement of Treasurer's House and then a visit to Common Hall Lane, the ancient lane which runs beneath the Guildhall, were in order, Lucy decided. "I'm sure I recognise Common Hall Lane!" Eleanor said. "Wasn't it a Roman road?"

Debates over, the consensus in the audience was that the young orators had done much better than the Tory leadership hopefuls on the BBC earlier in the week.

Sheriff of York Dafydd Williams agreed. Public speaking was a great skill to have, he said. "I've made a career out of sounding as though I know what I'm talking about! You were all fantastic, and I'm very excited about the futures that you're all going to have."

This being a competition, there had to be a winner, however.

There was a special award for Emily Hawksworth from Lord Deramore's, who soldiered on with her presentation about York's best modern buildings all on her own after her debating partner had to pull out at the last minute.

Head judge Darrell Buttery then revealed the top three schools in reverse order. In third place, Jack McCardle and Gabriele Conde from St Wilfrid's. In second, Lucy Roddis and Eleanor Laird from The Mount.

And the winners?... Florence Anderson and Amy Farmer from Naburn.

"But you all did a fabulous job tonight," Mr Buttery said. And so the children did.

York Press:

CHAMPIONS: Amy Farmer and Florence Anderson of Naburn Primary receive their trophy from Sheriff of York Dafydd Williams


Could York be the most environmentally friendly city in the UK?

Of course it could, agreed Isla Gordon and Kit Thomas of Poppleton Ousebank School. The city was already doing quite well on cycling. But today's generation had a responsibility to the future to do more. That meant more Park&Rides and more encouragement for cyclists to reduce pollution - and a campaign to make York a palm oil-free city. Unsustainable palm oil was leading to massive deforestation around the world, and putting at risk wild species like elephant, orangutans and tigers, said Kit. The solution? To encourage York businesses and supermarkets to sell only products containing sustainable palm oil, said Isla.

We also needed to reduce plastic use, argued Ava Medley and Charlie King of St Paul's. "We have milk every morning in our coffee and out our Weetabix," said Ava. "So let's bring back the milkman! Sign my petition afterwards!"

Is York a safe city for cyclists?

Short answer, not really, said Alyssa Shearsmith and Casey Mayes from Burton Green Primary. There are far too many dangers, the pair agreed: careless motorists, congested streets - the risk of getting your bike wheel stuck in a drain and falling off. Helmets, hi-vis clothing, and greater safety awareness would all help. But was York really safe for cyclists? "People have different opinions," Alyssa said. "The debate is ongoing. But our opinion is that it is not safe enough."

What are the best buildings in York of the last 100 years?

The night's biggest round of applause (and a special award) went to Emily Hawksworth of Lord Deramore's School, who bravely went on stage alone after her debating partner had to pull out at the last minute due to illness.

Emily listed the main stand at Knavesmire, the new and old campuses at York university, the Hiscox building and the Aviva HQ as her favourite modern buildings in York. And she made a telling point.

When they were built, Clifford's Tower and York Minster would both have been modern marvels, she said. So some time in the future, perhaps some of the buildings we are putting up today might be the Clifford's Towers of the future.

Well said, Emily. That's a challenge for the designers involved in planning York Central...

York Press:

SPECIAL AWARD: Emily Hawksworth