Cathays landlords need to work harder

We know studentville part isn’t the quietest area of Cardiff. Last night in fact, Cranbrook St was kept awake by a pack of drunk gentlemen chanting “MY-NAME-IS-JACK, I’M-A-NECROPHILIAC” – just the lullaby you need to waft you to sleep at 2am. The night before that, people next door were tapping on the wall and whistling until I eventually lodged my earplugs in and went to sleep. This is the trade-off for living ten minutes from uni and the city centre… And drunken students making noise is hardly breaking news for residents.

Student houses are also notorious for being a little unkempt, whether that’s the stack of takeaway leaflets underneath the letterbox or stolen traffic cone that mysteriously finds itself under the stairs (neither of which apply to this residence, I add).

But you might be more surprised to hear that Cathays has been identified as a hotspot for hazardous housing. Landlords have been issued warnings by the council to get their accommodation up to a better standard. 323 warnings were issued to landlords between 2010 and 2012.That constituted a third of warnings issued in the whole of Cardiff.

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Is Cathays a part of Cardiff we can be proud of?

Again, not entirely surprising, as when my housemates and I were looking for the right house, we visited some horrors. Some had more mould than wall, and one had a sign ominously warning of toxic slime.

Damp, fire hazards and chillness were among problems identified by landlords.

Read more about the substandard housing here:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/cardiffonline/cardiff-news/2013/02/06/hundreds-of-homes-across-cardiff-considered-hazardous-by-inspectors-91466-32751749/

Were/are you happy with your Cathays landlords?

‘Diff’ by Block art collective: stop motion video of Cardiff

This video – ‘Diff’ by Block art collective – of Cardiff is great. I love the tiny people walking over the bridge at Cathays Station. The perspective makes everyone look like they’re made of Lego.

An Illustrator's Blog

Mesmerising animation created using a stop-motion technique, using over 10,000 photos taken with a standard DSLR camera. The photos were individually processed to achieve the tilt-shift ‘miniaturisation’ effect before being assembled as film clips.

It was made by a a collective called Block who are Fourth year students from the Welsh School of Architecture. More information from Design Wales and a vimeo site here.

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Bute Park programme on iPlayer: Iolo’s Great Welsh Parks

Cardiff gets its 15 minutes (well, 28 minutes if we’re being pedantic) of fame in a BBC programme about Bute Park, on iPlayer right now. Watch Iolo’s Great Welsh Parks here.

My first response to it is: otters! Before watching the programme I didn’t know you could find them in the city centre, and I’m very excited about it. They are such funny animals, and were suffering in the UK a few decades ago after pesticides leached into the water supply. But take a look at The Daily Otter here and be thankful they are recovering well.

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Otters have been spotted in the River Taff in Bute Park – photo from Daily Otter

It’s not just otters who live in Bute Park. You could also be wandering through the back garden of woodpeckers, jays, dippers and salmon on any given walk.

Unfortunately, otters can be quite reticent so seeing one is pretty special. Less exciting, but also less mobile and so easier to spot is lichen. There will be a lichen walk in Bute Park next Sunday (13th January) starting at 1pm at the park’s education centre. This is FREE and run by Friends of Bute Park. See details here. I plan to be there.

What wildlife have you seen around Cardiff?

Interview with Jenny Willott, Lib Dem MP for Cardiff Central

Do you know who your MP is in Cardiff Central? It feels like it should be a silly question, but actually many people in Cathays don’t. I’ll admit that I didn’t for (at least) a month after moving in. As many of us are students, we might only be in our houses for a year at a time and choose to vote in our home constituencies. But knowing who represents you in parliament is obviously important – if you want to influence what happens in your area or to check local government is doing its job, having an idea of who makes decisions and speaks on your behalf is a good place to start! So, I got in touch with our MP, Jenny Willott, to find out more about her and the things that affect Cathays.

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Thanks to Jenny Willott’s office for the photo

Since 2005 Jenny has been the Liberal Democrat MP of Cardiff Central, which covers the city centre and the university. The ‘Studentville’ section of Cathays has its own particular flavour of social issues, most of which you might notice on a stroll around. Jenny said: “The things that come up most regularly are noise and rubbish and potholes: the glamorous issues! There’s also planning and over-development. People are building all over gardens and cramming people into houses, probably HMOs (Houses of multiple occupancy – in other words, student houses). I wonder if landlords are trying to get as many people packed in as possible.”

Jenny estimates that around 70% of houses in this area are occupied by students. “For longer term residents it does have some real implications,” she said. “You don’t tend to get families with kids. You get much less of a mix, which has implications for churches, community groups, doctors, businesses… There is much more of a seasonal flow. It can be very hard for businesses to manage cash flow, particularly for new businesses.”

You don’t need to be a sociologist to recognise the problems that might arise from such a transient population, but Jenny doesn’t think the situation will change any time soon. “As soon as a family moves houses are bought up by landlords and turned into an HMO.” But, she says, “it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have student areas.”

Perhaps students are to blame for the large amount of broken glass and litter you tend to find. We’ve probably all noticed the black sacks spilling out across pavements on the wrong day. But apparently this has improved a lot. Jenny said that since she was elected in 2005 the rubbish situation has been noticeably better. Previously, walking around used to “stepping over things I don’t even want to describe on a regular basis.”

A mound of rubbish piles up in Miskin Street

Soon these people in Miskin St won’t be able to walk to their door

Jenny currently lives in Roath, near Albany Rd, and has lived in Cardiff for 13 years. She said: ‘I love Cardiff, it’s much more friendly than London. People know their neighbours on the whole. There is so much more going on than in other cities because it’s a capital city. ”

Although so many of her constituents are students, they aren’t as likely to get in touch as long-term residents. “Students often don’t know who their MP is,” Jenny said. “At the end of the academic year people complain about landlords or not getting their deposit back. Students are most likely to get in touch via email.”

But she said, “I’m here for anyone. I do a surgery every week.” The next surgery will be on Friday 11th January 2013 from 2.30 pm until 4pm at her office in Roath, though Jenny will still be on maternity leave. She is pregnant with her second baby boy. When I spoke to her she was still in parliament and said: “I was seven months pregnant at the last general election so it’s significantly easier now!”

Since 2005, the Lib Dems have slipped down to just 10% support (according to a ComRes poll reported last week) but despite the dismal national forecasts, Jenny seems happy with what she’s achieved in the seven years since being elected.

One of the things she’s most proud of is keeping the Queens Dragoons Guards HG in Maindy Barracks. “They were under threat of being disbanded but we managed to save them.” She has also resisted the introduction of a congestion charge in the city centre.

If you want to contact Jenny, here is how you can:

Email: jenny@jennywillott.com

Website: http://jennywillott.com/en/

Phone: 029 20 462276 (Roath office) or 020 7219 8418 (Westminster Office).

38 The Parade, Roath, Cardiff, CF24 3AD.

Christmas cards for Cathays

It’s Christmas Eve Eve, a genuine day of celebration in my household. Listening to Now Christmas 2012 isn’t sating my festive spirit so I’m writing Christmas cards to my neighbours in Cardiff (until my box of cards runs out).

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ImageI haven’t met as many of my fellow Cranbrook Streeters as I would like, so I hope this could be a good way to meet the people on my road as I’m extending an invitation to tea. We have Twinings AND milk so I’m expecting a high take-up.

Would you like a card? Email me or comment below and I will send one, even if you’re not technically a neighbour. It might have to be more of a ‘New Years’ card by this point though!

A stranger in Cranbrook Street

I asked some strangers Cranbrook Street and Salisbury Road for the first words that come to mind about the area.

They said: “railway”, “tesco”, “cranberry”, “litter”, “students”, “terrace”, “convenient”, “trees”.

What are your first impressions?

 

Painting the town: graffiti in Cathays, Cardiff, from spray can to street cleaning

Cardiff Council announced that it will be “cracking down on graffiti across the city”, in a tweet sent last Friday.

I was interested to read this, because over the past month I’ve enjoyed hunting out graffiti. There are some pieces I would be sad to see painted over, such as the little monsters on Lowther Rd Bridge (on the header image of this blog).

So I wanted to find out more about this crackdown, and whether it is necessary.

Alex Gazi, graffiti officer for Cardiff Council, told me that since April last year his teams have dealt with almost 100 cases of graffiti in Cathays following reports from the public.  These clean-up operations claim a hefty amount from the council’s piggy bank. Alex estimates that each piece reported costs an average of £50 to clean up, while paint alone comes to £6000 a year.

He said:  “Most graffiti we come across makes areas look untidy, uncared for and generally an area you probably wouldn’t want hang around in (even if untrue!) This naturally affects things like house prices.”

Pacman might have looked better without the graffiti tags (Cranbrook St)

Graffiti is more likely to be annoying than threatening, but Alex deals with around three cases a year “when people are severely stressed by it. More often than not they have been accused of something like being an abuser and it has been plastered on their property or nearby.”

He said:  “Ninety percent of what we come across really has little artistic merit and was probably completed in under a minute.”

But although highly skilled artwork is still classed as illegal if done without consent, he has “never had a property owner want it removed, probably because they like it.”

Art

Punk Bikes workshop off City Road is just across the traintracks from Cranbrook Street. A mural outside was painted by local artist Spike from Trackside Studio.

Mural outside Punk Bikes, Cardiff, painted by Spike from Trackside Studio

Mural outside Punk Bikes, Cardiff, painted by Spike from Trackside Studio

Marcin Wojchiechowski, who runs Punk Bikes, doesn’t think we need clean up teams. In fact, he’d like to see a lot more street art. “I think graffiti is a good way to show some good art to people. Some people think it’s “hooligans doing it just to ruin it, but I think there are boys doing really good pieces around.”

“It’s nicer to look at a nice mural on a wall instead of just old dirty bricks. I hope more (graffiti) is going to show up soon ‘cause Cardiff is pretty grey and sad looking.”

I like Marcin’s idea that graffiti can make art accessible to people, making it available outside museums.

Listen to my interview with Marcin here:

Charles Notton, who lives on Cranbrook Street, described the graffiti on the wall opposite his house as “dire, uninspired, pretty much dull.

“It really ought to be cleaned off. The police should be paying more attention to who’s actually doing it – then maybe we could see the little devils out there with scrubbing brushes getting rid of it.”

He allows that some graffiti can be positive, “if there’s actually been some effort put in. You’ve got that that line of multicoloured heads on the bridge – now that I actually quite like, it’s a bit jolly.”

I asked some other people from the street what they thought of graffiti. Find the responses here, along with some photos of graffiti in CF24 3AL:

Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, agrees that graffiti can add to an area – but only if it’s done well. She said: “It can be a complete blight and pull an area down but when people are imitating Banksy it can add to an area, if it’s done properly.

Despite this, she knows from firsthand experiences that graffiti can be disturbing. She once came home to find name tags on the front of her her house. “I was in a terrace right on to the street. I was so upset – it’s expensive. You can’t scrub it off no matter what you do – you have to get professional staff from the council.”

Activism

Bare walls don’t tend to provoke much intellectual thought, but art may be more effective in making people think. I spoke to an artist thinking about painting a mural on the side of one of the bridges in the area, saying “Welcome to Cathays”.

He said it would be “a small intervention to make people stop and think about where they’re living and their sense of ownership over it.”

“Whether people think it’s mindless vandalism or whether people think it proves a point, it’s not really the issue to us. The point is to make people stop and think and talk about it.”

Listen to the full interview here:

So is the writing on the wall for graffiti with the recent crackdown?

I doubt it. The council won’t scrub away your favourite piece unless it’s reported first, and almost everyone I spoke to was happy to see art in the street. Even so, graffiti isn’t likely to stay forever. I’ve made a map showing a few pieces of interesting graffiti around Cathays. Why not take a walking tour and see it while you can?

Hunting for Lembo graffiti in Cathays and Roath

Last week I had fun hunting out graffiti. I really like the cartoonish cat by the railway bridge at the end of Salisbury Rd (have a look at my post here). So I was pleased to find out that this cat wasn’t the only one of its species. An artist tagging himself (or herself) Lembo has been busy painting colourful cats around the area. DJ Leekee went on a nature walk of such to chart all his feline graffiti in Cathays and Roath, and you can see the results here:

http://djleekee.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/graffiti-lembo-work-around-cathays-and-roath/

I want to find out more about graffiti in Cathays and what people think, so it would be great to hear peoples’ thoughts. What’s your favourite street art in Cathays? Has your property been graffitied?

Graffiti in Cathays, Cardiff

There’s a lot of graffiti around Cathays, but many people don’t seem overly upset by it. In fact, they like it, as long as street painting is art rather than just a name written until the can runs out. I’ve made a short video looking at some of the graffiti in the area, and asking what people think of it.

The best piece of graffiti on this street, according to a quick straw poll, is the little beasties spray painted on the side of the bridge opposite Gassy Jacks. They’re in the banner at the top of this page, and they seem to be inspired by the Pacman ghosts, Pinky, Blinky, Inky and Clyde. There are also many Pacman stickers stuck on lamp posts and bins around Cathays, so it seems there is either a large fan base or one very prolific Pac-fan.

Thanks to Tom, Dave, Rich and Charles for letting me point a microphone at them to chat about their views.