In the basement-level car park behind Newcastle’s city library, you get an idea what the city might have looked like had the plans come to fruition. Service entrances open to the underground space from the library building while concrete ramps lead up to the pedestrian deck above. What Graham calls “vertical segregation” is this: the infrastructure, logistics and roads would be reserved for traffic, while pedestrians would circulate on decks and walkways above. “And straight up from that you have housing towers, or hotel towers, or office towers. This is a really complex three-dimensional piece of planning going on here,” he says.
We walk up the concrete ramp, entering what Graham calls the “walkway city”. Bewick Court, a 21-storey residential tower built in 1970, looms above a concrete deck and sits directly over John Dobson Street. It embodies a radically different conception of urban space to that of the classical sweep of Grey Street, barely a minute’s walk away - Guardian 2017,
Abandoned shopping precinct, a night club and a pool hall featured on a documentary about super strength MDMA. A knock-off brand store, scurried into Northumberland Street’s alcoves.
A network of footpaths connecting nothing up to nothing. Buses are ducking under where the people would’ve walked on the vertical plane. Now just ghost tracks in pen, on paper; pushing on into the past; future present dwelling in tents, deflating under the weight, lumped over, missing bones, red bricks, shops shut, gates locked, tin, paper, needles.
Bewick Court is the 19-storey tower block sitting atop a platform over John Dobson Street, elevated above street level on an 'upper deck' as part of the 1960s vision for 'the city in the sky'. The pedestrian walkways surrounding Bewick Court link up to The City Library with labyrinthine routes above, linking around the Blue Carpet and the Laing, and then over the Central Motorway to the east, other passageways leading to Northumbria University sites and various car parks. The Central Development Plan, initiated in the 1960s under T. Dan Smith's post-war Labour Council, aimed to separate pedestrians from traffic, carving out different points of access to the city on different planes, across different layers. A modernist city was envisaged separated into layers of transit organised through and by modernist architecture. The vision aimed to secure segregation of pedestrians and vehicles, providing for easy servicing to all shops, with car parking facilities on road level with pedestrians above on shopping decks.
These plans were largely unrealised, but remnants remain: some skywalks just abandoned, half built, or the ones here left in degradation, with their shops shut and gates locked. At best, now they provide necessary walkways over roaring motorway dips; at worst, these alleyways are grounds for criminal activity and vandalism, generally avoided; no longer a vision for a future but shelter for rough sleepers instead.
The undulating pavements over and across the motorway run into a dead end, where Manors carpark meets Swan House. The skywalks and platforms floating over the Blue Carpet and the Laing, across the motorway and over to the University on the east, snakes round as it meets the curve of the car park, intending to extend over and through the vortex of the roundabout. But, like some kind of concrete anti-climax, the pathway intended to reach the Tyne Bridge just... Stops.
Climb down stairs and meet the ground again.
Space was intended to be redesigned and recreated through the implementation of new layers of concrete, and in turn, new timezones, constructed too.
Time saved and time to spend, time directed on spatial planes: new drives, engineered libidos. Frictionless flows of the city assembling a new body-politic, a new desired subjectivity.
On our first INCURSIONS walk in November 2019, we visited the skywalks. We told the stories of streamlined, frictionless pedestrianisation; a city on stilts for those allowed up. A design for able-bodiedness, a flaneur, an idealised male subject. Our participants were disgruntled, understandably seeing these failed designs for elevated futures as segregational. I can’t seem to shake, though, this irksome preoccupation with something more psychic, more intangible: a confidence in a future, a drive now set dangling in formaldehyde.
Undulating roads, walkways, cars and bodies, a pram, a bunch of teenagers, some vertigo, the grandest Central Development Plan, and then some years without history.