Tag Archives: cities

Communities and their place-makers: the roots of the UK economy

20 Oct

The London-based Centre for Cities does exactly what it says on the tin. They advocate for better recognition of the economic and societal strengths of the UK’s major conurbations.

‘Cities’ according the Centre for Cities, ‘do not follow the national economy – they ARE the national economy’ – and their diversity demands that each of them have different priorities to meet the needs of their citizen and business communities.

This diversity of needs and priorities stands in sharp contrast to Whitehall’s grasp of the economy. The UK is, measurably, the most centralised of all developed nations.

Even with limited sub-national devolutions beyond England and the cautious local empowerment of Metro Mayors and City Deals within, it is clear that in so many spheres of our regulated regime, we have a complex challenge – an inability to align centrally planned resources with local needs.

None of that is news. The debate, like some slow-brewing tropical storm, has been building over the last three decades – centrally evidenced by the RSA’s City Growth Commission and today (rather more locally) illustrated by the energy around Bristol’s brilliant ‘Festival of Ideas’.   And this locally-driven rebalancing energy is also evident across many UK cities – at a pace, intensity, creativity and engagement that leaves Whitehall Departments in the shade.

This renaissance – the emergence of inspired local leadership and willing communities – is also a cultural expression that positions exponents at some distance from the tired dogmas of national political parties across the spectrum.

Critical impatience is, for example, articulated by Metro Mayors, regardless of Party affiliations. The Centre for Cities noted the marginalisation of these local champions at recent Party conferences and, this week, the C4C lead story is a repeat of a powerful post-election view of paralysis in parliament with a call for MP’s to support local initiatives.

I’m not a disinterested observer. I’ve written previously about Municipal Enterprise and the need to translate and apply the work of fresh economic thinkers like Kate Raworth and Mariana Mazzucato from national to more local perspectives.   I’ve watched the brilliantly creative work of Knowle West Media Centre building community cohesion in part of Bristol and for several years I’ve contributed to the work of the US-based Intelligent Community Forum with its global network of around 160 cities.

Whilst our national politicians are looking elsewhere, the new localism is an unstoppable force. This is an energy that is likely be further bolstered by the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2018 Global Summit when civic leaders, CIOs and community developers from many of the world’s leading cities come to London next June to share their experiences.   The current holder of the title ‘Intelligent Community of 2017’ is Melbourne, Australia. In recent years UK cities have rarely featured in the rankings but this year Knowle West was assessed as being amongst the Global Top 21 – a huge accolade for their imaginative creativity.

Let’s be clear (as politicians are fond of saying) communities are both economic and societal constructs – they embrace both the places where we work and where we live – and those of us who commute may belong to two or more.

In the gradual evolution of local empowerment, the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships was supposed to have been a step along the way. No doubt they can claim some economic impact but for their wider communities these efforts pass largely unnoticed and, as noted in this week’s Economist, the divergences of well-being means that many feel they are being left behind.  Rather than celebrate diversities the good citizens of less-prosperous places are more likely to fret about ‘post-code lotteries’ when austerity drives down public service standards. Fortunate indeed are those places that rise above party politics to embrace inspired local leadership. But this is a balancing act – local threads woven into wider regional fabrics.

What marks out the new New Localism are signs of vastly greater local engagement – and with that higher-octane fuel the drivers of the UK economic performance and our social and cultural developments are very firmly in the hands of local communities and their place-makers.

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The NEW New Localism

19 Sep

According to Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak (Brookings Institute) “Power is shifting in the world: downward from national governments and states to cities and metropolitan communities; horizontally from the public sector to networks of public, private and civic actors; and globally along circuits of capital, trade, and innovation.”

It’s not surprising that much of their evidence for this stems from the USA. More recently they have written (p22, Prospect, October 2017) “The emergence of ‘New Localism’ is partly due to the abdication of higher levels of government“.

Search on Google, however, for ‘New Localism’ and the top hit (Wikipedia) roots the term in the early part of the UK’s Blair government and the realisation of an increasing understanding of the limitations of centrally-driven policy implementation’.

Cautious devolution and local empowerment has since featured Gordon Brown’s ‘Sub-National Economic Growth’ plans, Regional Development Agencies replaced by Lord Heseltine’s Local Enterprise Partnerships, George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, the RSA’s City Growth Commission, a variety of City Deals, half dozen new Metro Mayors and a new national industrial strategy that has space for Place-Making.

And yet, the UK remains one of the most centralised of all developed nations.

Even now, with a hint that Local Governments might once again be allowed to retain revenues from business property taxation (‘Business Rates’), there’s debate over the potential for relative inequities of city honey-pots and their less well-endowed commuter hinterlands – not to mention the latent heat of ‘post-code lottery’ outrage if any place dares to fare better than any another.

But we know that there is no national economy – only the aggregation of many local economies each with different demographics, different cultures, different business interests, different leaderships and different needs calling out for different priorities.  More significantly, as the UK tumbles towards Brexit, cities and their communities have diverse cultural and commercial international linkages that impact on future prosperity here at home.  Should we need to ask why some local economies and their communities prosper whilst others seem to wither? How can we have more prospering and less withering?

Central policy makers may desire national economic growth but that can only happen with the success of diverse local economies. So it’s not surprising that the Department for Business (BEIS) has strategically enshrined Place-Making, but as yet there’s very little flesh on those bones.

With the benefit of an 18-year world-wide study of what makes communities prosper, there are, it seems, some fundamental indicators but even these are evolving as we adapt to a more digitally-enabled era. Just as in business, enterprises that have not adapted find themselves in treacherous trading waters: communities, their citizens, employers and local leaders need to adapt. Sometimes it takes a crisis to spur action. Perhaps a more-mature approach lies in planning futures than reach beyond short-term electoral cycles.

To find the new New Localism – to flesh out the bones of Place Making and local economic/community development – Leaders, civic and commercial, should study the outcomes of on-going research.

In late October, the world’s Top 21 in the 2017/18 research cycle led by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) will be announced. By early next year those 21 communities will have been whittled down to just the Top 7. Then it will take a few more months of patient investigation and assessment to declare a worthy successor to Melbourne – the current holder of the title ‘Intelligent Community of the Year’. That announcement will take place next June in London in the company of mayors, CIOs, enterprise and civic leaders from communities around the world.

Between now and next June all the participating cities/communities will learn much about themselves and be readied to share their successes, to network their ideas, to inspire others, to find new opportunities, but also to learn how they might further adapt in this fast-moving world.

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See also http://www.gs-sg18.co.uk/about/www.gs-sg18.co.uk/about/smart-smarter-smartest and associated links.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smart, Smarter, Smartest – Cities Seeking Superlatives

9 Aug

We all know – or think we know – that Smart Cities are driven by Smart Technologies, but what about the people?

In much the same way as industries hype their products (Broadband, Superfast Broadband, Ultrafast . . .) so it is with entire cities.

Beyond Smart Cities we have Social Smart Cities (tackling poverty), Green Cities (very Circular), Resilient Cities (prepared for the unexpected) and even Compassionate Cities – caring about digital inequity and boosting Inclusion. And whilst the ‘smart tech’ systems and infrastructures are key to enabling all these variants there is still the human element – the citizens and their business that must live work and play in these communities.

All the place-based systems in the world still need to serve the citizen – not the other way around.

So enter, stage left, the ‘Intelligent Community’ with its fabric woven from all the usual economic sector metrics and demographics plus the threads of social wellbeing policies.

The question is: Is your city ready? You may be contemplating an impressive array of investment proposals to deal with Transport, Air Quality, Housing, Social Care – the list goes on – but will all those plans knit together to match your citizens’ and community needs?

One way of finding out – free of charge – is to nominate your community for assessment by the Intelligent Community Forum.  Who knows, you may even be selected as one of the world’s Top 21 or Top 7 Intelligent Communities.  Melbourne, Australia, went on this year to be acclaimed as the Intelligent City of the Year.

That achievement was announced in New York at the ICF Global Summit last June. Next year’s great event (with mayors, civic leaders and community developers from across the world) will be in June, in London – the first time in two decades that this very special occasion will be held outside of North America.

You could be there – and your community could find its place on the global stage.

Nominations before 13th 21st September via http://www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations

 

DEADLINE FOR NOMINATION EXTENDED – now 21st September

For more information please contact David Brunnen or call 07714 325 657

Migration: the issue that goes away and doesn’t come back

4 Jun

Migration issues are rarely far below the surface in the current neverendum debate. Overcrowding is cited as an inevitable consequence of the migrant influx but no one questions the underlying causes of congestion.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

To what extent are overcrowded cities and the pressures on services and infrastructure the result of our own homegrown policies over which we have complete control?

Parag Khanna in his new book ‘Connectography[1]’ observes the growth of megacities – increasingly coastal megacities – and, like the UK’s Centre for Cities and the RSA’s City Growth Commission, regards that growth as inevitable – a long-term trend towards the supposed richness of culture and economic efficiencies of scale.  The drift within England from North to South and the consequential pressure on London and the South East has at least been recognized as in need of remediation – hence the Northern Powerhouse concept – but the remedy proposes further growth of great cities from Manchester to Newcastle via Leeds, and HS3 must go to the back of queue behind HS 2 nowhere near as important. The 2007 Treasury White Paper on subnational growth pointed in sensible directions but fell amongst the chaos of global economic calamity (and bonkers bankers) in subsequent years.

But what if our smaller towns and communities in the vastly greater hinterland were better enabled to be economically thriving without driving their citizens away to distant cities never to return? While we bemoan the pressure of overcrowded capitals do we spare any thought for the depopulation of vast tracts of land and market towns or the demands on road and rail travel for commuters who cannot find work near home?

This is our internal migration issue, the imbalance of rural and urban economies. It affects many countries – which is why you can buy a second home for next to nothing in rural Northern Spain or the middle of France. We read of massive effort and creativity being poured into solving the challenges of making megacities habitable. That’s no bad thing but let’s not kid ourselves; we choose to huddle together. That internal migration towards ever-more complex cities (mostly internally-displaced economic migrants) far exceeds any issue of a few hundred thousand refugees arriving from elsewhere.

Local Authorities can and should rise to the challenge. They may not have mayors like megacities have mayors but they surely know what is needed to bring the children (and jobs for the children) home. They understand the consequences of neglect.  It is time for Municipal Enterprise.  The issue that went away but now needs to come back requires a multi-year round of rural renewal.  The investment will pay dividends – not least in the greater resilience of cities!

Discuss.

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[1] Connectography: Mapping the Global Network Revolution, Parag Khanna, pub: Weindenfeld & Nicolson, 2016, ISBN 978-1-474-80423-9

 

 

Rural Prospects in Digitally-Enabled Economy

29 May

A theme paper for an Environment Management conference in Delhi has sparked debate about the underlying assumptions.

Beautiful country area with small town and brightly colored fields

The paper characterises city dwellers as materially rich compared to rural citizens described as ‘poor’ – but then considers the prospects for lifestyle values that would position rural citizens as environmentally rich and city dwellers as increasingly impoverished.

The author’s intent is clear – to challenge delegates with a potential reversal of fortunes – but the problems with these characterisations are two-fold.

Firstly, we are well aware of material deprivations in cities, towns and villages across the land – economic inequalities cannot be fully correlated geographically.  There is no doubt, for example, that rural areas may have a raw deal in terms of transport and digital infrastructures but it is, at the same time, far from realistic to assume that city-zens are much better served.  If you really want a life off-grid then 1 mile downstream from Tower Bridge in SE16 may be just the digital desert you desire.

Secondly, it is mistaken to assume that rural citizens value being less connected.  Some may well luxuriate in leafy glades surrounded by natural wonders and wildlife but making a living, having and creating gainful employment, being able to access medical care and education, and contributing to wider society are not absent from non-urban family agendas.

The key to reconciliation between different environments lies in the priorities given to issues of resilience.  You might imagine that cities need, for example, stronger environmental efforts and rural areas need better digital infrastructures – but those are a generalisations; policies based on averages are ‘merely average’ and, generally, unfit for purpose.

Places and peoples are different and have diverse needs.  The presumed-to-be unstoppable tidal flow of humanity towards major conurbations is as much in need of thoughtful management as migrations between countries.  The leadership effort surely needs to be directed towards ironing out the relative risks and inequalities that prompt these migrations.  Leaving them to grow and fester will surely only fuel future problems.

 

Three (UK) substitutes for five minutes thought

12 Feb

220px-levin-bbcWhen the late, great, Bernard Levin was writing in the 1970’s for The Times, he dismissed repeated calls for the return of capital punishment as just ‘one of the popular substitutes for five minutes thought’.  That phrase suggests he had in mind plenty of other substitutes worthy of his ire.

Now, more than two decades on from his passing, the death penalty that he might have raged against is the likely death of an economy where governance has lost its bearings.

There’s no knowing, of course, what ‘popular substitutes’ he would nowadays have selected for his brilliant brand of incisive criticism, but current fascinations with all things digital suggest at least three – these being prompted by the growing evidence of the economic impacts of infrastructure investment and the impending tsunami of data being unleashed by video technologies.

Read the full story

Written from #FTTH2015 Warsaw and informed by presentations from VentureTeam and Diffraction Analysis.

Presentation Press Conference FTTH Conference 11 February 2015

Graphic credit: BBC

RSA City Growth Commission – deadline for submissions – 17th January

13 Jan

hi=-tech buildingAs the RSA’s Call for Evidence is set to close next Friday we were reminded to look back at how we viewed the Urban Regeneration scene in 2008 – just prior to the financial meltdown.   Such was the paucity of ground-breaking developments that we described Urban Regeneration as ‘a cottage industry’.

Now that the economic cycle is once again supportive of renewed hope for urban regeneration and there are calls for smarter (or more intelligent) cities and communities, it’s perhaps time to pick up those themes that now seem more than ever essential in the search for prosperous local economies.

Full story here