I've been becoming increasingly annoyed by changes for the worse being done as local government policies (by both the County Council, with their notorious bike ban (I don't like to use its official designation of ``pedestrian zone'' as they'd like to allow buses through it -- it appears to be not so much for pedestrians as against cyclists), and the City Council with their ``Environmental improvements'') in Cambridge City Centre, and think it's time to write down what I think would be better. These ideas should apply equally well anywhere where a large university resides amid ancient streets with beautiful buildings -- I believe there are many such places in Germany, for example. However, I'll take the example I know, so anything place-specific in here will be Cambridge-specific.

The problems


The first problem I notice with the City Centre is that it's far too crowded (both with shoppers and with tourists) for comfort, and the corresponding problem with the local government policies is that they want to ``revitalize'' it, that is, pack yet more people into it so yet more money can be taken by the people they're most interested in representing (who, interestingly, are largely working for branches of national and international chains, and not really local businesses at all).


Tourism itself isn't a problem; the large number of people not looking where they're going and not bothered about how much they inconvenience people who've got things to do is a problem.


Access by cycle and by car is being steadily eroded, but I, and many others, don't like the crowding of buses (as it has been said, ``full of people smelling of wee''). Bikes are banned from the City Centre, in favour of jaywalkers; on-street parking is moving steadily outwards so what would have been a 5-minute trip to a cashpoint becomes a 25-minute trek.


Both practical and aesthetic problems are caused by vandalism, litter and noise by young people hanging around in the City Centre with very little to do -- presumably it is in some sense ``the place to be seen'' for those for whom being seen means a lot.

My suggested solutions

Some simple changes could improve both the pleasantness and ease of use of the town for almost everyone (except for a few with vested interests which they serve at the expense of others; I suppose I should be concerned for them, but I'm not concerned to help further their pursuit of their selfish interests).

To crowding

To crowding by tourists

Since it seems unlikely that tourists can be educated into being responsible users of public places; crowding by tourists is by now so bad that I'd be happy to see measures that many would regard as draconian: a start would be for all Colleges to close their gates to tourists, and to stop leasing buildings to tourism-related shops.

A further measure, that could also reduce some of the traffic problems (particularly on Silver Street, to the west of the bridge), would be to ban coaches from some distance from the centre.

Even better than that would be for the university and its colleges to buy some crucial streets (I don't understand the technicalities of changing a public road to a private one, but it is possible -- the council did something like it to Lion Yard on behalf of the shops, so they could lock the poor out at night) to keep tourists out of them; defusing the tourist trade would, I expect, be enough to open the door for the return of civilization to Cambridge. The streets that would make most difference, I think, are King's Parade, Trinity Street, and Silver Street, creating a central area combining a ``campus'' environment with commercial research and other educational organizations moving in.

Access to these streets could then be limited to those having a non-sightseeing purpose; perhaps tourists could be allowed in in limited numbers, or with a warning that they are allowed in on the understanding they will not get in the way of people with something to do.

To crowding by shoppers

To reduce crowding of the centre by shoppers, the simple answer is to move the shops away from the centre. There are two parts to this:

  1. Provide more shopping facilities near where people live. This also reduces problems of accessibility. It is covered by a reasonable interpretation (probably the intended one) of objective #1 in Cambridge City Council Transport Policy.

  2. In the city centre (where access is limited by narrow old streets) replace shops by research laboratories and offices, making, in effect, a science park near the university, which could be in the considerable interests of the companies and somewhat in the interest of the university. Labs and offices may employ quite a few people, but don't typically have large numbers of people wandering in and out of them -- at least, not on anything like the scale that shops do. As it is, some companies have already moved fairly near the centre of Cambridge, largely, I believe, because of connection with the university. Probably the best-known of these is Olivetti Research Ltd on the Old Addenbrookes site.

    This could be just as good for the local economy as the tourist trade that it displaces... but I doubt that local government would support it, as it benefits intelligent people more, and unscrupulous people less, than the present arrangement that they seem so keen to extend.

    A pleasant side-effect of this is that it might reduce the University's tendency to build ugly new buildings on some of its sites, such as that classic disaster the dysfunctional Seeley Library, the new Law Library, and the back of the Judge Institute of Management Studies on the Old Addenbrookes site.


Moving general shops nearer to where people live will improve their accessibility. Spreading out the shops people which people don't often need might in some ways reduce their accessibility, but then, they're already fairly awkward to get to if you're going to buy anything large or heavy or fragile to carry.

Making cycling easier and more convenient, rather than trying to clamp down on it as the County Council are currently trying to do, would improve accessibility. (This is covered by reasonable interpretations of objectives 2 to 5 of Cambridge City Council Transport Policy.) For those coming in from outside town (such as myself), park-and-ride with secure cycle storage rather than buses would be useful -- buses don't necessarily go where you want to.

Aesthetics of public transport and its accessories

One thing that puts me off using the bus into Cambridge is the sheer unpleasantness of Drummer Street Bus Station... sometimes I've thought on a Saturday when I've had to go into town, of going by bus, and then thought ``Waiting in Drummer Street for the bus back? Yuck!'' and that has tipped the balance against the bus, and I've driven or cycled instead. And the moral of that is: If you want people to use your public transport system, don't make it so unpleasant that people will prefer to avoid it!


How about giving young people something to do near where they live (thus also addressing accessibility problems)... or do they specifically want to make a noise near the people they resent for being more capable, industrious or fortunate? And if so, why be so PC as to go along with them?

One possible objection to this is ``But doesn't this lead to ghettos / townships of the poor and boorish?''... to which a counter-question is ``What's so good about putting two mutually antagonistic parties together repeatedly?'' I doubt that it's going to help them to ``understand'' each other any more than it has in the past 600 years!

Another argument that is sometimes put forward concerning this, is that mixing students in with townies, rather than having a separate campus area, is that it reminds the students about real life... as if hordes of consumerist shoppers so stupid they can't even cross a road without special measures being taken on their behalf are in some way more ``really alive'' than students... imagine putting a hundred students (good mix of backgrounds and subjects) in a ``desert island'' situation, and a hundred consumer idiots in an equivalent situation (same natural resources) on another island, and guess which will stay really alive for longer!

John C. G. Sturdy
[John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 22:12:57 GMT Daylight Time 2007