Given my obsessions with the urban environment, consumer culture and the wonderful everyday, there was no way I was going to miss first day at Trinity Leeds, the Biggest Shopping Centre Opening in Western Europe This Year, Creator of 3,000 Jobs Covering A Million Square Feet.
I almost chickened out when I saw queues stretching down the road approach to every car park I drove past as I entered the city centre, but luckily managed to squeeze in somewhere a mile away. Then sauntered through an otherwise unusually deserted central Leeds to join the pilgrimage to this latest Mecca of consumerism.
As I walked, I took advantage of unusually excellent connectivity to google the new centre and pick up Wikipaedian key facts and soundbites to impress family, friends and any roving reporters. In this way I established that a sizeable chunk of Leeds equivalent to thirteen football pitches has been missing from our inner topographical shopping consciousness for six years without us even noticing. Imagine that much land “disappearing” from a central, active, urban location without being aware of its absence!
And I was mightily impressed, despite my cynicism for all such things. I loved the arching glass megagrid and sense of real space and yet a feeling of connection and connectivity. It seems quite extraordinarily un-British in the way it seizes the opportunity to open up unfamiliar vistas and perspectives at every turn.
More fundamentally, I’m impressed by this contemporary architectural reference to Leeds’ amazing 19th century arcades, in turn quoting earlier continental arcades. I love the potential and scope for a contemporary form of 21st century flanerie and I genuinely think it adds something to Leeds. It’s not the first “new” arcade; the Light transformation did something similar, but it’s good to take these more interesting terms of reference and get away from the tedious and depressing “Leeds Look” of the late 20th century.
It’s reminded me of an interesting thing about Leeds. It’s not just another Northern city. More particularly, it’s not just another old industrial city of the North. For years, I was puzzled by the more domestic sense of scale, elegant city centre architecture and “small town” feel you find in Leeds, so radically different from Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, and Bradford. Then one day I happened upon a fascinating website, UKCities, which listed dates of incorporation. Scanning the 19th century cluster, I failed to find Leeds, and had to descend some considerable way down, to 1207 in fact, before I spotted it. I was intrigued by this discovery and thought that it explained much about the small town feel. Looking at the list of British cities of mediaeval incorporation, you find ones such as Wells(1205), Hereford (1189), Ely (673) and a whole series of county towns, earlier centres of administrative rather than industrial importance. Leeds acquired industrial strength during the 19th century, but was already a well established centre, and I think this goes a long way to explaining its unique character today.