City Corporation stands down its Culture Mile team and offers public realm designs to business

Update1 : I’ve located a recording of the City residents meeting on January 11 where policy chair Chris Hayward promised more consultation in future with residents on changes in Culture Mile. I’ve added more on that below and here.

Update2: following committee discussion on January 23 it is clearer that the offer to the Business Improvement District is the public domain designs, not the brand, so I’ve changed the headline from “offers brand”. More at the end. As one committee member said, it is very very confusing.

The City Corporation is ending funding for its Culture Mile project in the north west of the Square Mile, and offering the brand (but see update above and endnote) to a proposed Business Improvement District.

The changes that I wrote about last year are confirmed in a report to the Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee meeting, with additional recommendations around the brand.

Culture Mile is being “embedded” in the new Destination City programme designed to attract more visitors to the City. The report to next Monday’s committee says:

“The City Corporation’s investment in the Culture Mile project will come to an end in March 2023. The Destination City Implementation Plan, approved by this Committee at its November 2022 meeting, included summary proposals to ‘transition’ the Culture Mile project so that it is embedded in and becomes a key pillar of the City Corporation’s Destination approach”.

A news item on the Culture Mile website says:

“The City Corporation remains committed to realizing the Culture Mile vision. The area’s ongoing transformation, through major projects and by maximizing the reach and value of its cultural assets, will play a distinct part in Destination City.

“Many Culture Mile workstreams will continue:

  • Outdoor arts will be delivered by the Destination City team and partners as appropriate.
  • The Creative Communities strand will continue under the leadership of the Communities & Neighbourhoods team at the Barbican Centre.
  • Culture Mile Learning, led by the Museum of London, will determine its future in discussion with the City Corporation’s Education Board.
  • The transformation of Culture Mile’s public realm will continue in the hands of the City Corporation’s Environment Department”.

Until now it hasn’t been clear what would happen to the Culture Mile identify as it becomes part of Destination City. The news item says:

“It is foreseeable that the Culture Mile brand, website, and social media channels will cease to be used by end March, when the project’s central coordination team stands down”.

The committee report is more explicit in explaining how the brand will be offered to to a business-led initiative.(but see endnote)

Businesses in the area have been asked to vote on the establishment of a Business Improvement District – provisionally called the Culture Mile BID. The proposals are on this website, and I’ve written previously about the plans. The result of the ballot is due next month.

The BID may establish a community forum, and there will be one elected member and one City Corporation officer on the Board of 10-12.

Until now it hasn’t been clear what would happen to “Culture Mile” as it became part of Destination City. The committee report says that “maintaining the existing Culture Mile brand beyond March 2023 would create confusion among the public and needless ‘competition’. There are very limited alternatives to ceasing the use of the Culture Mile brand at the end of March 2023”.

The City will stop using the Culture Mile brand, and offer it to the BID, if that comes into being. (but see endnote)

A Culture Mile bollard in Smithfield and branding in Moor Lane

There are already four BIDs in the City, and on past form it seems likely that businesses will vote to create another one in the north.

I’ll be interested to follow committee discussion on the City Corporation’s YouTube channel from 11am on Monday, and hear members’ response to the proposals. (See endnote). I hope some at least will argue there should be more public explanation of Destination City plans, and consultation about the impact of changes on residents as well as businesses (see update on consultation below).

The original Culture Mile plans, embodied in a £300,000 Look and Feel report, were based on extensive studies and engagement.

The Culture Mile programme and team provided accountability for implementing that vision, through elected representatives. It’s not clear where that accountability will lie in future.

Consultation

I asked City policy chair Chris Hayward about consultation at a residents meeting on January 11 2023, where he promised greater engagement in future. I’ve posted a transcript with a video of the event here, and added extracts at the end of this post. See right sidebar with categories for all posts on Culture Mile, Destination City and the BID.

I appreciate the committee report for next Monday’s meeting was probably already drafted by January 11. However, I hope Chris Hayward’s remarks may now be noted, and influence commitment to more engagement in future.

Background on Culture Mile

For reference: extracts from the report to Culture, Heritage and Libraries

9) The Culture Mile brand

With the launch of a new consumer-facing brand for Destination City scheduled for spring 2023, as well as the likely launch of a new brand for the new BID (should the ballot be successful), maintaining the existing Culture Mile brand beyond March 2023 would create confusion among the public and needless ‘competition’. There are very limited alternatives to ceasing the use of the Culture Mile brand at the end of March 2023.

10) Future of the Culture Mile public realm designs

In July 2021 a distinct set of designs were rolled out across Culture Mile’s public realm spaces (wall surfaces, bollards, planters etc.) as well as within the entrance spaces of the cultural partners. These were designed to help cement an awareness of Culture Mile’s location in the minds of the public, and to convey that an ambitious, joined up approach to the area’s future was in place. Now, with the disappearance of Culture Mile brand, we must ask whether these designs should remain in place.

A decommissioning budget of £15,000 is already pre-allocated (in the budgets of the Environment Department’s Policy and Programmes team, drawn down from Planning & Transportation and Streets & Walkways Committees) for the removal of the designs in the next 2-3 years. As the designs were not designed to be permanent, they will have to be decommissioned at the end of that period.

Removing the branding from April 2023 will remove the issue and declutter the streetscape and create a return to visual consistency across the Square Mile. No other area in the City currently has its own individual visual identity of this kind.

Alternatively, subject to a successful ballot outcome in February 2023, we might explore with the new BID the transfer to them of these designs, including IP rights and associated costs with maintenance/removal. This would depend on the BID being comfortable taking on the designs within its own identity. The Business Partnership Board has indicated willingness to explore this idea.

Doing this will save the City Corporation £15,000 of decommissioning costs and enable the new BID to have a ‘quick win’ in terms of maintaining a strong visual presence in the area.

Proposals

11) In relation to the above options, it is proposed that:

The Culture Mile website and social media channels are taken down at end March 2023 and use of the logo, term and brand narrative is not used thereafter by the City Corporation or the Culture Mile partners.

This will minimise confusion and point people more clearly towards what they want to engage with. All Culture Mile brand assets and designs (which are owned by the City Corporation) will be archived and made accessible to the Destination team.

12) Should it come into being, discussions are held with the new Culture Mile BID about its appetite for taking on the existing public realm designs. It is recommended that the new Culture Mile BID is approached in April 2023 to establish their appetite for taking on ownership of the designs (design IP and their physical rendering) of the public realm branding. Transferring these designs (which will not be used by any other party going forward) will provide an ongoing rationale for keeping them up in the public domain and gift the new BID a project that will support it to get going confidently.

Should the BID decide not to adopt these existing designs, decommissioning of the public realm branding can proceed as such time deemed appropriate by the Environment Department, the Environment Department, as the decommissioning budget is already ringfenced for this purpose.

Exchanges at residents meeting

Exchange with Policy Chair Chris Hayward at the City-wide Residents Meeting January 11 2023. Video here, and full transcript here.

I said:

“As I understand it from Culture and Heritage committee discussions and other places the current Culture Mile team is really effectively disbanding in April and the drive is now going to come from Destination City and the new Business Improvement District if that is approved, and there’s lots of opportunities there. I wondered if you had any ideas on how it would be best for residents to engage with the new arrangements that are emerging.

Chris Hayward responded (lightly edited – full version here):

“This is a classic example where the danger is we steamroller ahead with our own ideas as the Corporation and then 80 percent of the way along we go – oh we better ask the residents what they think – and it’s almost a three-quarters baked cake, and I have said to the Town Clerk and to all the chief officers that we have to get in earlier and talk to residents, so this is a point that I’m going to make sure we take down today.”

Adding:

“We will come back to you specifically on this one as to how we on this particular issue you can engage, but thank you it’s a really really good point indeed”

Image at the top of this post from Culture Mile website. More here about previous plans for Public Realm branding.

Discussion at Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee January 23 2023

The committee meeting (agenda here) was live-streamed and video of the item is available here. Captions were, unusually, not available, so I’m unable to download a transcript.

The item started with committee chair Wendy Hyde saying that there was some confusion about terminology, and asking Culture Mile manager Tim Jones to clarify.

Tim distinguished three elements: the Culture Mile project which is being embedded into Destination City; the Culture Mile brand as an idea and vision; and public realm designs inspired by Culture Mile but separately commissioned.

It is only that third element which is being offered to the BID, which is currently being promoted as the “Culture Mile BID.”

John Griffiths asked how to square decommissioning of Culture Mile with the BID name. Who owns the brand? What is the City handing over to an organisation that is essentially unaccountable except to businesses? What will people make of it if there is a Destination City brand, and Culture Mile designs on the street?

“This is very, very confusing”.

Brendan Barns suggested that there was massive room for confusion if the BID adopts the Culture Mile name, and it was agreed that some representations would be made to the team developing the BID.

I didn’t detect any enthusiasm from the Destination City representative for maintaining the Culture Mile name for the north west of the City, because the aim of the programme is to promote cultural activities and opportunities through the Square Mile.

I’ll share this post, and ask for further clarification if any is available.

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