“Can we talk?” – a new measure for liveable cities.

I’ve been asked by MADE to write 200 words for the Birmingham Post. They’re gauging opinion before the Technical and Environmental  Mayor of Copenhagen speaks in Birmingham next week. Klaus Bondam will be at Town Hall on April 6th to share with us how he expects Copenhagen to stays a wonderful place to live.

I was asked about an hour ago and the deadline is tonight.  Here’s a bashed out draft of what I fancy saying. Please encourage, discourage amend etc in the comments. Does anyone have details of that survey that put us the 2nd best place for social media behind, is it Chicago?


Is this a good place to talk?  It’s not a question we often ask about cities.  After all the whole point of a city is that we can connect, trade and work.  Non of that happens without talk, does it? No it doesn’t, and neither does innovation.

Conversation is about scale, it happens where it’s easy for people to gather in small groups.  The ICC is evidence that we know about audience on a grand scale, but how well do we do small scale gathering?

We need many places where we can meet, deliberately or by accident.  That means a city which is easy to walking but above all has many interesting and modestly scaled places that people want to go.   It means a tolerance of other’s ideas and interests, a city where people also like to listen.

These are partly planning issues and partly cultural issues. How good are our public services at setting the example and being interested in us, how good our our planners and designers at encouraging the interesting?

And of course we don’t just want to talk to ourselves. Birmingham needs take part in a global conversation.  So our schools need open access to the internet and our school teachers and pupils helped to have the confidence to take part in sharing and developing ideas with people across the planet.

Oh and Birmingham doesn’t have free internet access in the city centre, whatever our PR folk may so. So Birmingham Fizz needs to be turned of or turned into a proper free wifi service, so we can finally start hearing each other speak.



  1. Jo Ind says:

    Very interesting. Like the connections made between space and culture. You’ve given an example of the ICC as a place to talk on a grand scale. I’d like to see an example of what you mean by “interesting and modestly scaled places.” Have we got any? Without an example I find it harder to get the picture.

  2. Jon Bounds says:

    Couple of typos in last para, worried that it’ll get cut too – could you roll it in to the previous one?.

    >These are partly planning issues and partly cultural issues. How good are our public services at setting the example and being interested in us, how good our our planners and designers at encouraging the interesting?

    Is great, could it do with something about openness and honesty – encouraging conversation amongst all rather than just between Services and ‘people’ – is there a way our leaders could become the hub of conversation?

  3. Nick Booth says:

    Thank you both, very good points which I shall take on board. Jo I tend mto mne cafe’s, but also small squares, wider pavements, more people on the move both online and offline, so we don’t see ourselves as tied to a desk and a particular series of relationships. I’ll think of a good example.

  4. Free wifi is pretty useless if you can’t afford the technology to go with it. If you’re trying to be inclusive by providing things for free….some people might need a full acccess terminal in the meeting places you mention.

    Oh and…what about the ‘older’ generation? We have schools, we have meeting places…where are our OAPs going to go? I’m sure there’s a lot we can learn from older generations if they were plugged into the conversation more readily.

  5. Nick Drew says:

    Could you turn around the fourth paragraph so that it’s a statement not a question? I like the strident “we need/Birmingham needs” formulations in the other paras. I also think examples of public services generally works better than writing “public services”. So something like “we need the Council, hospitals, utilities etc. to show they are interested in us beyond whether we pay our bills and Council Tax, we need town planning and urban design that cultivates places where interesting things happen…” maybe?

    (Also, the above point probably goes for the question in the second para too – an affirmative rather than a question would be stronger maybe…)

    Those small quibbles aside – a really interesting answer to a tough brief!

  6. Andy Mabbett says:

    Perhaps a tangent, but it’s very hard to find space for things like committee meetings or smaller (20-50) public meetings, at affordable costs, and conveniently located for a city-wide audience.

  7. Dave Harte says:

    Only just spotted this. Has the deadline gone?

    It’s FIZ (free information zone) rather than Fizz. Mentioning the Fiz at the end seems out of kilter with the rest of the piece. It’s a separate article: ‘What contribution can municipal wi-fi make to creating city spaces for conversation?’. At the moment the walled garden approach to wi-fi evident in the Fiz forces those conversations indoors – providing much-needed revenue to the coffers of those spaces that have decided to use free wi-fi as a differentiator in their business offer.

    It’d be interesting to see how you could manipulate the wi-fi cloud in the city centre so that it doesn’t disrupt the market for wi-fi but does create small spaces where the full-on free offer could encourage people to gather and the conversation to flow. When the library (finally) switches on its wi-fi there’d be a case to extend its reach to Chamberlain square perhaps?

  8. axel anden says:

    i might be a bit late, i liked it, you could maybe add something about this conversation enabling people to build for the society (the stuff you do!)

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