What makes a city? It should have its own song, its famous people,
an airport, a port, a metro system, a prominent tower, a shrine, a
distinctive bridge. Jonathan Glancey listed these possible attributes
in his talk to the Society at our AGM on 23 April. On some of these
matters our town would be struggling to match his expectations!
But the audience soon warmed to this entertaining and humorous
approach, a teasing way of making us consider and appreciate the
identity of Ipswich. Mr Glancey, The Guardian s architectural
correspondent, travels the world and knows only too well that both
towns and cities are continuing to lose their unique characters in
the face of multi-nationals, chains of shops and toothless planning
authorities - particularly the case in England, he implied. He has
lived in this area for a few years now and knows Ipswich quite well
but, as he put it, he can't find the streets where the independent
shops are. Those of us who shop here regularly do know where the
independents are but there aren't very many and they are scattered.
A clip from the 1960's film of Fore Street (made by the Society's
Don Chipperfield) was a reminder of what has been lost.
However, Mr Glancey's keen professional eye has spotted some real
positives. He enthused over one of England's finest collections
of medieval churches, so splendidly restored and adapted for new
uses. Like the City of London churches they are jewels which can
juxtapose strikingly with modern buildings. St Mary at Quay, he said,
will look even finer when the buildings around it are complete, and if
the Star Lane and Key Street traffic could be curbed! He praised the
redevelopment of the Dock which is already contributing more urban
glamour despite the delays caused by the recession. And as for The
Mill, there should be a viewing platform and cafe at the top of its
23 storeys. He also praised our fine and numerous parks.
He commended the Society for helping to make people appreciate
Ipswich's special buildings, in some cases saving them from damage
or demolition. But finding appropriate uses for them is a different
matter. In a great city like Bordeaux local planning laws ensure that
shops in the city centre retain their uses and character. In England,
we must fight for the character and individuality of our towns.
Very topically he referred to Grafton Way, "a site that could have
been anything we wanted". Instead it will house yet another Tesco.
Mr Glancey's talk to us was witty but it contained the equally strong
message that Ipswich should take pride in being itself, assert its
own glamour and aim to be, if not a city, "the best county town in
England", and all of us, particularly members of an organisation like
our Society, should work hard to make this happen.
Cover, issue 180