Another competitor for Destination City – Marylebone Farmers’ Market

I wrote recently that the Elizabeth Line makes Canary Wharf a strong competitor for City entertainment and the Destination City initiative. Here’s a look along the line westwards, and rather different attractions.

When I fancy a walk in Regent’s Park I usually take the Tube from Barbican to Great Portland Street, then return via Baker Street.

However, Farringdon East is even nearer, so on Sunday I thought I would try a trip to the recently-open Bond Street station and a walk up through Marylebone.

What a treat.

Lots of small shops and cafes open, and a fine Farmers Market in Aybrook Street. Here’s a map of more in London.

I bought a few things, strolled up through Paddington Street Garden, and met a heron when I got to the park.

I came home via the Circle line, but could have taken more time to walk along the canal to Paddington for a fast trip back along the Elizabeth line.

It made me wonder about the attractions of the City for visitors at the weekend, and the ambitions of the Corporation’s £2.5 million Destination City programme.

The aim is to attract more visitors to support cultural and entertainment attractions that in turn will help the City retain businesses and workers.

In launching the programme in May, policy chief Chris Hayward told the FT:

“Our working population has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. It’s much younger, and younger business people want to work and play in the same place.”

Hayward said he wanted to create a “24/7 city that isn’t just about a business but that’s fun, vibrant and offers a breadth of opportunities and interests,” adding: “Saturdays and Sundays are still very quiet in the Square Mile. I see an opportunity by creating some major events in the City.”

On Saturday October 15 the City spent £1 million on The Golden Key event, promoted as:

“A spectacular free event will transform the City of London’s streets with a huge programme of theatre, games, and performance on Saturday 15 October.

“Featuring over 100 performers, the family-friendly highlights include a mass treasure hunt, 16 doors into a ‘maze’ of adventures, three carnival-inspired fairs, and creative street theatre”.

It was pretty spectacular, and a report to Culture, Heritage and Libaries committee (extracts here) estimated that over 30,000 people attended. There was a lot of media coverage.

The report from Destination Director Luciana Magliocco suggests that it provides a model, at least in part, for future Destination City development:

“Whilst the event was successful in driving footfall and enhancing the customer experience, it has more importantly provided us with a fantastic legacy to build upon. With a new audience, it gives us the foundations on which to develop Destination City’s narrative and programme of delivery to drive sustained growth across the Square Mile. We will use learnings and recommendations to inform future decisions and activity”.

The report does also say:

“However, Destination City is not just an events programme. Critical to its success will be an integrated approach to reinventing the City experience at every touch point.

“We must build a world class brand proposition that resonates with a diverse range of audiences and build a marketing and activation programme that inspires action and advocacy. Ultimately all contributing to the overarching objectives of reinvigorating the City’s vibrancy and drive continued economic growth.”

The questions in my mind are what sort of touch points, for whom, why, and when.

As Chris Hayward says, the City is pretty quiet at the weekend, with many pubs , venues and cafes closed. Most of the workers are back home, and there’s only some 10,000 residents. Quite a few of those have first homes elsewhere. That’s why it is necessary to do something like The Golden Key event to attract people – if you want busier weekends.

But what would that achieve, at some considerable cost? Will cultural and entertainment businesses open specially? If so, will it make a big difference to their viability? Will it be of interest to City workers?

I think it is fair to say that most residents would probably prefer the money spent in other ways, unless there is more work in future on how to design Destination City in ways that work for everyone.

For example, I do think there’s a lot to be said for enhancing the general experience of visiting the City, and living and working here, particularly during the week. As I wrote recently, Destination City might help create a Liveable City, if it is co-designed with all interests.

A lot could be done by supporting small enterprises and attractions, and the work of City guides and others who help reveal the City’s heritage. I’ve suggested one way to do that would be through a Museum of the Streets.

That would bring together the information assets that we already have, including guides, smartphone apps and walks developed by the Footways project and others. Restaging Bartholomew Fair, as proposed by councillor Matthew Bell, would provide a means of combining a major event with explorations using these assets.

The detailed implementation plan for Destination City promises a new website in the first half of 2023, so there is scope for making connections:

  • A dynamic mobile optimised website with world class UX design and functionality
  • An inspirational content hub that excites, inspires and converts visitors
  • A destination directory that enhances wayfinding and encourages dwell time
  • A promotional platform for Destination City activity, the wider business offering and future commercial partnerships

Culture Mile have piloted an Explore page. The website will be one way to support the brand pillars of Destination City outlined in the plan:

  • History and heritage. A City dripping in treasures and stories of the past, present and future. A City founded on a spirit of enterprise and innovation, open to discovery and excited to share its story with the world.
  • Culture and creativity. A City as comfortable with the roof top concert, as the conservatoire; the pop-up, pop-art as the gallery. A City that continues to inspire invention, making and design – and the talent who want to excel.
  • Shopping and socialising. A City of fun, colour and lightness. With vibrant clusters and a destination retail-hospitality offer that entices people to stay.
  • Wellness. A City where everyone is welcomed and included. A City of community and connections, education and enrichment, relaxation and renewal.

The challenge for Destination City is developing something special. It has to compete with the corporate development of Canary Wharf – as I wrote here – and also the informal attractions of Marylebone and other parts of central London.

Several members of Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee – led by Mark Bostock – have called for a clearer cultural strategy that relates Destination City, the Business Improvement District, Culture Mile, the local plan and major schemes including the controversial London Wall West project and the eventual redevelopment of the main Smithfield Market.

So far those requests have just been minuted, and for the north west of the City everything is rather up in the air as the Culture Mile programme is reorganised.

However, things will move fast in the New Year, and now is a good time to start discussing what sort of City we should have, particularly in the residential north west.

City councillor John Griffiths wrote in October that the Destination City programme carries risks:

“The optics of launching what could be regarded simply as more “bread and circuses” against a backdrop of a growing cost of living crisis need consideration, as does their environmental impact at a time when the City is also promoting its climate action strategy and many European cities are turning their lights off”.

Without open discussion of a strategy, the fear for residents is that we get weekend circuses plus another Covent Garden when Smithfield Market moves. (The video vision offers something more interesting … but so far has only some 430 views recorded on YouTube after a year).

There’s a great opportunity to do something special, with a mix of the corporate plans revealed so far, and more organic, small-scale development building on the assets we already have.

That’s where the new Culture Mile Business Improvement District is going to be particularly relevant, with the possibility of a community forum.

As I wrote earlier, there’s lots of scope for projects that benefit business, visitors and residents, if they are designed together.

With so much changing in Culture Mile, we need the forum sooner rather than later.


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