High profile regeneration programmes are failing to improve the day to day quality of life of people living in Britain’s major cities, think tank Demos claims in a report published today. The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the power of mass imagination finds that while cities have made some gains in recent years, the benefits of regeneration are at risk because city leaders are running out of new ideas to deepen and sustain the urban renaissance.
The report calls for ‘mass-imagination’ programmes - capturing the aspirations and creativity of citizens - to replace council dominated visions and corporate-style mission statements. It warns that without this, regeneration efforts that rely on iconic architecture, leisure and tourism will increase social division and erode peoples trust and civic pride.
The Dreaming City is the result of an 18 month pilot programme, which involved over 5000 Glaswegians residents taking part to create a new shared vision for the future of their city. Supported by twenty civic and public sector organisations in Glasgow, Glasgow 2020 was the world’s first project to use ‘mass imagination’ as a development tool. Schoolchildren, council tenants, company directors, cleaners, asylum seekers, single parents and teenagers were among those who took part to help ‘design the future’.
The report argues:
• The apparent ‘urban renaissance’ the UK has seen over recent years is based on an unsustainable ‘cultural arms race’, with cities competing against each other to attract investment and tourism.
• While these can offer short term superficial improvements, over time they will deliver diminishing returns - they risk all cities becoming the same with a focus on iconic and city-centre buildings and projects which fail to affect the lives of the vast majority of people.
• The benefits Glasgow has enjoyed since the early 1990’s, when it was awarded Capital of Culture, have not been felt across the city. It presents evidence of poorer Glasgow neighbourhoods feeling ‘left behind’ and ‘unable to participate in Glasgow’s good times’
• That this sense of disconnect will be felt across the UK if cities continue to rely on one size fits all approaches to regeneration which shut out the wishes and creativity of their citizens and communities.
• Future opportunities such as Liverpool’s’ status as Capital of Culture and London’s hosting of the Olympic Games will be wasted unless these lessons are taken on board.
The Dreaming City calls on cities to develop future priorities based on the full and unconditional participation of all their citizens.
Head of Demos’ Self Build Cities Programme Melissa Mean said:
"City leaders are running on empty in terms of ideas to sustain the urban renaissance. When every city has commissioned a celebrity architect and pedestrianised a cultural quarter, distinctiveness is reduced to a formula. To find some new ideas and energy, instead of dry consultations which have pre-set boxes to be ticked, cities need to open up to the mass imagination of their citizens. People in Glasgow showed that they have the creativity to imagine better and more innovative futures. Councils need to listen."
Glasgow 2020 showed how this can work in practice, with over 5000 people taking part in a wide range of activities over 18 months. Instead of closed committee rooms, discussions took place in the public spaces and places of Glasgow. These included using the Glasgow-Edinburgh train service and ‘Pride of the Clyde’ boat as venues for a series of discussion sessions, and holding a number of story writing competitions to encourage people to describe the kind of city they want Glasgow to be in 2020.
One important part of Glasgow 2020 was the ‘Make a Wish for Glasgow’ campaign, which saw people’s wishes for the future collected in a giant ‘wishbook’ touring the city. Far from the dour stereotype, it showed Glaswegians have a strong sense of optimism and hope about the future of their city. This contrasts to how people feel about the future of public services and local and central government.
The Dreaming City draws the wishes into 7 ‘clusters’ of aspiration for the future of Glasgow, together going far beyond the usual results of local authority satisfaction surveys:
• The Six Giants people wanting to see the problems of poverty, bad housing, inequality, poor health, poor education, and unemployment addressed
• Cosmopolitanism showing a desire for the problems of sectarianism and ethnic integration to be tackled
• Mental aptitude showing the skills and attitudes people think will be important to prosper in the future, including self-confidence; compassion; and friendliness
• Crime and safety with people wishing for a safer future with more freedom to enjoy their city
• Civic pride representing the hopes of people wanting to feel they can be proud of their city, with other people outside the city also recognise it as a great city
• Grime wanting a future without litter, gum, graffiti, spitting and dog dirt
• Eco-logic with Glasgow people wishing to take on personal responsibility to make the city a centre of environmental innovation
The Dreaming City argues that these are a more complete picture of hopes for the future of the city than closed institutional consultation processes. It calls on future Glasgow projects to take them into account and for cities across the UK to show similar imagination in shaping their future.
Media enquiries: Mark Fuller, Head of Press and Public Affairs
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Notes for Editors
The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the power of mass imagination is written by Gerry Hassan, Melissa Mean, and Charlie Tims. It also features a collection of short stories by Glasgow residents, generated during the Glasgow 2020 project.
The report will be launched in Glasgow on Wednesday 23rd May.
Glasgow 2020 was an 18 month long project, promoted by a Demos led consortium, aimed at empowering Glasgow residents to imagine the future of their city. The project held 38 events across Glasgow, collected over 2000 ‘wishes’, and held a series of short story writing competitions.
Members of the consortium were:
Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, Glasgow Housing Association, Glasgow Centre for Population Health, Communities Scotland, Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board, Firstgroup, Strathclyde Police, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, Glasgow University, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow School of Art, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Scottish Arts Council, VisitScotland, Scottish Executive National Programme for Mental Health and Well-Being, Glasgow Anti-Racist Alliance, Scotland UnLtd and the Evening Times
Demos is an independent think-tank that works with policy-makers inside and outside government, and has a reputation for identifying long-term social trends.