IMAGINE you could have a hand in designing the new neighbourhood that you were going to live in.

What would you want it to be like?

A drab series of self-contained apartment blocks with not much in the way of public space and almost no street life at all?

Or a proper community, with shared spaces, corner cafés, meeting places, pubs, bars, shops, and streets that are friendly and buzzing?

The former is what we so often get in modern urban housing developments where the developer's eye is firmly on the bottom line.

The latter is what a growing number of people would like to see on at least part of the planned York Central development.

Next week, as part of the first ever York Design Week, some of the proponents of that 'new' way of building communities (what they call 'co-owned neighbourhoods') will be hosting an open discussion about how it could be achieved.

They have invited along key members of the York Central Partnership - the group behind plans to redevelop the 109-acre former railyard and carriageworks site behind York railway station - as well as city councillors, architects, developers and others interested in the future of York.

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York Central from the air. What kind of 'neighbourhood' would you like it to be?

But the event, at York St John College from 4-7.30pm on Thursday October 24 , is also open to anyone who wants to get involved in the discussion. Because the whole idea of the 'co-owned neighbourhoods' concept is that it is about ordinary people taking back control, says Phil Bixby, the York architect who is one of the driving forces behind the event.

Too many modern developments are built to the lowest common denominator, he says - small flats packed into small spaces, with little communal space, and little in the way of gardens or community facilities.

But by taking back control - by investing in and 'co-owning' a development - local people could help to change all that.

It is the kind of model that is already being pioneered in York on a smaller scale by the housing co-operative Yorspace.

Yorspace is planning to build 19 permanently-affordable and environmentally sustainable new homes at Lowfield Green in Acomb. To help finance the £3.5 million development it has launched a £475,000 'ethical investment opportunity' which offers a 2.5 per cent return on investment, and a stake in the new community.

A similar approach was used by the Headingley Investment Trust in Leeds to raise almost £500,000 to improve the Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre and to invest in bringing empty buildings back into use.

But could such a model work on a larger scale at York Central? It will, after all, be one of the largest brownfield construction sites in Europe - a £100 million-plus development that will create up to 2,500 homes, a commercial quarter offering 90,000 square metres of new office space, a public park, an extension to the National Railway Museum and much more.

There is no reason why not, says Phil, a leading figure in the My Future York movement which ran the My York Central consultation last year. In fact, a desire for something different, for a community created through genuine engagement, input by local people and exchange of ideas, was one of the things that came through loud and clear during the consultation.

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Phil Bixby

So what might such a community look like?

That would depend on what the local people who invested in it wanted, says Phil. But it might include housing that is affordable and environmentally sustainable; neighbourhoods that include public meeting spaces, arts and craft centres, corner shops and cafés; 'mixed use' developments that combine living spaces above with space for workshops and start-up businesses below; and streets that prioritise people - and places to hang out and play - over cars.

There is plenty of time for such a concept to work itself into the detailed designs for York Central, he stresses.

Outline planning permission has been given.

But that is very broad brush. The details of the design and location of the housing, the communities, the businesses and public spaces which will grow up on the site, will be determined by the more detailed 'reserved matters' planning applications which will be lodged in future.

With the whole project still waiting on approval of a £77.1 million bid for government Housing Infrastructure Fund cash, there is still time for a committed group of 'co-owners' to influence how it will all shape up, says Phil.

"Ideally, we would like to work with developers so that there is some aspect of co-ownership across the York Central site," he says.

Ian Gray, the project director for the York Central scheme, is very much open to that.

The outline planning consent that has been given for York Central stipulates that there should be different types of tenures, including community-led developments and/ or self-build housing, he says.

"We want to be looking at new ideas, rather than just sticking to the same old way of doing things. So we need to have a really good debate about all of this, and make sure that we think about better ways of doing things."

  • Co-owned neighbourhoods on York Central, discussion session, 4-7.30pm Thursday October 24 in the Holgate Dining room extension at York St John University. Entry is free, but by ticket only. Places are limited. To book, visit The event is one of more than 35 events taking place during York Design Week.


Fancy nurturing an acorn so it grows into a young oak sapling to help 're-tree' York? Or how about helping to build an alternative version of the city out of paper? Or joining in a big debate about how to solve the big issues of the day?

Well, then York Design Week is for you.

Over eight days, from October 23-October 30, more than 35 events will be held at locations across the city.

The idea is to harness the 'inner creative' inside all of us, so that we can turn it towards helping to shape, improve and better understand the city we all live in, says Rebecca Carr of Kaizen Arts Agency, one of the founders of York Design Week.

There is something for everyone, she stresses - young, old, child and design geek alike.

There are sessions on community-led housing (including the 'Co-owned neighbourhoods' discussion highlighted above); on building better play spaces for children; and on how to harness the grass-roots power of ordinary people to challenge traditional top-down ways of doing things.

There are exhibitions of classic engineering; of work by modern artists; and of the power of design to improve lives. And there's even a ghost hunt with a difference.

The ultimate aim, however, is to get people - all people - thinking about their lives, their community and the environment in which we live, says Rebecca.

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The team behind York Design Week. Rebecca Carr is second left

There is a whole generation of young people who, until Extinction Rebellion, did not feel engaged with the way society was run, Rebecca says.

"We want to bring people together, make them more engaged, and give York residents a chance to feel part of things."

A full York Design Week programme is available at Here are a few highlights:

  • Grow! At Snowhome design shop in Gillygate and Spark York throughout York Design Week. Snowhome and York Design Week will be distributing 246 acorns so York people can germinate their own own oak tree at home this autumn. And why 246 acorns? "In 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono sent 123 ‘Peace Acorns’ to world leaders with the message: 'Enclosed in this package we are sending you two living sculptures - which are acorns - in the hope that you will plant them in your garden and grow two oak trees for world peace.'" says Rebecca. Enough said...
  • Brass, steel and fire: an exhibition at the National Railway Museum, October 23-October 30. Meet the ordinary people who, fascinated by innovations like Rocket, transformed their kitchens into makeshift workshops and crafted extraordinary machines entirely from scratch.
  • York Paper City, October 23 - October 30, Spark York. Join the York Architectural Association at the Platform Gallery at Spark to 'create York as a Paper City'. "From elaborate skyscrapers to landscaped gardens, York Paper City is an interactive, collaborative installation where we can let our imaginations roam free."
  • Yorspace at Shambles Market, Saturday, October 26, 2-5pm. Join Yorspace and the Lowfield Green Housing Co-op and on the Shambles Market to learn about the community share offer, and their current housing project.
  • Anna Manfield: An Invitation to Play, Sunday, October 27,12-2pm, Spark York/ York Castle Museum. Designer Anna Manfield's workshop invites children to come and design their own play space. Suitable for ages 5+, children must be accompanied by an adult.

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The 'Invitation to Play' workshop with Anna Manfield