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.
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 – or, one could argue, a different view of the world than the individualist one. 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 can never 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, not agency. 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.