Cities running on empty

David Wilcox has pulled together the elements of an impassioned and public spat about a Demos Report called The Dreaming City and the Power of Mass Imagination on the future of Glasgow. It has ideas relevant to any major UK City, especially Birmingham. You can get a taste of an early response from Demos here, but one of the key quotes mentioned by David is from Melissa Mean of Demos, who wrote the Glasgow report.

In terms of new ideas to sustain the urban renaissance, our cities are running on empty. The cultural arms race of mainstream regeneration policy has become formulaic and is delivering diminishing returns for people and places. When every city has commissioned a celebrity architect and pedestrianised a cultural quarter, our cities are at risk of all becoming the same.

Ouch. The spat aside, what the report is saying is that we need a series of institutional hacks:

…the Glasgow experience hints at widening gaps between the needs of cities, their people and the kinds of local action governments at different levels are configured for. The problem is deeper than city hall lacking the right technical fix; instead there is a more profound loss in the vitality of urban imagination about the kind of shared futures we want in our cities. Richard Sennett sets out
the problem:

‘ Something has gone wrong, radically wrong, in our conception of what a city itself should be. We need to imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient, dynamic, stimulating, just city would look like concretely — we need those images to confront critically our masters with what they should be doing — and just this critical imagination of the city is weak.’

In it’s conclusion the report continues with:

In 1942 the great social economist Beveridge identifiedfive evils for society to conquer: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, and with them laid the groundwork for the birth of the welfare state. More than 60 years on the people of Glasgow identify their own giants they wish to see the end of, which reflect something of Beveridge’s spirit: poverty, bad housing, inequality, poor health, poor education and unemployment.

The report suggests six new giants:

1 Cosmopolitanism

2 Mental Aptitude

3 Civic pride

4 Crime & Safety

5 Grime

6 Eco-Logic

Most of these fit somewhere in every cities’ strategic plan with the exception of mental aptitude, which may of course be the biggest barrier for imagining a great future for our great cities.

For more have a rootle around these:

Glasgow 2020 – project site including project overview, stories, events image gallery, del.icio.us bookmarks,
The Dreaming City – download of the report
Glasgow2020 video – stories from hairdressers
Running on empty – Melissa Mean in the Guardian
‘Formulaic’ regeneration projects failing to improve quality of city life, argues Demos – press release
Think-tank attacks city’s rebirth – BBC news online
Row breaks out over think tank’s 2020 vision of Glasgow – Glasgow Herald
A dear green place divided by the benefits of regeneration – The Scotsman article
Glasgow 2020: tale of seven cities – Glasgow Herald article
Glasgow is not short of ‘mass imagination’ – letter in The Herald
When dreams cross over into the real of fantasy – Glasgow Herald article
Can we really soup up our city with acronyms, jargon and gobbledygook? Probably not – Sunday Herald article

See also Scottish Roundup  and  John Connell for Scottish blogs linking to this post.
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