Culture Mile: what is it, where is significant, and who is accountable?

This is the third of a series of posts about a City of London Culture Mile event on July 18, and issues that will be discussed including public realm improvements and a community forum. Previous posts here and here.

Among questions residents may have in mind when attending the first Culture Mile community meeting on July 18 are:

  • Just what is Culture Mile – an area, an organisation, a partnership, a programme of activities?
  • What are deemed the most significant places and organisations?
  • Who is responsible for direction? Is there any democratic accountability?

Clarification will be important in order to create an active community forum for resident involvement. Some history may be helpful.

The first Culture Mile

The original Culture Mile was launched by the City Corporation in 2017 as a partnership between the City Corporation, the Barbican Centre, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Museum of London to create ‘a world-class destination for culture and learning’. Background on that and what follows in this committee report and in blog posts linked below, and listed here.

The Corporation news release said “this ambitious and transformational initiative will create a vibrant cultural area in the north-west corner of the City over the next 10 to 15 years.

“Stretching just under a mile from Farringdon to Moorgate, Culture Mile will have creative exchange, cultural collaboration and learning at its core in an area where 2,000 years of history collide with the world’s best in culture”.

As I’ve written here, one of the key elements relevant to residents and workers as well as visitors was a “Look and Feel” strategy of physical improvements.

However, by 2019 the City’s Policy and Resources committee was looking to cut costs and move to a different business model, and by 2023 local businesses had voted to create and fund a Business Improvement District.

Culture Mile BID

The BID adopted the name Culture Mile, with its work operating in parallel to other Culture Mile streams led by the Barbican Centre, Museum of London and Corporation departments, as agreed the previous year.

The original Culture Mile website is offline, but you can find an archive version here, and the current Culture Mile BID site here. You can download the BID proposal document and the billing leaflet detailing projects and spending 2023/24. Together the documents give a much fuller picture of BID activities than the website alone.

Community Forum

It seems to me that a major issue for the forum is its scope. Does it engage with the big picture of Culture Mile, or just with activities specific to the BID? There are four BID strategy themes: Sustainable environment, Connecting the business community, Inspiring places, and Cultural Destination. Their main focus is on business – since that’s the purpose of the BID. What say should residents have?

One area that does affect residents is public realm improvements – as I’ve written here. The original Look and Feel strategy was developed with a lot of community engagement, so the new study would be a good focus for engagement this time around.

Another issue will be how far a new community forum across Culture Mile is relevant when the main residential areas of Barbican and Golden Lane have their own very effective Neighbourhood Forum. Do we, in effect, mainly need a complementary forum, or some other setup, for Smithfield?

Places and organisations

Shared information about Culture Mile assets is obviously going to be fundamental to the development of its programmes, and any community engagements. Unfortunately there isn’t yet much on offer on the current BID website. The map on its homepage has a set of blue blobs representing locations, but they wobble so much when you mouse-over them it isn’t possible to see what’s where. The Inspiring Places section says:

“A series of local walks have been curated and delivered to assist with wayfinding and to foster a sense of belonging and ownership for those working and living in the footprint”.

But there is no map, or link. (see update below)

The original Culture Mile website had a map showing key locations without much detail.

As part of an Exploring EC1 project I experimented with my son Dan using various mapping system to display locations better, and a system to link map locations to information sheets.

I’ve started to develop a Culture Mile collection on the Layers of London site, with records that can contain lots of information as well as images, audio and video.

I would be glad to share ideas with the BID team about creating a basic Culture Mile atlas of locations with associated information sheets. It may be that the public realm study will provide useful content, together with work the Corporation has commissioned on a Cultural Planning Framework.

Much more will be needed in order to serve visitors to the area. The original Culture Mile developed a visitor guide and films, which I wrote about here, and which you can access through the Internet archive. Maybe that could be revived.

Update: the BID home page now features an excellent map by Footways, which you can also view here.

Accountability

The other side of engagement is accountability. There’s no point putting forward issues unless you know who can make decisions. The original Culture Mile became the responsibility of the Corporation’s Culture, heritage and Libraries committee in January 2022. Residents and other interested parties could question elected committee Members about the direction it was taking.

Once Culture Mile became a BID that was no longer the case. The BID is directed by a Board from business and other organisations, with one councillor observer. It will be challenging to find who is accountable for each of the above work streams.

A further issue is the role of the new Destination City programme, to which the Culture Mile BID and programme will contribute. So far we have a summary, but not the full report of the review. Accountability there is split between Policy and Resources Committee, Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, and a new Board.

If you would like to hear more, there another Forum meeting On July 16 – a Destination City Citizens Forum. Booking here.

Conclusions

After writing these three posts, my hope is that the meeting on July 18 will mark the start of a process by which the BID team will work with elected Members and residents to develop appropriate methods for communication and engagement. It is a very complex situation, and it would be a mistake to try and impose a single solution without co-design.

I’ll share these posts with the BID and Members, and add/amend if I get any feedback. Most of the blog posts and resources mentioned are on this wiki.

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