Figures released earlier this month show that Christmas shopping did not bring the gift of high street renewal to towns and cities around the UK. According to the Springboard Index[i], the benchmark for UK footfall, fewer people visited the high street, compared to the same period last year.
The year that just ended was full of new and exciting academic publications, saw the reprint of some old classics, but was also the time for us to simply go through the books that had been piling on our desks for a while. Here are our top 10 reads of 2017:
Prof Gary Warnaby
“This year, I’ve been really interested in some of the temporal issues related to the use of urban space, so for me the two books published this year that I’ve been going back to again and again are: Continue reading “Our academic books of 2017”→
Teaching economics to postgraduate students with no or very little background in economics is not an easy thing to do. How do you communicate the intricacies of economic thought to those with a background in architecture and planning – as I often have to do in a Master’s programme in Urban Management at the Technical University in Berlin? It has however proven to be much easier that teaching students who do have a background in economics, but only of the neoclassical school. Continue reading “Teaching Pluralist Economics”→
Ireland’s town and city centres are not yet facing the same loss of sales to online retailing as those in the UK (now 17% of all sales according to the Centre for Retail Research), but they are extremely concerned about the likely impact of Brexit, still feeling the impact of out of town shopping, and seeing other social and technological change. An event in Sligo in October 2017 attracted delegates from across both the Republic and Northern Ireland to discuss the changes affecting town centres and how they can best respond.
Chaired by Bobby Kerr, the Chairman of Insomnia Coffee and a campaigner for ‘Winning Back the High Street’, the event opened by looking at the potentially eventually devastating impact of Brexit on many Irish towns despite the strength of the national economy. Catherine Curran, from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Innovation then presented the Framework for Town Centre Renewal (https://dbei.gov.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/A-Framework-for-Town-Centre-Renewal.pdf) document that was launched in April 2017. This document was developed by an influential group of interested parties from the public and private sectors, including Dublin Town BID, who came together as the Retail Consultation Forum. Recognising the inherent strengths of town centres and their significant role in the economy, the document proposes a three-stage process for all town centres in the country.
Step One is to develop the evidence base by engaging with stakeholders and undertaking a health check. Guidance on this is provided in the report and indicators, such as footfall, diversity, competition, and vacancy, are described.
Step Two is about collaboration and bringing together a group of stakeholders. The document talks about local champions and representation and provides examples from existing Town Teams, BIDs and other partnerships in various locations.
The third step is the preparation of a plan for town centre renewal with a vision, strategy and action plan and some key performance indicators. The Framework helpfully highlights the national policy framework within which local action plans will need to operate. It also looks at potential interventions and details how these should be addressed.
Although much of what is in the Framework will be familiar to those engaged in place management in the UK, the concept has not been widely adopted yet in Ireland and the document is well presented and easy to read and will hopefully lead to much wider take-up. It will also act as an excellent reminder for those elsewhere who want to refresh their approach.
A future for Ireland’s towns?
Work on the health checks has already begun in Ireland and the results of some of the pilot initiatives were described by Tara Buckley, Director General of the Retail, Grocery, Dairy and Allied Trades Association, who was part of the Retail Consultation Forum.
The work the Institute has been doing with data from Springboard and working with other partners to understand town centres and develop new approaches to ensure their vitality and viability was a natural fit into this conference. I was able to talk about how we identified the 25 most important factors for town centre vitality (http://placemanagement.org/media/50610/Executive-Summary.pdf), to explain how retail hierarchies are now redundant and we now need to think about towns in terms of usage (http://placemanagement.org/footfall-signatures/) as this will determine the most appropriate actions to be taken in an individual centre. I also talked about approaches to town centre management in terms of Repositioning, Reinventing, Rebranding and Restructuring which we will be releasing articles on in the next month.
The conference heard from a number of Institute members and past students, including Mo Aswat from Mosaic about the international experience of BIDs, Gail McGibbon about the experience of the BID in Sligo, Julienne Elliott about the development of the Coleraine BID, and Richard Hamilton of Future Analytics on the town planning perspective of a healthy town. Other locations featured included Waterford, Ennis and Enniskillen.
The short answer is, of course, that they can’t. Places – even if we think of them as formed through social relations and not as mere physical locations – simply can’t think. They’re not human; they’re not even animal. Social relations are not just the sum of individual actions, but rather a much more complex outcome of human interaction. So, if places can’t think, why do we keep reading academic papers where London “intends to show” something or Berlin “aspires to be” whatever? As I have written before, this figure of speech is metaphorical: places are personified and given agency to avoid more complex phrasing. I firmly believe this is not only wrong, but can lead to risky oversimplifications.
“Place is generative, but it has no agency and certainly no intentionality.”
It is not that we cannot understand places as political actors in themselves. Cities and countries in a sense are actors in many cases. Berlin plays a particular role in European politics and London in world finance. However, I’d rather conceptualise that as a generative capacity of place. As geographers since the 1970s were able to show, space (and place) is an outcome of social relations, but is also capable of producing new ones. Berlin is the outcome of physical space and its interactions with social relations in that particular location over time. However this particular juxtaposition of those particular social relations in that particular location is not only an outcome, but can generate new relations, as different elements interact again in ever changing constellations. So, places are outcomes, but they are also processes and generative of new social relations. But places don’t have agency, and certainly no intentionality.
The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world’. It is both a sign of how we think, but more than this, it can form thinking. Thinking of place as having agency can lead to dangerous localisms and nationalisms. When you keep reading of the UK demanding a “hard Brexit”, you will tend to believe that the whole country is caught in a fight against Europe. But what about the 48% who voted to remain? Do they also demand hard Brexit? And will other Europeans now start seeing a hard Brexiter every single Brit? When you read that “Germany demands more cuts from Greece in the Eurozone crisis”, do you really believe that it reflects the actions of every German instead of those of particular groups and their interests? It is a very easy next step to turn “the Greeks against the Germans” and vice versa. The UK vs. Europe or Germany vs. Greece are not only innocent oversimplifications. They are clearly rhetorical devices meant to conceal group (including class) interests.
“The way we use language is not without consequences for the ‘real world'”.
So what can be done about it? How can we express something similar without falling into the trap of the personification of Place? There are several ways this can be done: You can choose to avoid the use of a specific subject in the clause or – even better in my opinion – you can choose to name the agent. For example: Certainly not all Berliners want their home to become a world city, but many surely do. So, instead of “Berlin aspires to become a world city” rather choose “There is the intention to turn Berlin into a world city” or better still “The current government [or whoever it is] intends to position Berlin as a world city”. The latter makes agency transparent and shows the power relations in Place. Only by naming the powerful agents behind particular choices, can you conceive of ways of dealing with them. If we keep on ascribing agency to places, or even worse, ascribing intentionality to them, we risk masking the real power games behind Place.
Destination marketing is obsessed with place authenticity and for good reasons. Tourists, it is said, want to experience the ‘real thing’. What is that real thing? What are authentic places? We know that some places feel more ‘real’ than others, but what does that feeling mean? Is place authenticity the same as the ‘sense of place’?
Imagine the following situation: You are walking in the mountains, maybe wandering through a beautiful forest with no one around. You enjoy the sounds of the forest animals, the smell of the damp earth. The light through the trees makes you dreamy. You enjoy the solitude, that feeling that you are into some kind of discovery of nature and of yourself.
“There are things that give us the feeling that places are authentic, but when examined closely they are somehow flawed.”
Behind the trees you discover a small well-designed kiosk. As you approach a very friendly person greets you: “Would you like some information about the other sights in the area?” Suddenly you are not in the discovery of nature any longer. That very friendly greeting makes you feel that you had been duped. What you thought was an untouched forest was in fact part of the packaged local sights. Continue reading “Can you make authentic places?”→
Dr Heather Skinner, Chair of the IPM’s Responsible Tourism SIG, has recently returned from 2 weeks teaching in Albania. Heather is one of a number of international academics that contribute to delivering the formal classroom based theory sessions for the BA Business and Economics at the Faculty of Business and Technology at Nehemiah Gateway University in rural Buçimas, a small town in the Pogradec Municipality in the Korçë region of Albania, located around 130 km from the nation’s capital, Tiranë.
by Heather Skinner
Albania, like many former communist countries across the European continent, has found that it is not always easy to overturn the impact of centralization to both education and to the economy, or to turn around educational concepts that have been ingrained over many years of a communist regime.
“Regional development becomes critical for a country where almost 60% of its population live in rural areas, where almost half are engaged in only small-scale subsistence based agricultural activities.”
How does a small archipelago cope with becoming Britain’s most successful cruise destination? In 2011 there were 36,000 cruise passengers, last year there were close to 100,000, projected to hit 141 ships and 126,000 arrivals this year – a three and a half-fold increase in numbers. In 2018 the first 5,000 berth ships are due to arrive. Inevitably, just as in Venice, the cruise liners overshadow the islands and swamp the honeypot sites. Continue reading “Will Orkney be overcome by Tourism?”→
Place is an important category in the construction of our individual and social identities. We develop a sense of place both by projecting ourselves onto places and identifying with them in myriad ways. We may, for example, use place names to identify ourselves (“I live in Berlin”, “I am from Greece”); we may be more or less attached to particular places, as they become markers of who we are (“I am a new Berliner”).
By Place, I do not only mean the “bricks and mortar” of a locality, but rather the interaction between the physicality and the social relations that come together in a particular locus. Place attachment then is with people and their cultures, with their food, language and behaviour – as much as with public spaces, landscapes or buildings. It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives. Tourists often behave differently at home than when they travel, although place attachment and responsibility may not be the only reason behind it (throwing away behavioural norms as part of the travel experience or the relative anonymity and lack of social control may be other explanations).
“It is easier to feel responsible for a place we are attached to, rather than for places we just pass through in the course of our lives.”
In a world where many people (though by no means all) move constantly, is there still such a thing as place responsibility and indeed the space for place-based politics? Or as Doreen Massey put it back in 1991, is there a “global sense of place”? Continue reading “An Itinerant Sense of Place”→
I recently had the opportunity to coordinate two workshops that included participation in urban development one in the town of Agios Nikolaos (Crete, Greece) and only a week later in the district of Wedding in Berlin, Germany. The details were indeed rather different, but the basic idea very much the same. In Crete the goal was to think about the town’s identity and to formulate some visions for its future. In Berlin it was about the future of the place: “What do we imagine our neighbourhood to be in 2020”. Both workshops were thoroughly enjoyable, as I always find working with people on the future of their places a very rewarding process. Continue reading “The problem with participation in urban development”→