Accountability for the Mayor of Greater Manchester: Participatory Governance in the 21st Century*
Guest article by James Scott Vandeventer**
It has been over a year since Greater Manchester elected its first Mayor. Since then, Mayor Andy Burnham has worked to build the Mayor’s office as an institution almost from scratch and within the confines of the devolution agreement with central government. This is no small feat, and the Mayor’s efforts should not be overlooked.
Still, there are deeper underlying issues that exist in Greater Manchester, which the mayor needs to address. These relate to his own accountability to the over two and a half million people within Greater Manchester. He came to power in a democratic election. But likewise true – and widely known – is that the long-standing Labour majority across the city-region meant his election victory was hardly a surprise (1). With approximately 29% turnout, the mayoral election came nowhere close to capturing the majority voice of eligible voters in Greater Manchester (1).
We recently asked Keith Still (Professor of Crowd Science at Manchester Metropolitan University and Fellow of the Institute of Place Management) to comment on the recent fires in the Mediterranean from his point of view as an expert.
“Due to the recent spate of wildfires around the world, spreading at an alarming rate, it’s worth remembering the golden rules for safety.
One factor that appears to be underestimated is the speed at which fire spreads. Having seen scientific experiments and been subjected to both smoke and hot room escapes at the UK Fire Services College (Morton in the Marsh – https://www.fireservicecollege.ac.uk) this may be the major factor that require more public awareness. In my youth, kids would often set fires in the hills near us, nothing to the scale witnessed around the world, but enough to give me an appreciation of wildfires and how quickly they can spread.
Manchester’s skyline is changing. Fast. While the dominant narrative is that dozens of the buildings transforming this skyline aim to provide more housing in the city centre, the recent report From Homes to Assets: Housing financialisation in Greater Manchester by Dr Jonathan Silver makes clear that these housing developments are overwhelmingly driven by financial institutions and actors who have identified Greater Manchester’s urban core as an attractive site for investment. Indeed, the primary function of these developments is financial speculation. We are witnessing the process of housing financialisation in Greater Manchester. For those concerned about the wellbeing and prosperity of the people living in Greater Manchester, as we are at Steady State Manchester, this poses the question: Does housing financialisation deliver a viable economy?
What is a viable economy?
As we at Steady State Manchester describe in our 2014 report The Viable Economy and in other publications, a viable economy is predicated on a shift in political decisions and societal actions away from the growth-driven instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism. Instead, a viable economy demonstrates greater resilience, localisation, and balance as economic activity is treated not an end in itself, but rather as a means to deliver a sufficiently prosperous future without growth. Further, a viable economy subordinates the economic system to the control of society, and organises around cultural attitudes favouring equality, solidarity and cooperation. Finally, a viable economy recognises the finite nature of ecological resources and embraces an ethic of stewardship by minimising imbalances to the planetary systems – including the climate, biodiversity, and nitrogen and phosphorous cycles – upon which human life depends.
“Housing financialisation treats housing as an asset that can, should, and must, generate profit.”
As our members will know, at IPM we spend much of our time conducting research into how we can make better places. Much of this work focuses on the high street, and whilst our towns and cities are clearly operating in a challenging environment, we are always keen to point out that this challenge does not signal their demise. Rather, it is reflective of a shift in how we use them, with retail no longer the critical fulcrum it once was, and it is down to place managers to develop the means of capitalising on this change in demand.
As this realisation sets in, towns and cities are increasingly looking for ways to complement their retail offer, encouraging visitors through other means. One way this is being done is through the development of a cultural offering. This is nothing new – planners and policy makers began to espouse the development of cultural activity in the early 1990s as a means of revitalising cities in the process of de-industrialisation[i], encouraging the rise of the ‘experience economy’[ii]. As a result, culture has, over time, become an increasingly common means of consuming a city[iii]. Continue reading “What can culture and the arts do for a place? “→
‘Evidence-based policy‘ has been a catchword in politics for some time now. It was allegedly coined by the Blair government, which aimed to design policy driven less by ideology and more by scientific evidence. Two decades later the term is still going strong, with calls for ‘evidence-based’ policy being the norm rather than the exception. However, both the terms ‘evidence’ and ‘scientific’ need some clarification when we’re talking about the social sciences, if we want to take evidence-based urban policy seriously. Continue reading “Taking evidence-based policy seriously”→
A discussion about citizen participation is nothing less than a discussion about democracy. Whatever we do, no matter how closely we try to focus and frame the issue, we come back to our basic understanding of democracy: What are the mechanisms through which citizens shape political decisions that concern them?
By Gareth Roberts, Chloe Steadman, Dominic Medway and Steve Millington (Institute of Place Management)
Football stadia as places
When we consider place management in all its incarnations and guises, and the many different types of places that this practice and associated actions can be applied to, the football stadium (and its immediate surrounding environs) is not likely to be amongst the first examples that spring to mind. However, the football stadium is clearly a place, and a place that hosts tens of thousands of visitors on a weekly basis. Therefore, ensuring that it best meets the needs of these people, and provides an environment conducive to a positive experience, is just as important as for towns, cities, or indeed any other place.
An ad-hoc homeless shelter emerged in central Manchester last year when people squatted for several days at the disused Cornerhouse cinema bringing attention to the plight of the homeless and lack of affordable housing in this severely austere climate, alas with no conspicuous societal change. Homeless continue to struggle with hardships amidst boundless apathy in Manchester and almost everywhere else in the world.
Recently I gave a public lecture as part of the DARWIN SHREWSBURY Festival, celebrating Charles Darwin, the author of On the Origin of Species, in which he introduced the theory of natural selection, whereby populations evolve over the course of generations. Published in 1859, this book, considered to be a foundation of evolutionary biology, has been voted the most influential academic book in history.
So what is the connection to the town of Shrewsbury, the county town of Shropshire, in western England? Shrewsbury was Darwin’s birthplace, and he spent his formative years there. The DARWIN SHREWSBURY Festival (see http://www.originalshrewsbury.co.uk/darwin-shrewsbury-festival ) is a two and a half week programme of events celebrating the town’s link to Darwin, aimed at ‘celebrating Shrewsbury as the origin of independent thinking’. Shamelessly drawing on as many analogies from Darwin’s work as I could manage, my lecture was on ‘The Evolution of Place Branding’. Humour aside, the fact that this festival was taking place raises some very interesting questions about how places can use associations with their famous sons and daughters for the purposes of marketing and branding. Continue reading “DARWIN SHREWSBURY – Personality Association and Place Branding”→
January 2018 saw the launch of The BID Foundation, which I believe is an important and fundamental step in addressing the needs of Business Improvement Districts in the UK. The first BID was established in Kingston in 2005, and as BIDs have matured and taken on new activities as well as growing to now operate in nearly 300 locations, there are new challenges emerging. The BID Foundation, an industry-led body being supported by the Institute of Place Management, has been formed to provide strategic direction and practical support to help the sector respond to these challenges and move forward. When BIDs started in this country they were focused primarily in town centres and addressed issues such as cleanliness and safety, place promotion and marketing as well as business support. The economic changes of the last decade, the decline in public sector funding that is available, the growth of online shopping, changes to how we seek entertainment, new security issues, and enhanced consumer expectations about the places they spend time in, are all impacting on the role of BIDs.