Sunday, 22 March 2009

A city outing

Susan and I celebrated the coming of spring yesterday with an afternoon outing. We didn't go to the countryside or a city park. Instead, we caught the L12 bus to Hyson Green, so that we could visit the New Art Exchange (NAE) Building and take a look at some work Nottingham City Council is doing on Waterloo Promenade, which is between The Forest Recreation Ground and Radford, from where we could walk home.

The L12 is a subsidised 'Local Link' service which only exists thanks to the City Council. It runs hourly Monday–Saturday between Nottingham University and the City Hospital via the Queens Medical Centre in Lenton, the Jubilee Campus, Hyson Green and New Basford. It one of those bus routes which, with a little tweaking and an increased frequency, I am sure would be far better used. Apart from one student, we had the bus to ourselves all the way to Hyson Green.

It was off the bus at Hyson Green and onto Gregory Boulevard, where NAE is located. It only opened in Autumn 2008 and looks very impressive. I'm not sure if I like its dark appearance. It makes Hyson Green Library (to the left in the picture) look neglected and tired. To its right is Hyson Green Community Centre which is of a similar age to the library and also looks in need of attention and care.

When we went into the building just after 2pm we were the only visitors in the reception area, where we had a coffee and that is how it was until we left some ninety minutes later. On a dry and mild Saturday afternoon I was expecting to find NAE bustling with folk.

Perhaps the reason why NAE was so quiet was in the fact that there was only one temporary exhibition. Floating Coffins, Saphir & Middlesea, which had started on 6 February and run until 19 April 2009, are all by the same person, Zineb Sedira. The first is a twenty minute multi-screen 'installation' with hanging speakers, about breaking up ships on 'Saharan shores', whilst the other two video films are 'metaphor(s) for cultural crossovers' and explore abstract memories of Algeria and the sea journey made on the way to a new life in Europe. Floating Coffins was atmospheric and engaging. The secret of the intallation's success for me was not in the long lingering, static, images but in the sound of the sea and the wind. Without the images I would have still conjured up a windswept, desolate, beach. The video films didn't little for me, despite some clever moments. I am presently on a 'video and film editing' course at a local college, so I have a better appreciation than I had before of what film makers are trying to achieve. One view which hasn't changed has been with me since I was in my early-twenties: if the artist or film maker has to write long notes to accompany his or her work, then they have already failed. At best, a paragraph or two should be enough.

If this exhibition was to run for a month that would be long enough and given NAE's limited exhibition space (one large gallery on the ground floor and a small space on the first floor), they should be aiming to hold more than four exhibitions a year. We will be going back again to see their next exhibition, which starts on 2 May 2009.

We left NAE and headed for Waterloo Promenade and were passed by a tram as we reached our goal. There would be no tram ride for us today. It has just celebrated its 5th birthday and still no news of whether the Government is going to give the go ahead to a further two lines to the south and west of the city centre. In fact, the public enquiry held last year has still to publish its findings.

We turned onto Waterloo Promenade and headed west towards Radford and Alfreton Road. This section is wide and lined with large Victorian houses, which overlook a corridor of green and trees. Most of the houses are in a poor condition and some are empty and have metal shutters over the windows and doors. In London, the Promenade would have been gentrified years ago. What is it about Nottingham (and Derby for that matter, where you can see the same thing around its Aroretum Park) which sees good housing in prime locations such as this in the hands of absentee landlords?

Waterloo Promenade is cut in two by Southey Street and would not know from this view, looking east towards The Forest, that many of the houses were neglected and, in some cases, boarded up? But there is good news…

… for across the road, the western section of Waterloo Promenade is in the middle of a makeover, with new paths being laid and the roadway getting some attention. As you can see, it is a very long terrace of smaller houses on this side, many of which look run-down and in need of attention.

We were prompted to make this pilgrimage because Nottingham City Council has begun 're-generation work' which was declared a 'conservation area' in 1969 and has an Article 4 Direction on part or all of it (an A4d protects the outside appearance of each property). Unlike our own road, Devonshire Promenade, it looks as if the A4d has not been enforced. And the fact that after forty years there is still no 'Area Appraisal' or Management Plans tells you just how lax the council has been in protecting this wonderful piece of 19th century Victorian townscape. But, a start has been made, so we will see what happens next. I wish I could say that we left Waterloo Promenade feeling happy and uplifted. Of course we didn't. It pains me to say it, but it has to be said, Nottingham City Council will have to do a great deal more, and quick, if it wants me to have any confidence in its ability to manage and care for the city, its heritage and its long neglected neighbourhoods — which takes me nicely onto my last pic of the day…

… which is of a boarded up shop front on Alreton Road. I recognise the image from a print by Jamie B Edward (, which has been put up 'The Neighbourhood Regeneration Company'. The Radford and Hyson Green areas have had tens of millions spent on them, yet they still look tired and neglected. The sad truth is that Waterloo Promenade is the norm and reflects what much of Lenton looks like as well — no part of Nottingham's inner-city yet sets a standard for other areas to aspire to. As we made our way home to a cup of tea and slice of cake, we reflected on what we had seen and the fact that for most of the time we were alone, except for the occasional pedestrian who passed us by. When we crossed main roads, we saw lots of cars, almost certainly occupied by passengers and drivers who gave no thought to streets and scenes they would never choose to linger in.

Despite the gloom, it was an afternoon to remember and we saw enough to encourage us to repeat the experience in a few months time.

Councillors with political stickers on their cars have been banned from parking at Nottinghamshire County Hall, West Bridgford, in the run-up to summer elections.

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