Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Leeds corn Exchange closed

The Guardian has noted the ongoing attack on diverse shops in the UK in the recent closure of Leeds Corn Exchange which is combined with demonisation of alternative subcultures from local authorities. (See previous post on this.) It doesn't mention the recent moves in Glasgow, Camden Market or Bristol though. There has been a massive protest about the plans:

Experts ask: 'Is Leeds going in the right direction?'
Yorkshire Evening Post, UK - Dec 18, 2007
"The Kirkgate Market and the Corn Exchange are both icons of the Leeds landscape, truly unique results of the city's history. The plans currently tabled for ...

Save the Corn Exchange
Effectively Leeds Corn Exchange now forms part of a property portfolio of one of Zurich’s .... Sign a petition to Save the Corn Exchange in one of the shops ...

The contract by the new owners Zurich Assurance banning Goth/Metal/fetish shops is an amazing new low especially considering Leeds was at the forefront of establishing goth back in the 80s:

Guardian - Comment is free: Exchange or refund

This month's closure of Leeds Corn Exchange is the latest blow to be struck against individuality in the name of regeneration.

The shopping centre - whose independent traders specialise in alternative fashion and curiosities - is being turned into an "international food emporium" by its leaseholder Zurich Assurance and the traders have been given until January 14 to leave.

The firm has yet to secure new tenants but promises a huge range of upmarket foodstuffs, plus a branded "statement" restaurant.

It claims the changes are essential to recoup £1.5m of refurbishment costs but traders suspect their wares and clientele - students, teenagers, goths and emos - are surplus to requirements in shiny, regenerated Leeds.

Last year the youths who loiter outside the centre were threatened with dispersal orders and asbos, and shop contracts specifically ban the sale of gothic, pagan or fetish clothing or accessories.

The surrounding Exchange Quarter is the centre of the city's vibrant alternative scene - gritty, grubby and full of cutting-edge nightspots, vintage shops and tattoo parlours. Elsewhere, the bland chain stores, dull chain bars and prestige department stores reign supreme. The evicted traders are struggling to find new premises in the booming city, where rents have leapt fourfold in a few years and vacant units are in short supply. Some will quit Leeds, while others are looking for jobs.

The plans have prompted some to question the direction of Leeds' regeneration and the squeezing out of quirky, independent shops and those whose lifestyles don't fit the norm.

Similar things are happening in other cities, where individuality is being crushed by profit-driven big business, intent on sleek, gentrified spaces and products that attract the "right sort" of consumer.

Quiggins, a legendary Liverpool hippy emporium that was home to 50 stalls, fell victim in 2006 to a massive regeneration scheme linked to the European capital of culture preparations.

Campaigners in Birmingham are fighting the planned closure of the Fiveways Centre - home to a progressive publishing company and a Fairtrade music venue - by its owners Mars Pension Trustees.

The future of Manchester's bohemian Afflecks Palace is uncertain. Stallholders have been in limbo since their leases ran out in June and any hike in rents - on what is a prime site - could put many out of business. London's Queens Market is also fighting for its survival.

Critics claim Leeds is on its way to becoming a soulless "clone town" peopled by wealthy yuppies and corporations - and with few spaces where citizens of all classes, ethnicities and ages can mingle. Their fears are compounded by plans to redevelop the city's Kirkgate Market.

In an open letter, 14 academics specialising in urban regeneration warned the drive to open exclusive retail centres is stripping away its character. They wrote:

"Gentrification by its very nature actively works against efforts to narrow the gap. It also erodes what is left of the public realm.

In the obsession to compete with other cities, to go up a league and be the Barcelona of the north, Leeds is in danger of simply becoming a 'clone city', a place like anywhere else.

And a clone town promotes clone people. As the city changes shape, there is a real danger that it actually narrows the type of people that it attracts."

Their warning should be heeded by other cities, where corporatised developments continue to suck the life from independent enterprise and leach away individuality.

The key to effective regeneration must be safeguarding a town's uniqueness, public spaces and sense of local identity - and small businesses are a vital part of that. This, surely, is exactly what makes many continental cities so special.

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