Sunday, 23 June 2013

Laid Back Sheffield

Over the last few days we have travelled around northern England. We have been to Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, York, Bakewell, and Port Sunlight. It has been quite revealing to learn about the city of Sheffield in its surrounding setting. If there was a ranking for these places visited, Sheffield would actually be quite high on the ranking. The busyness of Leeds, the depression of Liverpool, and the barrenness of Bakewell bring us to understand the country in which Sheffield sits, and for those cities at least, Sheffield is much more inviting
However, the city of Sheffield is not without problems. Over the last week, I have encountered four beggars- two on the university campus, one at Arundel Gate, and one at a pedestrian underpass crossing. There was a recent news article about a man who was clubbed to death in broad daylight.
This does not detract too much from the city though.

Ecclesall Road is a beautiful shopping strip that is an almost perfect blend of Bendigo and Melbourne, with the Endcliffe Park and the Botanical Gardens displaying an English style well sought after in Australia. There is a healthy mix of local and international businesses, though there are way too many Starbucks!
Ecclesall Road

There is a laid-back air about Sheffield not quite so apparent in other cities. Apparently this dates back a while, and there are many references to display this, perhaps due to the (comparatively) high bargaining power the skilled workmen possessed.

An 1840 pub song, "The Jolly Grinder", begins by rhyming:

 "There was a jolly Grinder once,
Lived by the river Don,
He'd work'd and sang from morn to night
And sometimes he'd work none;
But still the burden of his song
For ever used to be -
"'Tis never worth while to work too long,
For it doesn't agree with me!"

The easy-going, ale-drinking, industrial mindset of Sheffield's past continues as more than a ghost of yesteryear. As a result, being in shops is often quite pleasant and the culture of customer service far more inviting than in places such as Liverpool. Perhaps it was the weather that caused depression from the shop owners in Liverpool. They rarely had a smile on their face. Being the second most important port in the British Isles, perhaps having a high turnover of people over the centuries meant more caution in friendliness?

Now that it is nearly over, I am torn between the prospect of returning home and the thought of continuing on. Britain is really quite similar to Australia in culture, however I don't really have a desire to be here during the harsh winter. But there is certainly a lot Australian cities can learn from Sheffield, including using multistorey development as the mainstay of shopping strips, as opposed to the spread out single-storey development in Australia. And their bus system is actually alright, compared to the grossly underthought bus systems in Victoria.
- Terence Bell (Bachelor of Urban, Rural and Environmental Planning)


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