The Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring many challenges. As the world goes virtual, the role of public gathering places will need addressing. The Town Square must again become the centre of local discourse. If not, the 4IR may become known as the Period of Polarisation.

From Wikipedia

“A town square (or square, plaza, public square, city square, urban square, or piazza) is an open public space[1] commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Related concepts are the civic center, the market square and the village green.”

Piazza della Signoria, in Florence, Italy, a historic example of a traditional public square

Announcement of the establishment of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on Congress Square in 1918


Town squares will become contested during the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Technology will permeate every part of daily life. As it does, the need for physical gathering places will rise. The risk is that such public spaces become battlegrounds.

Urban planners need to pay close attention, particularly in England. The virtual world is changing behaviours. These changes are spilling out into the real-world streets. [1]

Class system

Since the Edwardian period, England has neglected public spaces. Public squares that encourage the mixing of cultures are rare. The Georgians began the trend to fence off public spaces and streets. The policy was steeped in the British class system. In recent years, the privatisation of public space has accelerated.

Sample of English public spaces

In Southern continental Europe, the opposite is the case. Town squares are the centre of the entire community. The design, construction and purpose are all geared towards civic pride and participation.

Sample of Spanish public spaces

Spanish Squares

In Spain, all urban planning revolves around public space. There are plenty of elaborate squares and boulevards to be happened upon. Most though are of simple design and materials. They work for all occasions. Organised events, family gatherings, meeting friends or eating a sandwich. Finding a public space with a fence or a locked gate will be a challenge in Spain.

Some squares have a cafe or restaurant bordering the parameter; many don’t. It is unusual to see a cafe in the middle of a town square. Modern Spanish libraries and museums spill out onto public squares. Public spaces in Spain are welcoming and well used because of their simplicity. [2]


The two photo galleries above show the public realm where people live. These are not tourist areas or places of commerce. Public spaces are there, in theory, for the local community and visitors to use and enjoy. The public realm in Spain sits at the very heart of a community. Unless there is a commercial reason, public space in England is a low priority.


Town Squares can be a metaphor for what is happening in the virtual world. Some people wish to see them controlled with restrictions on who has access. Others want them completely open, freeing and welcoming to all. [3] [4] [5]


Recent history has demonstrated how the virtual world can spill out into the real world.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, is the most prominent example. Protests in 2013 began online, discussing government corruption and policies. WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts began to grow and to spread. Soon these virtual spaces were not enough. People had to come together. Tens of hundreds of thousands of people started filling Tahrir square. Night after night protests continued until Egypt’s President Mubarak toppled.

Similar scenes with different results played out across the Arab world. These 2013 protests became known as the Arab Spring.

Although not on the same scale, most areas of the developed world have seen similar protests. The rise of the online protest hashtag has been instrumental. #MeToo and #blm (#blacklivesmatter) are the most successful to date.


Britain’s exit from the European Union was a direct result of online campaigning. What followed has been years of disruption, strife and polarisation. The struggle between the Leave and Remain camps manifested physically in London’s Parliament square. The argument has continued right up to the present day. [6]

Brexit supporter carrying Great Britain cardboard cutout, Parliament Square.

Rise of technology

As life moves further online, the need for real-world gathering forums will increase. Failure of authorities to not plan for this change could lead to dire consequences.

Reasons for people to engage within the physical world has been declining since the 1990s.

The internet changed the world of work, allowing employees to be more distributed. The onset of the pandemic brought a further scattering of the workforce as people work from home. Retail has been shifting steadily online. Restaurant food can now be delivered directly to the family dining table. The world of supermarkets without cashiers is upon us. Online gaming transformed from a table gathering to global competitions. The gaming industry now dwarfs, by revenue, the movie and music industries combined. [7]

There are plenty of Apps that anyone can access for free. However, to receive the full benefit requires buying a subscription. Public squares in England surrounded by cafes and shops are similar. To fully partake in the space requires a certain amount of purchasing power.

Two-tier England

English Extremes

Above photos from the Argent development, Kings Cross, London (2020). Below, public squares managed by Great Yarmouth borough council (2021).

In Spain, public squares are places where people congregate, play and celebrate. The public realm encourages the community to come together for serendipitous moments. Spending power is not relevant except in the most exclusive of shopping areas.

Public forum, with permanent outdoor screen, multilevel seating, no barriers. Eivissa, Ibiza, Spain, 2022. [4]

In England, the opposite is too often the case. There is heavy reliance on the private sector to create public amenity spaces. It is another aspect of Britain’s two-tier society. Money buys access.

Fenced public spaces, ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs and other rules are commonplace around England.


Public space needs to become the bridge between the virtual and physical worlds. Some may believe this is about introducing VR – virtual reality. VR will soon be playing a much larger role, but this is more about the physical spaces themselves.

The layout, ambience and purpose of the public domain in England should be along Spanish lines.

Free to access town squares must have 5G connectivity. Multipurpose seating and tables that encourage gatherings, games, meetings and work. Architectural flair can overcome issues around Britain’s inclement weather. The public realm needs to be attractive to all cultures, ages and abilities.

Without change, England risks further polarisation. Addressing the poor quality of places for public gatherings is now urgent.


The internet has slowly eroded the need for people having to meet fellow citizens. The pandemic has further reduced real-world interactions. Technology seeping deeper into everyday life raises the potential of a more isolated society. Free to access public spaces is critical for communities to stay in touch in the real world.

The political discourse around local issues cannot be online alone. To allow this will lead to unhealthy debate and will undermine stable democracy. Views are best challenged and debated in the open, in places where alternative voices can be heard.

Open, free, real-world forums, like town squares, are the best spaces for such discussion to happen. Being open will also allay some fears around privacy, censorship and freedom of expression.

Britain is in the grip of a mental health crisis, with loneliness and a sense of isolation increasing. Social media gets some of the blame. Not much is written about the lack of public amenity spaces.

England needs to rethink its approach to the public realm. Design should encourage serendipity and random conversations. Learning from Spain’s public spaces would be a good start.

We are in the fifth decade of the internet. It will be one that will see the virtual world and the physical world merge. Successful societies this decade will be the ones with the most engaging public realm.

Introducing technology into these spaces is the next phase around the world. Creating buzzing ambient public spaces will be essential for community lifeblood. Animated public squares will also attract the next generation of innovators.

England needs to rethink the public realm urgently! This is where ‘levelling up’ has to begin.**

John M

All images John McKiernan ©2022

** Levelling Up. A Conservative government manifesto pledge. What does it mean?

[1] see Public Space

[2] see Eivissa

[3] see Censorship

[4] see Apple Privacy

[5] see Leiston and Sizewell

[6] see Brexit

[7] see AI Supermarkets


Eivissa, a municipality on the Spanish island of Ibiza, is changing. A seedy, shabby town 25 years ago, it is transforming into a distinctive city. Part 1 of 2. First impressions.

Ibiza Town

The Spanish city of Eivissa is better known in the U.K. as Ibiza Town. It has a poor reputation. 25 years ago it was no different to port cities the world over. Eivissa had dingy smelly narrow streets, loud bars, seedy clubs and general unpleasantness. Returning to visit was low on the itinerary list.

First impression

The first visit to Eivissa was brief, to collect an item from a warehouse. The city appeared the same as remembered, except cleaner. Bendy roads with poor signage and people driving too fast, making driving stressful. Streets snake around poor quality industrial architecture and plots of open wasteland. Without a second reason to return, this view would have been the final impression. Fortunately, the second visit furnished a far better opinion of this changing city.


On initial impressions, downtown Eivissa felt like other large Mediterranean cities. High buildings crowd over narrow avenues, shading out the sunny January daylight. The design of the streets focuses on protection from the blazing summer heat. Walkways are clean and well maintained. Cars park bumper to bumper. Only when strolling a short while does a distinct identity begins to emerge.

There is a thoughtfulness to the town plan. The industrial area first visited was the old Eivissa. It was a town rapidly growing into a city without a plan or direction. Planning laws in the 1970s were probably akin to the wild west. Spain as a country was awaking from decades of Franco dictatorship. Business people and developers grabbed what they could. The roads and services were afterthoughts.

The Ibiza Town spreading out from the port area today has a sense of collective thinking. There is a feeling of consideration. A balance exists between the needs of tourists, the city’s main income generator, and local people. [1]


There are large areas of pedestrianisation. Public squares with cafes, narrow streets with limited or no parking. There appears to be a policy of zoning. The casinos seem to be concentrated on the fringe of downtown, facing out onto the main road. It makes sense to keep 24-hour type businesses located in an area with the least potential to disrupt residents.

It becomes noticeable that certain streets attract similar kinds of business sectors. Exercise is one example. Several gyms neighbour each other. The retail on these streets offers related goods, from supplements to running shoes. The cafes advertise healthy food options. Food shops sell vegan and vegetarian supplies.

It is unknown whether there is a deliberate business clustering policy or it’s organic. What is clear is that residents head to this district for indoor exercise.


Heritage has become part of the city. Historic buildings are being tastefully modernised. They can be experienced rather than set aside as artefacts to be observed from distance.

Children are not caged in, as so often seen in England. Families can enjoy the city while children play without the demand for money or restriction. A climbing frame can be practical and sculptural, fulfilling many needs.

From bins to bicycle parking, every aspect seems considered. Nothing appears to be an afterthought.

Walkways blend seamlessly into one another, encouraging walking, exploring. Subtle and practical lighting for hours of darkness provides a sense of romance. Eivissa feels safe and invites investigating.


One of the considerable differences between English and Spanish urban space is the quality of the walkways.

There is a lot of care taken in Spain. The design, installation and maintenance of street paving are paramount. It is the same whether in the smallest town to the largest city. Walkways are central to the identity of an area, evoking strong held civic pride.

In England, it is rare to find well-designed walkways. Only public space privately owned or heavily commercial has quality walkways. Paving is always relegated to insignificance within urban planning, unimportant.


There has been no research beyond visiting Eivissa undertaken for this post. The importance was to focus on personal observations. Part.2 will be to look into the urban plan and seek the views of locals.

Eivissa feels as if it has a 30-year plan, which is two-thirds of a way through implementing. The start point was people. What do people need? Not just the tourist who bring the income but the residents as well.

It is the eye for detail that makes Eivissa feel so exciting. The pride of the people constructing the streetscape. The whole of downtown exudes pride that is spreading outwards. Driving out of the city, in the opposite direction to the warehouses, there are new modern roads. Underpasses and properly designed roundabouts. The policy is clearly to build the new city properly and retrofit the old town for modern living.

Eivissa has the potential to become another Spanish urban design success story to rival, or even surpass Bilbo. While modernising, the city is carving out a unique identity. A rare success in city regeneration.

Part 2 of this post will involve an analysis of the city plan and local attitudes. Do any of these observations fit with the formal urban plan?

John M

[1] see Public Space


It is three years since the outbreak of COVID-19. Discussions have turned to what the post-pandemic world may look like. Technology is at the forefront. Lost within the debates has been the importance of public space. As the world goes virtual, real-world gathering places will become the hot issue.

The Internet

The internet will be 40 years old on 1 January 2023. It allows the creation of a virtual world almost unimaginable 50 years ago. The World Wide Web (www.) became available 10-years later. How much harder would the pandemic have been without the web?

The internet has become an extension of everyday life. It allows mass connectivity. People communicate through an array of online mediums. Social media chat has overtaken voice calls as the communication tool of choice for the young. WhatsApp and Signal have relegated the use of email in business. The email itself replaced the printed document, the business mainstay for centuries. [1]

Business meetings

Business meetings seemed unaffected by the internet. People in business still preferred to meet in person and sit around tables. The pandemic called a halt to these face to face meetings, except in specific circumstances. The rise of Zoom and other video technologies began in earnest. Ways of doing business changed and will not be returning to how it was.

The loss of workplace meetings has caused a widespread disruption within firms. Work meetings are now more likely online than one-to-one. It cuts off a source for meeting new people, social interaction and serendipity. For some working people, it has also reduced personal contact more generally.

These changes are not only taking place in offices. Automatic checkout in supermarkets removes this most mundane of interactions. Maybe not something missed for those with busy lives. For those alone, the shop cashier may be the only human interaction that day. [2]

The pandemic has sped up the automation of everyday life. 

Doctors appointments by video link are becoming a norm. Banks close down branches, forcing people online. Buying insurance, holiday or toothpaste from an algorithm is as likely as a person.

Even in construction, the rise of efficient technologies, such as 3D printing, will reduce the requirements for human teams.


There are fewer reasons to meet in person for a non-social purpose.

Despite global connectivity, there is an increase in isolation and dis-association. Workplace reliance on providing social interaction has diminished. Workers are finding difficulty transitioning to a virtual world. Online activities only please certain aspects of emotional fulfilment. Humans are social creatures, by and large, and demand social contact.


The workplace for the majority will not be returning to how it was pre-pandemic. The impact will go beyond how people work each day. Social interaction at work will become unrecognisable from previous decades. New ways of working are emerging. However, new forms of social contact have not yet materialised.

Public Space

Public spaces will need to adapt to fill the social void left by virtual working. Some parts will be picked up by the private sector. Work hubs, cafes and a redefined retail sector will fulfil some needs for people who can pay. The rest will require open, free to access public gathering spaces, like the old town square. [3]

Two-tier England

The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the two-tier society existing in England. As financial disparity widens, so does access to the internet and public space.  

Without paying for broadband, fast access to knowledge, easily accessible to others, is denied. Only those who can afford monthly contracts have access to unlimited mobile data.

The same is happening in public spaces. Even when public facilities with cafes are accessible, the inability to buy coffee can still create a barrier.

England requires a bridge between commercialised and non-income generating public spaces.

Extremes of English public spaces: Granary Square, London Kings Cross and a public square in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk


In England, it’s the market that has presided over the public sphere through recent generations. The High Street is the most obvious. Privatisation of squares and whole streets is not a new phenomenon in England. The pace of privatisation is the real cause for concern.

Privatised space often comes with restrictions on who can use it. The right of all citizens to assemble regardless of wealth or age has become more restrictive. Public places not reliant on enterprise are often left neglected. The online world is seeing similar barriers. Barriers risk alienating people and furthering polarisation.

Public space has to be redefined in England. Urban design should follow the templates of European neighbours like Spain, where people are the starting point, not commerce. [3] [4]

With workplace socialisation in decline, a rethinking of public spaces has become essential.

John M

[1] also see Censorship

[2] see AI Supermarkets

[3] see Town Square

[4] see Eivissa (Ibiza Town Pt.1)


Arriving at the shabby-chic North Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, I was taken aback by how little it resembles Great Yarmouth and spent a very pleasant day strolling the lovely streets and excellent beaches.

Great Yarmouth myths

While in Great Yarmouth, there were numerous comparisons to Cromer in North Norfolk being similar, with poverty, social issues and struggling. Norfolk friends would scoff and those from outside the county were a little puzzled as they could not remember Cromer being down at the heel. So I took the bus from Holt, where I am based for two weeks while I explore North Norfolk to see the town for myself.

Old Cromer photograph, shop window.

First impressions

As the bus pulled in, Cromer looked clean but shabby. Looking up at some of the windows, it was obvious that there is poverty in the town, so my expectations initially leaned towards what I heard in Great Yarmouth. This swiftly changed however, and the more I walked the more I could appreciate why so many people, particularly those who grew up or holidayed as children in Norfolk, are in love with the town.

Architectural Motifs

The schools are back, so the kids on the beach were infants with parents, paddling in the sea on a glorious warm sunny day. It was a day for creating childhood memories.

The first thing that struck me was how untouched the town has been by ugly developments and in all likelihood, was not bombed very much during World War Two. The mixed architecture resembles that of several Kent seaside towns. Whitstable houses and beach huts. Three floor Georgian houses in street rows at right angles to the sea, as found in Cliftonville and Ramsgate. Long sweeping paths from the top of the cliffs down to the seafront, as in Folkestone. Some of the housing is in need of TLC but not much that I observed would be deemed unfit for human living, as is the case right across Great Yarmouth. The town has living accommodation for all tastes it seems.

Keep it simple

Whether through lack of money and funding or whether it is by policy and design there is a noticeable difference in the approach to urban planning in Cromer versus Great Yarmouth.  Cromer appears to have a more thoughtful approach to planning.  No doubt irritating to local developers and people wishing to see change, the town benefits from allowing things to develop at a considered pace, not seeking to gentrify (although that is seeming to be happening in pockets), the town is self-regenerating, the best kind of change. 

The children’s play area on the beach and wildlife exhibition (photos below) are prime examples of very simple yet highly effective public art, information and play spaces. All over the town there are small yet strong permanent or semi-permanent interventions that are informed, intriguing and easy on the eye. An old Ford tractor on the seafront, which I guess never moves, is a perfect example of creating a public intervention that will appeal to people of all ages that has probably cost little or nothing to install.

L to R: Public artworks and wildlife information on seafront paths with open access, Tribute to local hero, Ford tractor parked alongside other ageing vehicles and boats, attracting interest of people of all ages, Simple, beautifully designed and constructed children’s play area on seafront, free and open access.

Care and attention

There is no more damning evidence of the disrespect and lack of care in Great Yarmouth from borough council and outsiders than when taking a cursory glance at any building site in the town. The council itself does not enforce rules on its own sites or cares how construction takes place on other sites. The three photos below are just some examples of practices in Great Yarmouth that you just don’t see elsewhere. Coming across a clean building site with some block paving being laid in Cromer brought home the difference in approach and mentality to that found in Great Yarmouth. 

L to R: Great Yarmouth Aldi refit (summer 2021), Man in flat cap and worker with trainers on demolition site on North Quay, Great Yarmouth (May 2021), Market square roof construction, Great Yarmouth council led project (September 2021), block paving and restoration, Cromer (September 2021).

Food and Drink

Cromer’s food and drink offer has been the best I have found in Norfolk, outside Norwich. Still not a huge choice but there are some very good coffee shops, nice new bars and The Red Lion pub has a wide and excellent selection of Norfolk ales. The local speciality is crab, which I did not try on this visit, and makes the town regionally famous. I opted to visit No1 Cromer, a Fish and Chip shop that I have only heard good things about. Chips were the first thing I tried on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in 2019 and with hindsight set the tone for my time in the town. Cromer No1 fish and chips were very good, and far far superior to anything available in Great Yarmouth town centre or beach front, however probably only on par with the White Swan in Great Yarmouth, an excellent fish restaurant deserving of national accolades.

L to R: First portion of chips in Great Yarmouth in 2019 (read more here), Fish and Chips from No1 Cromer, High St, Part of a wide selection of Norfolk beers available at The Red Lion.


Besides both being by the sea and in the same county of England, there is little else in common between Cromer and Great Yarmouth. The brash and uncaring approach of the council, businesses and developers in Great Yarmouth is amplified by the quiet, reflective and highly effective approach being undertaken in Cromer. Spending a day does not provide a deep insight into a town it has to be acknowledged, however comparing this visit with the first trip to Great Yarmouth in 2019 (here) provides a pretty good indication of the power of first impressions.



Pictographic of Great Yarmouth capturing the middle and last weekends of the holiday peak season and indicating the hoped for 2021 summer staycation boom was a muted affair, leaving a bleak outlook for the businesses still operating.


With the Covid-19 pandemic still spreading across the globe, international travel has been a less attractive proposition in 2021. There was expectation across hospitality and tourism for a staycation boom with the British public choosing to stay in the UK for the summer holidays rather than travelling overseas. Despite the UK summer weather being generally poor with weeks of grey, rain and often chilly, many regions and towns have been booming as predicted, particularly Cornwall and North Norfolk. Unfortunately, Great Yarmouth seemed to have bucked this positive trend.

Weekend 20-21st August 2021

Bleak outlook

Visiting Great Yarmouth on two separate weekends during summer peak season, it became apparent that the town was not having the staycation boom that other UK holiday destinations were experiencing. This once vibrant holiday destination was again struggling, with sparsely populated restaurants and few retail customers to be spotted. Many more shops have closed since leaving the town in May 2021 and the outlook for a good number of the businesses that remain operating looks bleak indeed.

Saturday 05th September 2021

Sunday 06th September 2021

Sunday 5th was the busiest day observed during my time in Great Yarmouth. A classic car event was taking place and the weather was good, warm, sunny, no wind, just a gentle summer breeze.  The seafront was comfortable, certainly not packed and there were plenty of spaces to park a car.  Away from the seafront the town was empty. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, many businesses were not open, including a whole stretch of the Pleasure Beach at 1pm. It is a mystery why the businesses are not open until 11pm throughout the summer to maximise trade, one of the many mysteries of Great Yarmouth. 

Delusion or obfuscation

This post documents, for the record, the streets and seafront of Great Yarmouth over two weekends of peak season during summer 2021, regarded locally as the most important and busiest weeks of the year.  It serves to counter any claims from those in power in the town that Great Yarmouth thrived throughout the entire summer.

John M


Seeing Kamala Harris huge happy smile brings me back to what I wrote exactly 4 years ago, as Donald Trump was confirmed US President.  Vice-President Harris represents ‘the first flower open[ing] through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed.’ 

Listening to the Vice-President’s humble speech acknowledging ‘the strength of vision to see what can be unburdened by what has been, and I stand on their shoulders’, recognises that positive change is a fluid process, built over time, and by many who had to sacrifice themselves to the cause.

For me, Trump’s arrival signified the ‘Last Throes Of Capitalism’; he has represented, and continues to be, the personification of capitalism in its most grotesque form.  

As the new world begins to emerge, it is essential that there is not a seeking of retribution or punishment for the white man, whose hands continue to drip with the blood of the earth.  Our new world has to begin as it means to go on, taking the hand of the scared, confused, frustrated and angry and show them how beautiful the world really is, and the size of the universe and the joy ahead.  

Like providing experiences for a child who has never experienced joy, the challenge now is to embrace and lead not through punishment but through love, and then we can really begin to create a new world that lives with our mother earth, not against her.

Trump | Last Throes Of Capitalism

John McKiernan | Nov 9, 2016 | 1 min read

There is an observation of the death throes of the capital system, beached as it is on the shifting sands. The huge tail swings wildly as it gasps for air. The white man keeper is becoming desperate as he watches the enormous beast slowly dying, and with it his power. He knows the game is up. He looks around observing the emptiness, it was all an illusion, nothing actually ever existed in his world besides the youthful conjuring trick. 

Suicide beckons as fear engulfs the scarred mind of deluded dominance. Now alone, watching the only thing he ever truly loved, flailing in front of his own eyes, he scans the horizon for whom in which to blame. He sees no one. There is nothing left. He will need to sleep soon as he is hungry and weak. In his angry daze, full of confusion, contorted by hate, he stumbles inadvertently under the last great flap of the monstrous tail. There is silence. Serenity returns. The first flower opens through a crack on the rocky path where only the ignored moss seemingly existed. The sun begins to shine brightly again.

Read the original blog post here

Headline Photo: New York Times

Sunset on Capitalism | John McKiernan

John M


Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Town Hall 2020

The English coastal town of Great Yarmouth is a picture postcard that the local government and many residents of Norfolk no longer see, leading to atrocious architectural planning decisions and requiring a new lens in which to view the town.

Header Photo: Venice, Norfolk by John McKiernan ©2020

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Broad Row Sunset 2020

Broad Row at Sunset

Atrocious Planning

Seeing some hoarding with architectural visualisations for a new swimming pool due to blight the seafront from 2022 onwards, I decided to post this series of postcard-esque iPhone snaps of attractive locations in Great Yarmouth. Photographed over the past 9 months, while I have been living in the town, the intention is to foster debate and conversation, both inside and well beyond the town.

Some Caribbean Sunshine

Car Park Affliction

One of the strongest impressions on my first visit to Great Yarmouth in June 2019 was the sheer number of hideous car parks that afflict the town, see bottom of page. In conversations that have followed, it appears to me that the majority of people in Norfolk are almost blind to these unnecessary eyesores.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Desolate Beach 2020

Old Beach Building

In conversations with locals, I almost universally hear moans that the council is not doing enough to tarmac over more of the beachfront to create further parking spaces.

Protected Dunes

Protected Dunes

Although I have not personally met anyone locally who shares my horror at these monstrosities, clearly there are people who do fight to try and protect some of the natural beauty from car park developments. The dunes on the Caster side of the pier is the finest example I have noted.

A Mental Health Haven | Caster Dunes

Get Out More

My conclusion, or should I say assumption, from what I have learned is that people who make decisions in this town don’t travel very far and seem oblivious to how the market for UK visitors, and those from abroad, has changed – and changed dramatically.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Bike River 2020

Back of Asda

Seafront Blight

Swimming Pool Hoarding

Who is the new 25m swimming pool on the seafront for? Is it meant to be an attraction, and if yes, who will it attract? What is the business case for blocking off the seafront and creating even more parking spaces, when the existing 100,000 car spaces – slight exaggeration – are empty about 80% of the year!

And are major new build public building projects exempt from seeking to be net-carbon neutral and generate at least a portion of their own energy usage? If there is to be a solar-panel roof or photovoltaic cells or other forms of energy self-generation it is not clear from the promotion.

Rethinking Attraction

Britannia Pier 2020 (advertising 2019 events)

Great Yarmouth desperately needs to attract a new range of visitors who are not constrained by having a fixed daily budget to spend. Tourists can go anywhere to play slot machine amusements and there are many fine and attractive piers around the country. For most urban dwellers there will be a 25m pool within the borough they live and will not need to travel to Great Yarmouth to swim.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Windfarm Shelter 2020

Wind Farm Shelter

Photography, Port and Pursuits

When comparing Great Yarmouth to Margate, Hastings, Morecambe Bay, Torquay or even Brighton, it is pretty easy to see where the town has competitive advantages.

Structural Decay

The town does not need to build any more new buildings for visitors, it needs to broaden its understanding of what people outside Great Yarmouth like to do, then it could excel at a fraction of the cost.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Water Slide Sunrise 2020

Water Slide at Dawn

For photographers, urban geographers, historians, students and the general public interested in industrial design, architecture, urban change, history, environment, climate change, and so on, the town could be a mecca. It has everything from interesting structures, which are truly unique to the town, to open spaces that should really have World Heritage Status.

Surrounding Marshland

Year Round Visitors

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Tree Wall 2020

Wild Tree

Great Yarmouth is much bigger than Margate or Folkestone in Kent, and any of the Essex or Suffolk seaside towns that I have visited. It would be difficult to cover the whole area on foot in one day. This presents a fantastic opportunity for the short stay market at any time of year as the light is always changing as is the port.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Wall Flower 2020

Wall Plant

The town is awash with stunning buildings going back through the ages, with the Medieval town walls dating back to the 1200s and King Henry III.

Great Yarmouth town has one of the best preserved and most complete Medieval town walls in England, dating from 28 September 1261 when King Henry III granted Yarmouth the right to enclose the town with a wall and a ditch to protect them from pirates and ensure taxes could be collected. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, large sections of these walls and eleven towers still survive today.

More on the wall available on the Tourist Information website

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | AirBnB 2020

Airbnb Holiday Let

And there are plenty of more recent buildings that are not only of architectural interest but also perfect for repurposing.

Control Tower

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Brutal Sunrise 2020

Brutal Shelter

Seemingly lost spaces will have design and architectural interest to many people and offer professional event organisers ample opportunity to develop interesting events that could pull a different audience to the town.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Barn Store 2020

Store House

The beach offers opportunities for a multitude of club activities, like open water swimming, which is an all year round pursuit and that could utilise the pier with competitors using the theatre changing rooms and as a warm up arena.

Glorious Beach

Nature Walks

Environment and nature walks, with two rivers, the Broads National Park and marshland that attracts migrating birds right on the edge of the town should be one of the biggest attractions for Great Yarmouth.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Bird Hide 2020

Bird Hide

At Portal B I have created the Paget Garden to begin highlighting the natural beauty that grows wild all over the town and particularly behind the huge Asda superstore and train station.

Sunset over Breydon Water and Rotting Jetty

The rebuilt Norman-era Minster Church of St Nicholas, along with the vast cemetery attached offers a further opportunity to entice nature lovers, walkers and historians.

New Cemetery

Allowing more wilding and becoming a nature reserve could quickly make this part of town a must see for the millions of annual visitors.

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Cemetery Tree 2020

Minster Dawn

New Narratives

The local authority needs to realise that there is a whole new audience that can be attracted to the town beyond those wanting to play a penny-drop and buy an ice-cream or chips.

Discarded structures with fascinating histories can quickly establish new narratives through storytelling and repurposing.

Beautiful Structures

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The repurposing can be through events, with particular focus on new technology and putting Great Yarmouth at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is also the main purpose of Fourth Portal. Creating work hubs and learning spaces are other purposes that can be suggested.

Commissioner’s House

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Queen Street 2020

Restored Queen’s Street

Big Idea | The Winter Gardens

The best idea in town is Mark Duffield’s moving the 1800s Winter Gardens from its hemmed in location on the seafront to a desolate waste of prime riverside on North Quay.

North Quay | Potential Winter Gardens Location

As a local estate agent owner, whose business has been operating for several generations, Mark understands the history, the context and the risks to Great Yarmouth if it continues on the present trajectory. Shifting this heritage building offers a chance of a new beginning and provides a much stronger business case as an event and botanical garden, in addition to creating an iconic beacon on entry into the town.

Seafront Winter Gardens

Spending £27m pounds of scarce public money on a manciple swimming pool, double the £13.65m (BBCNews) new build cost of the Turner Contemporary in Margate is madness. Read more on the Ambitious Gateway post.

Dreaded Car Parks

As warned, just a tiny sample of some of the car parks that litter the town.

Car Park Afflictions

Great Potential

Great Yarmouth has Great Potential post Covid-19 if, – a huge IF – if the local authority and elected officials take a step back and ask, what does the world outside Norfolk look for in a trip to an English coastal town?

There are recent building projects around that show there is potential. The Venetian Waterways is a beautiful space enjoyed by locals and visitors alike and does not require vast sums of public money to be maintained, however this is a rarity.

Venetian Waterways at Dawn

Further Discussion

Regardless of your views, I do hope this post has sparked a few thoughts and I encourage comments below if you will please? A few more images to end the post.

From Outta Space

The Rows

Postcards From Great Yarmouth | Water Slide 2020

Water Slide

Britannia Aloft

Images: John McKiernan ©2020 No reuse or reproduction without express written consent.

John M


Photo gallery of the emerging Paget Garden. The garden at the pub had pots of neglected plants. Nurturing them back to health became an idea for a new app game. A fun introduction to AI and other algorithmic technologies.

Introducing the Paget Garden

The Paget garden has been inspired by a book by a local man called James Paget, whose name locally is more associated with the nearby James Paget University NHS Hospitals. Along with his brothers, James Paget listed all the Fauna, Flora and Birds of Great Yarmouth and published as a book in 1834 titled, Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood.

Although I have not yet seen a physical copy of this book, which I first discovered mentioned in Sir James Paget: Surgeon Extraordinary and His Legacies, the pages I have seen were enough to inspire the garden and the forthcoming game.

Dead Plant Resurrection

Before acquiring the keys to the St John’s Head pub to develop into Portal B in February 2020, I noted a large number of seemingly dead plants on the patio.

On seeing these plants, I recalled an old colleague and French Chef, Ginni Debert from my Margate 2011 intervention, who demonstrated how, with water, love and some attention, most plants can recover to their former glory. As a metaphor, this could also be applied to towns’ like Great Yarmouth where, to an outside eye, the town can appear almost lifeless.


So in winter 2020 I began my project, with only a very vague idea of a plan. My first task was to cut back the bamboo in the garden where I live and put aside to dry.

Creating the Lab

Once St John’s Head was secured and I had the keys I began the task of transporting the plants back to my home and creating two lab spaces, at the front and rear of the house, to try and recover the plants. I also bought some tomato plant saps, took some rose cuttings from a neighbour’s garden and a friend provided some beans, courgettes and other seeds.

I have little active experience of gardening so it was as much guessing, sensing and remembering things from what others have said, particularly Ginni’s tips. The only purchase beyond the tomato plants I made was compost from the local Moulton nursery in the nearby town of Acle.

Lockdown Development

During lockdown the lab took more of my time and the plants slowly started to return to life. Neighbours were not convinced by my endeavours, however slowly and steadily they watch the front lab transform over April and May 2020.


In the rear lab area I created a large compost heap from the discarded plant waste, newspaper and food using compostable food bags that the breakfast cereals are packaged in. The hope is that this will be ready mid-autumn to plant a winter crop. This also solved a problem of not being able to take the waste to the local recycling tip, which was closed due to lockdown.

At time of writing, 10 Sept 2020, the compost heap is now less than a third as high and some fine compost is beginning to appear at the base of the heap.

Back of Asda

As well as the Paget writing, the real motivator is the area of flat marshlands just outside Great Yarmouth, directly behind the Asda supermarket. An incredibly beautiful, wild and managed area stretching miles and home to a huge array of plants, fauna, migrating as well as local birds, fish and insects. The constantly changing weather and light makes the back of Asda a magical place.

Summer Bloom

As any beginner to gardening will exclaim, there is real excitement in spring when the first shoots appear and immense pleasure when plants begin to bloom. By June 2020, as lockdown restrictions were slowly lifting and more local people began going about their business, the lab had turned into a proper garden – although all in pots – and people began to notice. Neighbours fell in love with the space, it was a beautiful place to sit despite the increased traffic noise.

Testing Idea

I started testing ideas, like building a bamboo fence and whether it would stay upright in the strong Great Yarmouth winds, find out whether barrels could be converted into plant holders and how to construct bean climbers.

On the Move

With licensed premises again allowed to open, time came to move some of the plants to Portal B, their new home and build the bamboo fence around the car park using the old beer barrels.

Plant Exchange

Inside Portal B there will be a plant exchange to encourage people to grow their own. The first plants in the exchange all come from a single mother money plant, the only plant in the pub that was still thriving when the keys were handed over.

First Crop and More Plants

The first sign of a crop began to show in July and it slowly expanded over August. Colleague Gillian brought some succulents to add to the money plants, and the beans and tomato plants in particular grew fast. Some of these were in old plastic milk bottles to demonstrate that it is possible to use any container. There has been the odd problem, like almost hurricane winds blowing over many of the containers.

Bountiful Harvest

As with the lab, neighbours to Portal B began to see this strange garden emerging in what was previously just a concrete empty car park space behind an old pub. As August pushed towards September 2020 a bountiful crop began to appear and neighbours became increasingly interested in what was/is growing. The harvest of beans, tomatoes and cucumbers are an ongoing feast and allows for sharing with many who live locally. The courgettes and chilli peppers have not been so bountiful as would be hoped and the snails and slugs feasted on the lettuces and onions all summer. No chemical sprays or pellets are used.


The garden has already proved a great conversation starter and breaks down barriers reasonably quickly. I have had a few opportunities to show some of the plant apps that I want to use to introduce AI and Machine Learning (ML) in particular. On the Patience, Perseverance and Hooks blog post I outline the importance of these slow build ups that allow people to engage at their own pace. Food and nature are great as both are imperative to our survival.

Paget Game

Over autumn 2020 and winter 2021, the intention is to develop a game to accompany the garden. The game blog post will follow soon, in the meantime, more on why this is called the Paget Garden.

John M

This post should be read in conjunction with PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND HOOKS, JAMES PAGET AND PAGET GAME (to follow).


Sturzaker, Hugh. (2013), Sir James Paget : Surgeon Extraordinary and His Legacies, Great Britain



Sir James Paget Surgeon Extraordinary and his Legacies by Hugh Sturzaker book cover.

The local NHS hospital is named after an inspirational local man, James Paget who was a pioneer of pathology and the inspiration for a game and garden that will begin introducing AI technologies to the people of Great Yarmouth.

James Paget in Brief

The James Paget NHS Hospital Trust is named after a local man to Great Yarmouth.

Sir James Paget became the Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, and is now eponymous with a number of diseases, the most well known of which is Paget’s Disease. Paget had to overcome many obstacles and illnesses throughout his life, as well as financial difficulties, and was always aware of those who were suffering from misfortune. Throughout his early career Paget craved one innovation more than anything else, a microscope, the Machine Learning (ML) equivalent of that period.

Paget Book

From a teenager, James Paget, along with his older brothers began documenting the birds, plants and fauna of his home town and in 1834 published, Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood.

Introduction. | Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood.

The introduction states the intention to engage residents and visitors to Great Yarmouth to become aware of their surroundings with “the idea that it might be useful’. They believed ‘persons residing in town’ may engage more fully with the manicipality and local environment if they ‘become aware of the number and excellence of the productions of their own neighbourhood are in some measure pointed out”. Fourth Portal has a similar aim, to raise awareness of the opportunities that new technologies can offer in benefiting individuals and towns like Great Yarmouth while attempting to reverse some of the environmental damage we have all caused.

Introducing Algorithms to Great Yarmouth

The Paget brothers book stimulated an exciting way to introduce Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Linked Data, Semantic technologies, image recognition and Virtual Reality (VR) to the residents and visitors of Great Yarmouth. In the process, I feel it could fulfil the central aim of the Paget publication that future researchers could complete the Sketch by filling in the gaps. It seems that time has arrived!

Should these purposes be even inadequately fulfilled, its intention will be accomplished, more especially if it excite a spirit of research, by the assistance of which the Sketch may at some future period be filled up.

Page 1 | Introduction

Paget Garden

The idea to create a Paget Garden at the back of Portal B began simmering in late 2019, after reading Sir James Paget : Surgeon Extraordinary and His Legacies by Hugh Sturzaker. Sketch of the Natural History of Yarmouth and Its Neighbourhood was touched upon while describing the Great Yarmouth of Paget’s youth. Throughout Sturzaker’s book there are striking similarities to issues Great Yarmouth, and many other towns, are facing today, poverty, absence of adequate education, lack of curiosity and little active engagement or interest in the natural world.

Reading how the Paget brothers had listed everything they found, I decided to create a garden along the same lines using some almost dead plants that I found upon the patio at the back of St John’s Head pub, now Portal B. The garden I began creating, just as the UK went into the first national Covid-19 lockdown, is a good way to engage people who would not go into a pub or have little interest in technology, plants or the environment. In addition, I saw very few plants and kept gardens in Great Yarmouth and I thought it might work as a stimulus to others to grow flowers and food. For more read The Paget Garden and view the gallery.

Point of note: The Sir James Paget book author Hugh Sturzaker is himself a surgeon and was governor of the James Paget Hospital for 8 years from 2005, having previously worked there since 1979.

Plant Apps

My initial idea was fairly simple, use the garden as a way of introducing algorithm based technologies. There are now numerous free plant apps for mobile devices that can be simply downloaded and used by taking a photo of the plant of interest. Usually within seconds the plant can be identified with a reasonable degree of accuracy and wealth of information is provided, from the latin name through to the origins of the species. As the use of these apps widen so the accuracy improves, a process called Machine Learning. They are impressive, and will be a simple way to begin to explain the power of some of these new technologies and hopefully stimulate ideas how these could prove useful in other contexts.

Using the interventionist approach developed with my Platform-7 network, the garden will emerge at a deliberately slow pace, allowing local people to watch plants arrive in pots, grow and change. As hoped, it has already begun to attract neighbours to ask questions with some enjoying the harvest of tomatoes, beans, courgettes and cucumbers. During the conversations about the plants, opportunity to use the plant app arises directing the discussion towards technology.

Paget Game

Along with colleagues from several universities, the Paget garden idea has developed, and now forms a much larger and important element of Portal B. We intend to create an open source game using various technologies to see whether the people of Great Yarmouth and beyond can fill up the Paget Sketch.

We are at the very outset. What we know for sure is that the game will be in the form of an app and open source, meaning anyone with basic coding skills can contribute. The intention is to draw in as many people as possible, by making it as collaborative as possible.

Beyond Coding | Creating Communities

The beauty of the Paget garden is there are numerous avenues to join in, even if a person has no liking or understanding of technology. The project is to inspire curiosity and develop new communities and ideas. Create interest groups and hopefully inspire some ideas that can be commercialised by individuals, for example walks around the town and local marshlands and riverbank.

They were founded on the idea that it might be useful first, by aiding another to the number of local history necessary to a perfect acquaintance with that of the whole [United] kingdom, and with the particular distribution of each species;

[People of Great Yarmouth] be led more diligently to pursue their investigation than hitherto, while those only casually visiting it may be enabled more easily to procure specimens of the several rarities.

EXAMPLE OF PAGE FROM Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood


The Paget garden and Paget game will serve as inspiration. They will allow people coming to Portal B, those passing through and potentially schools and local groups to engage in topics that may not be easily accessible or even considered previously. The programme will link people with people, people to technology, technology to environment, and environment and technology to people and community. It may also inspire some entrepreneurship, but that will be for another blog post.

Slow Time | Knowledge and Wisdom

A further key learning outcome to this programme is stressing how learning is lifelong, and how seemingly unimportant, insignificant or irrelevant knowledge and wisdom may have relevance and importance at some future time.

James Paget recognised this himself, a man whose career and fame did not arrive until quite late in life…

James attended lectures on anatomy and bone given by Mr Randall at the Angel Inn – it was not uncommon for inns to be used as lecture halls and for teaching purposes during this period. He later described this as being equal to anything learned from lectures heard in London during later years. 

During his apprenticeship an outbreak of Asiatic cholera developed in Great Yarmouth. He saw many cases which were unsuccessfully treated using a variety of methods such as bleeding, opium and saltwater injections. He studied the disease intensively and created an orderly volume of abstracts of his readings, a skill he developed from his study of natural history.

Even when knowledge or knowhow is no longer relevant, the discipline of acquiring remains invaluable.

During his later years he wrote of the Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood “The knowledge was useless; the discipline of acquiring it was beyond price”.

Environmental Importance

It is hoped the game will provide some valuable information about the changing natural environment of Great Yarmouth and surrounding marshes. Norfolk, on England’s east coast is particularly susceptible to rising sea levels, storm surges and strong winds. How this has changed the landscape over the past 190 years might prove revealing.

Going Forward

This programme will begin quietly and grow and develop at its own pace, the importance is to start introducing different technologies at a level people are comfortable without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.


Throughout the ages, technological advances share a common theme; how to apply them to everyday use and inspire new innovations and discoveries? Development of the microscope was no different and can be compared to how photographic imaging recognition needed people uploading camera phone photos to gather enough images to learn from.

It has to be said, however, that until the nineteenth century most microscopes were sold as gentleman’s toys rather than instruments for serious scientific experimentation. They were provided with expensive cases, lined with plush velvet and compartmentalised to accommodate various accessories that often went unused. To avoid disappointment the makers often supplied the purchaser with a set of pre-prepared slides.

The College of Optometrists, Early microscopes: The first simple insect viewers, undated.

1793; this was the time of transition from Hunter’s teaching, which for all its greatness was hindered by want of the modern microscope, to the pathology and bacteriology of the present day. Paget’s greatest achievement was that he made pathology dependent, in everything, on the use of the microscope, especially the pathology of tumours.

Wikipedia, accessed 6th Sept 2020.


Introduction to Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood

It is sincerely hope, that the name given to the present work will be interpreted literally- at nothing more than a mere open “sketch” does it aim; nor were the motives which induced its publication any but of the most unpretending description.  They were founded on the idea that it might be useful first, by aiding another to the number of local history necessary to a perfect acquaintance with that of the whole kingdom, and with the particular distribution of each species; and, secondly, that other persons residing in town may, when the number and excellence of the productions of their own neighbourhood are in some measure pointed out, be led more diligently to pursue their investigation than hitherto, while those only casually visiting it maybe enabled more easily to procure specimens of the several rarities.  Should these purposes be even inadequately fulfilled, its intention will be accomplished, more especially if it excite a spirit of research, by the assistance of which the Sketch may at some future period be filled up.

It may be useful at the outset, briefly to describe the characters of the localities in which the species hereafter mentioned occur, as well as to give some general directions respecting the mode in which they may be best be procured.

Related Posts

This post is part of a series of posts to be read together, PAGET GARDEN, PAGET GAME and PATIENCE, PERSEVERANCE AND HOOKS.


McCallum, Marilyn. A Biography of Sir James Paget, Paget’s Association, Online. 14th Aug 2020 (

Sturzaker, Hugh. (2013), Sir James Paget : Surgeon Extraordinary and His Legacies, Great Britain

The College of Optometrists, (undated) Early microscopes: The first simple insect viewers, London, Online 6th August 2020, (


James Paget book and traffic sign pointing to wild rose growing randomly on a traffic island, summer 2020.

As an outsider coming into Great Yarmouth, it was essential to find a hook, so linking a local man from the 1800s, James Paget with technology and AI may prove to provide the perfect avenue of engagement. 

For interventions to have any value, it is essential to have Patience, Perseverance and Hooks. Attempting something original, by original meaning new to the audience being engaged, requires patience. It takes time for people to even acknowledge something different, never mind become involved. Perseverance comes with refusing to be deterred or discouraged by those who only see something not working or who are determined to see something not work. However, being dogged and determined is of little value if there are no hooks. By hooks I mean subjects or objects that people can engage and relate to fairly easily, and not in some abstract way.

Finding paths, methods, stories to engage the disengaged or disinterested sits at the heart of the intervention process. In the UK at least, so much is imposed upon communities and individuals. Too often, this imposition comes from a misguided belief from those in power that people are intrinsically disinterested. What is seen as disinterest may as likely be a lack of clear avenue into what is being discussed or proposed. Provide the avenue and often people will overcome scepticism, and often fear, to engage.

Paget Garden and AI

The Paget Garden is such an avenue in Great Yarmouth. Most people locally know James Paget’s name because that is the name of the local general NHS hospital. Beyond the name it’s clear little is known of the man amongst the local community – and this makes for a potential perfect hook! Paget has a fascinating story and connection to the local town, and this can be utilised to draw in the community and create an avenue of engagement with Fourth Portal, Portal B.

As with the name James Paget, a great many local people may have heard the term AI, Machine Learning, even possibly linked data and The Fourth Industrial Revolution, yet few are likely to have an in-depth understanding. So this has presented an opportunity to link these two seemingly unconnected areas, technology and James Paget, together as a fun introduction to both.

James Paget

Along with his brothers, James Paget published Sketch Of The Natural History Of Yarmouth And Its’ Neighbourhood, which listed all the fauna, flora and birds that they discovered around Great Yarmouth before 1834. Paget’s life desire was to access a modern microscope, the AI and Machine Learning of the time and an instrument that would not only seal his name in history but also significantly advance medical science. Paget changed the course of treating cancer, leaving a legacy of conditions named after his name, the most common of which is Paget’s Disease.

Making Connection

Using existing plant apps that identify plants, freely available to download, the Paget garden will encourage visitors to Portal B to begin identifying the different plants in the garden. The intention over time is to create a Portal B open source game app of our own that encourages participants to try and identify the plants and birds from the Paget list of 1834; a little along the lines of Pokemon Go game! In doing so, the ambition is to begin a wider conversation and introduction to AI and other advanced technologies, how they work and how a person can utilise them for their own purposes.

This post should be read in conjunction with JAMES PAGET, PAGET GARDEN and PAGET GAME blog posts to follow.

John M.