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.