Another question about Destination City – and BIDs

Update: the Old Bailey venue for City Questions yesterday was very grand … but from my point of view not much use, because the acoustics were so terrible. I couldn’t hear Brendan Barns initial speech about Destination City, or subsequent discussion, and so didn’t want to pitch in. I’m submitting my question by email.

As you can see from the photos we had the questions and discussion in one grand hall, and then drinks and food with jazz accompaniment in another.

I think it is a really good idea to provide residents with an opportunity to visit more of the amazing cultural and heritage assets in the Square Mile … as well as promoting them to visitors. The Old Bailey would have been fine if there were a hearing loop, like the excellent system at St Giles Cripplegate, but I guess it isn’t designed for this sort of occasion. Or maybe there was a loop and I couldn’t pick it up. I think other people had problems too.

Apart from issues of accessibility, the format is rather community participation circa 1970, with councillors on the top table, and residents pitching questions (or insults … though yesterday was civilised ). It is a them-and-us set-up.

Brendan is going to run informal get-togethers, with the first one on January 15 – sign up here. I’m checking what else may be on offer.

Here’s what was on our seat on arrival in the leaflet with answers to points raised at the previous question time.

Previously

I’m looking forward to the City Question Time tonight for a chance to visit the Old Bailey, enjoy a festive celebration, and hopefully re-address an issue I raised last time.

In summary, I want to ask again how residents can find out more about Destination City – and in particular what Business Improvement Districts are doing. I’m suggesting that we need a guide, forum and information hub.

If you know the background, you can skip to Suggestion and question below.

Background

At the previous Question Time back in June I asked City Corporation Policy Chief Chris Hayward about Destination City and how residents might find out more and be involved.

He said that it is fundamental to have resident engagement in Destination City (video here) – “if you feel we’re not consulting widely enough on Destination City, or the more engagement residents could have, we want to know how precisely we do it … we want Destination City to be owned by the residents as much as by anybody else.”

Since then we have had Bartholomew Fair, an evaluation of how successful it was, and an ongoing review of the programme which aims to attract more visitors to the Square Mile.

So far the indications are that Bartholomew Fair will not be funded by the Corporation in future, and Destination City is to be “reset” with more emphasis on appreciating and promoting existing cultural and heritage assets. The initial findings of the review are that:

“A focus on visitor numbers and spend needs to be balanced with attention to social inclusion and equity – Destination City must embrace the City’s long-standing and impressive commitment to serving the public good.

“Destination City is therefore not only about place marketing (although this is essential and needs more attention) but the future development of a liveable, lively and connected City in a uniquely historic, cultural and characterful setting”.

The Corporation has appointed councillor Brendan Barns as a member of the City Envoy Network to help engage residents, and he is organising Citizens Forums on a voluntary basis. The first is on January 15 – sign up here. More about resident engagement here.

I’ve discovered, and written about, the above developments through committee reports and conversations, and compiled resources and blog posts here. Although the information about Corporation plans is in the public domain, it isn’t gathered together anywhere else as far as I can see.

In committee discussions councillors frequency say they don’t know what’s happening, and don’t understand Destination City.

I’ve suggested that we need a Guide to Destination City, and particularly Culture Mile in the north west of the City. That area has the highest density of both residents and cultural institutions including the Barbican Centre.

Culture Mile is a Business Improvement District, and there are four more covering almost all of the Square Mile. They are funded by local businesses, and although their main focus is support for business, their activities also impact on – and potentially benefit – residents and visitors.

The recent Fleet Street Quarter public realm vision was particularly impressive. Culture Mile is developing its own, and we can expect more on the lines of the City Property Association report Visualising Destination City.

Although the Corporation’s plans for Destination City are on hold pending the review report in February, I think the BIDs will be pressing ahead with more studies, plans and events. In many ways the energy and innovation may be welcome. But –

The problem is three-fold: again there is nowhere to find out centrally what’s happening – beyond monitoring occasional newsletters and website updates; BIDs have no responsibility for thinking about a Liveable City and wider public good; and there is no democratic accountability.

BID Boards are run by business, with a councillor observer. If the residents – and the Corporation at large – don’t like what they are doing, there not much we can do about it. One company, Primera, runs all the BIDs.

If, more positively, residents wish to contribute ideas and expertise, it’s not clear how to do that. It very much depends on the inclination of individual BID staff. I don’t know whether Brendan’s role – and the Citizens Forums – will extend to engagement with BIDs as well as the Corporation. Brendan’s is a voluntary role, and so should not be overloaded.

I don’t know what’s happened to the £150,000 Residential Reset announced in February. Here’s the Resident Involvement page on the Corporation’s website. I think lack of engagement on Destination City is just an indiction of a wider problem – and an opportunity to show what’s possible, in partnership with the BIDs.

Suggestion and question

My suggestion is that we need a guide – outlined herean interim information hub at the Barbican Library, and a forum allowing discussion of both Corporation and BID plans. The forum might be developed from Brendan’s initiative – if he is supported. Background and blog posts on these ideas are on a wiki here. I think that they would provide the basis for more creative resident engagement.

Tonight I hope to put this to Chris Hayward:

“At a previous Question Time you said you wanted residents to have some ownership of Destination City, and you invited ideas on engagement.

“My suggestion, as a start, is a guide and information hub about what’s happening to support Destination City in Business Improvement Districts, as well as through the Corporation.

“My sense is that a lot of interesting projects are starting in BIDs, but neither residents nor Members have easy ways of finding out what’s happening, or contributing ideas and expertise.

“Would you favour a guide with updates, and if so how could it be progressed with BID management and the Destination City team? Is that the responsibility of the City Envoy or a senior officer, or Member?”

I hope I get a chance to put the question, but if not will ask for a written response.

Meanwhile here’s my mini-information hub about Destination City, Culture Mile, Barthomomew Fair, and an information hub. Clerkenwell too.

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