New study to design streets and spaces in Culture Mile raises issues of resident engagement

The Culture Mile Business Improvement District is carrying out a new Public Realm Study for the north west of the City of London including Barbican, Golden Lane Estate and Smithfield. I think it raises some issues of accountability and engagement – see below. The announcement in the November newsletter says:

Public Realm Strategy Consultation

“We have recently commissioned a Public Realm Study for the BID, which is being led by urban design consultants AR Urbanism, and transport consultants Steer.

“Drawing on and tying together existing strategies, public realm schemes and developments, this study will provide a vision and a coherent narrative for public realm in the Culture Mile area, guiding future initiatives, and tackling urban realm and movement challenges.

“As part of this study, we are keen to speak to visitors, residents and local workers to identify key issues and opportunities”.

There’s a link to the survey, which has an introductory page:

Background

“The Culture Mile is the fifth and latest business improvement district (BID) in the City of London, launched in April 2023. The Culture Mile BID represents the area stretching from Farringdon in the west to Finsbury Circus in the east.

“Brimming with cultural creativity, commercial vibrancy and a strong sense of community, the area is home to globally famed institutions such as the Barbican Centre and the future Museum of London (reopening in 2026), as well as hidden gems including St Bartholomew The Great, London’s oldest surviving church, and some of the last surviving sections of the 2,000 year old wall that once surrounded the City of London.

“Through its work, the Culture Mile BID will inject £9m into the local area over the next five years, working in partnership with its levy-paying member businesses as well as the public sector to deliver a range of ambitious projects including major public realm enhancements, agenda-setting green and climate resilience initiatives and high-profile destination marketing campaigns.

“To guide future initiatives and tackle urban realm and movement challenges, the Culture Mile BID are conducting a public realm study. The study will draw on and tie together existing strategies, public realm schemes and developments to provide a collective vision for public realm in the Culture Mile area.

“As part of this, the BID is keen to hear the opinions of residents, workers and visitors to the area to better understand their opinions and ideas for the area. This short survey will take no more than five minutes to complete and the data collected will be used to help shape the direction of our investment”.

Link to the survey

Issues

As I wrote earlier, there’s a lot of different developments under way in the area, undertaken by different organisations, and I suggest that we need a Guide pulling information together. Here’s a blog post on why, and more about the Guide.

In this instance, I think we should know just how the new study relates to the previous £300,000 Look and Feel strategy for area, and the other public realm improvements highlighted in the Visualising Destination City report that I wrote about here.

I’ve written to the Culture Mile BID asking about that, whether the brief to consultants is available, and whether there will be any further engagement with residents, workers and councillors.

The Culture Mile BID is one of five in the City, all of whom are managed by one organisation, Primera. They have recently appointed a Placemaking director, so we can expect substantial proposals that will affect our neighbourhoods.

The BIDs do good work through their main focus on support for businesses, who pay them a levy. However, their public realm activities do also impact on residents, and they have no direct accountability to councillors. Those I talked to didn’t know about the new study.

That makes it all the more important that there is transparency about public realm studies, and engagement beyond an online survey.

The Look and Feel Strategy was part of the original Culture Mile plan developed by the City Corporation. However, earlier this year the Corporation ended its funding for the Culture Mile team and transferred some of the responsibilities to the BID. At that time a news release on the Culture Mile website said:

“The transformation of Culture Mile’s public realm will continue in the hands of the City Corporation’s Environment Department”.

While the BID proposal document says it will:

“Develop a Public Realm Vision for the area that maps public and private spaces and opportunities for activation and enhancement, building on the City of London Corporation’s Culture Mile Look & Feel Strategy of 2018”.

Confusing – and just why we need a Guide.

The original Culture Mile BID proposals included the idea of a community forum and the current web site has this section on its home page, which reads as if written before the BID was approved earlier this year:

Listening to the community

“Although by their nature BIDs are business led and business funded, many BIDs recognise the inherent value and importance of working closely with all parts of the local community. The Culture Mile area benefits from having a diverse mix of businesses and vibrant residential communities: the largest concentration in the whole of the Square Mile. Residents are important to us, and the proposed Culture Mile BID is committed to working with residents, community groups and other local stakeholders, with a view to embracing the collective drive and ambition this sort of partnership working can deliver.

“The legislation that governs BIDs does not give residents a formal vote in the ballot, nor do they pay into the BID, however this does not mean residents won’t have a voice or benefit from the existence of the BID – quite the opposite. The Culture Mile Partnership has already started the dialogue with residents, ward members and other community groups and we will continue to develop new ways of working, which could be implemented once the new BID is established. If you have any feedback as to how this partnership working could develop please get in touch”.

If you download the proposal document it includes:

“We want to develop a framework for meaningful engagement, which enables residents to feed into the work of the BID, not simply be informed of its plans. This could take the form of a Community Forum, facilitated by the BID, resident involvement with steering groups and agreed channels of communication between the BID and residential communities, working closely with ward member and resident associations. We want to develop the specific mechanics through dialogue with residents but want to make it clear that we are committed to working hand in hand with residents. Collaboration, diversity and community will be the bedrock of our BID”.

That hasn’t yet happened.

However, I think that the public realm study provides an opportunity for the BID to put that commitment to partnership working into practice. It could be a good way to build positive relationships with residents across the area on matters that affect us all.

Links

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *