Streets. Street, road, lane, drive, boulevard, thoroughfare, place, crescent, square or circus, whatever you want to call it I’m surprised no one has thought of doing a television series on streets; fictional or documentary. “I have often walked down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before, all at once am I seven stories high knowing I’m on the street where you live,’ the song from ‘My Fair Lady’ by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewes says it all. Suddenly the street isn’t just a street anymore but something entirely different. Maybe someone has done a series and I just don’t know about it but there must be a million fascinating stories waiting to be discovered.
The street where Maureen Walsh lives has the totally opposite effect of being seven feet high. What's it like to be the only resident on a road full of empty houses? Thousands of people have been left "utterly stranded" in desolate streets up and down the country because housing regeneration schemes have stalled. "I just feel really, really sad when I look out of the window," says Mrs. Walsh, who bought her two-bedroom terrace in Oldham with husband Terry in 1973. Opposite where a terrace once mirrored her own behind a wire-fence barrier, a single inhabited home of an elderly lady is propped up by the remains of its derelict, pigeon-infested neighbours, their gaping sides covered with tarpaulin. London Road in Oldham is just one of scores across England earmarked for demolition in 2005. It was part of Labour's ambitious £2.2bn project to breathe new life into neighbourhoods "characterised by dereliction, crime, anti-social behaviors and poor services" and blighted by "housing market failure". The Pathfinder scheme as it was called, initially in nine areas of England, was designed to attract private-sector investment to improve housing stock and increase demand. In places, it meant replacing terraces, said to be in low demand, with family homes with gardens and parking spaces. But eight years on, the scheme was reeling from the successive blows of the recession, the collapse in house-building, and public spending cuts.The current government wound it up with Housing Minister Grant Shapps branding it a failure - "bulldozing buildings and knocking down neighbourhoods... demolishing our Victorian heritage.” There is an old saying, “The way to hell is paved with good intentions,” and Labor’s constant “Ve haf vays of makink you do it” interference is typical. The failure of the scheme has left some neighbourhoods in limbo - including many householders who opposed the programme. Mrs. Walsh admits she was a "thorn in the side" of Pathfinder. While most householders moved out, she was among a minority who fought demolition in court.
In Liverpool, Toxteth's "Welsh Streets" became a Pathfinder cause celebre. Built in the 1880s and given Welsh names by builders honouring their homeland, the terraces hit the headlines thanks to 9 Madryn Street, birthplace of former Beatle Ringo Starr. I wonder if my Welsh grandfather, who built most of the old part of Prestatyn, had anything to do with the building. Where once children played, the streets are desolate. Metal grilles have replaced front doors, while bay windows are bricked up. Charities such as Save Britain's Heritage accuse councils like Liverpool of being too gung-ho on demolition.
A tiny proportion of streets in Rome are named after women, while nearly half are named after men - and it is a similar story in other major cities around the world. Outrageous sexism? A simple fact of history? Or both?Place your finger on a street map and it's far more likely to land on a road named after a man than one named after a woman. You may not have given it much thought, but Maria Pia Ercolini has. The geography teacher in Rome says her city's landscape is dominated by men and wants that to change. Ercolini and a team of 26 women painstakingly went through every one of Rome's 16,550 streets to determine the gender balance. They found that 7,575 (45.7%) of the city's streets were named after men and just 580 (3.5%) were named after women. "That's proof of the discrimination," she says. Local authorities, which have the final say over street names, are now being urged to redress the balance.