Leeds – Rose-tinting the City

Locally-grown Guardian columnist Martin Wainwright used last week’s column to promote his  latest book “Leeds – Shaping the City

The article begins with the all-too-telling synposis that:

The recession may have temporarily halted Leeds’s innovative building projects – but its architects are planning bold moves when the money returns [emphasis added].

“Lord deliver us from architects and their ‘bold moves’ ” pleads Tiberius.

What follows from Wainwright is a near-ludicrously positive appraisal of Leeds’ current situation, in which he manages to characterise a housing and finanicial crisis as ‘breathing space’, makes no mention of the multitude of empty properties in the city, and posits the eyebrow-raising claim that Leeds still has a “a very diverse economy”. He also employs local knowledge bordering on the laughable (Note: Tiberius has never heard anyone refer to the Headrow as the ‘Hedgerow’).

You can forgive Tiberius’ cynicism when no less a critic than Richard Waite of the Architects’ Journal described the book as “little more than a PR push” and “an uncritical study of the regeneration of Leeds…peppered with unintended irony”. Tiberius recommends reading the (scathing) review in full here.

Waite opens with this charming scene:

‘Daddy, what was it like before the credit crunch?’ ‘Son, read Leeds: Shaping the City. Its pages contain the worst indulgences of short-sighted, boom-fuelled backslapping of 2007/2008 – a book bankrolled by pre-recession developers, high on years of untroubled success.’

Then goes on to say that:

Wainwright laughably claims the city’s ‘renaissance is neither shallow nor a bubble… [and] there is no shortage of people wanting to move in to live, work and spend.’

Before surmising:

Perhaps, in time, the book will become a valuable insight for historians trying to investigate the moments before the country plunged into financial crisis.

“Perhaps so” agrees Tiberius – but he can only re-emphasise once more that not everyone in Leeds has spent the last few years in such an uncritical stupour.

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