What makes a city or a town a great place to live? Architecture, history, setting? Career prospects and connectivity? Schools and seats of learning? Restaurants, nightlife, culture, community spirit, a lack of litter, the floral displays?
Whatever it is, York has more than most. It has been named the “best place to live in Britain” by The Sunday Times, which describes it as the “perfect mix of heritage and hi-tech” and a “mini-metropolis with cool cafes, destination restaurants, innovative companies – plus the fastest internet in Britain”.
The top 10 list for the North and North East also recognises Pateley Bridge (thriving High Street), Chapel Allerton in Leeds (up-and-coming), Malton (dining and family atmosphere), Skipton (happiest), Wetherby (slowly gentrifying) and Beverley (fine Georgian properties).
The ranking uses statistics and a panel to identify places “where everyone can thrive”. York beats everywhere else in Britain, which might be annoying if you want to move there. That’s house prices up again. And it’s already chocka at weekends. They can’t widen The Shambles.
Although, metaphorically, this is what has been happening. York has been chosen for bringing its rich Roman and mediaeval heritage right into the 21st century, without losing character or community. It’s the UK’s first “gigabit city”, with speedy broadband forging a new industrial revolution, attracting software designers, film and finance companies.
Other towns and cities must take note. Yet York – as anyone who lives there or visits regularly knows – is not perfect. The traffic is a challenge, although the park-and-ride has improved matters and more measures are coming. The hospital could do with a spruce-up, though, from experience, it provides a good service. Most of all, I wonder if more could be done regarding river safety. There are, in places, ineffective looking chain railings. I would lie awake worrying about the dangers if my child studied there.
But then, all places have their dangers and dark corners. Genteel towns across Yorkshire and the rest of Britain are increasingly home to a generation of young (and not-so-young) people who believe drugs are a way of life. Something must be missing for them. The internet makes it easier and quicker to get hold of anything, but not everyone is thriving because of it.
In our digital age, we should be cynical about online beauty contests, especially ones that divide Britain into 10 areas, each with 10 finalists. Those 100 places represent a huge number of valuable clicks.
York is a jewel, but we in Yorkshire already knew that. As we celebrate all that our towns and cities have to offer, we must not overlook what they do not offer to the vulnerable, the powerless and the discouraged of all ages. There’s a long way to go before we can describe any place in Britain – even the best place in Britain – as somewhere that “everyone can thrive”.