York’s city centre is renowned for its exceptional wealth of preserved heritage, and yet remains an ever-evolving city.

Piccadilly, York Central, the Mecca Bingo site, Foss Islands Road, the removal of Queen Street bridge ... just a few of York’s ongoing city-centre redevelopments.

But do we too often focus on redevelopment as simply changing individual buildings, sites or street layouts?

Do we operate in a ‘silo’ mentality, and fail to ‘join up the dots’ of how the city might best be transformed and experienced as a series of interconnected places? Indeed, have we lost the art of ‘vision’-thinking for York?

Such questions are timely.

City of York Council is developing a York Movement & Place Plan. It aims to "identify how best to balance the needs of streets as travel corridors and as places where people live, shop, go to school and enjoy their leisure".

For it to succeed, however, it needs to embrace successful placemaking as well as combating the city’s ‘movement’ issues.

Two of York’s pre-eminent thinkers on the city’s future shape were the prominent local politician, J.B. Morrell, and Lionel Brett – the latter better known by his title, Lord Esher.

In his 1940 book, ‘The City of Our Dreams’, Morrell outlined a vision for York that would also greatly inform the even more radical – and largely unadopted – 1948 postwar plan by York Corporation.

Morrell’s vision was dramatic. It included widespread demolition of buildings within touching distance of the city walls’ external ramparts. Why? To better present the walls - and free up space for an inner ring road!

But he also had fine ambitions for Exhibition Square and the area around Clifford’s Tower as high-quality civic spaces; two locations in York that still require a substantial rethink.

Esher’s ideas for redesigning York's city centre featured in his 1968 Government Report called ‘York - A Study in Conservation’.

He targeted rejuvenating York by making the most of its heritage and yet making it a working city for a modern age. A small amount of pedestrianisation – a cutting edge and controversial idea then - clearing of poor-quality housing and dirty industrial businesses within the city centre, and generally thinking of how York might be experienced as a place to live and work in were at the heart of his vision.

Both men operated at a time when York welcomed, or at least was prepared for large scale change; a more confident age, perhaps.

They also built on a Victorian and Edwardian tradition of bold interventions and redevelopment of the city centre.

Two examples are the creation in the 1830s of Parliament Street as the principal market area in the city, and the making of Duncombe Place through the clearance of Little Blake Street in 1859-64.

Both resulted in a huge loss of medieval housing that we’d now consider utterly charming and highly conservable, which changed the character of the spaces and sacrificed some of the historic street layouts that had been established since the time of the Vikings.

But they vastly improved the function of the city economically, by strategically connecting and creating open spaces, and, with Duncombe Place, improved the setting of The Minster.

One strength of Morrell and Esher’s visions is their consideration of redevelopment in human terms: how people might experience spaces, and not simply the architectural qualities of buildings and spaces being created.

It’s a simple concept, but so often overlooked - especially when tempted to primarily find traffic solutions to aid movement between spaces.

But is a traffic solution really a successful solution without also improving the quality of the places it connects?

Consider the new ‘frontage’ scheme for York Railway Station, for example.

It provides fabulous opportunities to reshape how people arriving by rail access the city centre, to see their route as a space they move through, experience, and engage with.

How might a transformed Rougier Street and area along North Street lead them to a more pedestrian-friendly Ouse Bridge, and then, say, to Clifford’s Tower as part of the Castle Gateway project?

Equally, how can improvements to the public realm and access in Lendal, Coney Street or Exhibition Square interact with people arriving via a route using Scarborough Bridge and the Museum Gardens?

We’ll each have different visions for the city centre’s redevelopment. But there’s merit for us in following Morrell and Esher’s lead in considering how such changes will be experienced, enjoyed, and interconnected.

Dr Duncan Marks is the York Civic Trust's civic society manager