Residents get a chance to shape Destination City 2.0 – maybe

The City of London’s flagship programme to attract visitors is currently under review – and on Monday residents will have a chance to say what they think is needed.

What will make the Square Mile a better place to live, as well as work and visit? So far the only formal consultation has been for an input to City Plan 2040. What about 2024?

Councillor Brendan Barns is running the first Citizens Forum at Chicago Booth Business School: details below and in Brendan’s article for EC1 Echo. There Brendan writes:

“No-one knows and loves the square mile more than the residents who have chosen to live here. With this in mind these informal forums, held on the third Monday of every month in venues around the City, will seek to explore the views of residents and harness the skills and knowledge of residents as we plan how best to use Destination City to create a vibrant and fabulous City in which to work, visit and live in”.

Brendan is Resident Representative on the City Envoy Network, and is running the Forums on a voluntary basis. More about his role here, and background to Destination City.

As I wrote earlier, the £2.5 million Destination City programme is undergoing an independent review, due to report next month. An interim report, and other discussions suggest:

  • Big events like The Golden Key and Bartholomew Fair will not be funded by the Corporation in future.
  • There will be more emphasis on promoting the City’s cultural and heritage assets.
  • The aim will be to develop a “liveable, lively and connected City in a uniquely historic, cultural and characterful setting”.

I would also expect some questioning of the role of Business Improvement Districts, which can make a significant contribution, but as I wrote here are not accountable to Corporation members.

I’m delighted that Brendan is making an effort to engage with residents … and maybe workers. Are they citizens too, since they have a vote in the City?

However, I am at this stage rather sceptical about what the Forums can achieve unless they go beyond an invite to a drink and chat. I’ve spent the past year writing about Destination City and putting forward positive ideas like a Guide to Culture Mile and Destination City without much encouragement. Residents are generally seen as marginal.

What has worked is collaborating with local councillors and residents to develop Cloth Fair as a complement to the official Bartholomew Fair last autumn, and developing a website with The City Courant.

Brendan is looking for ideas, and my suggestion would be three-fold:

First, open a channel with the Corporation to build on the ideas generated at the excellent workshop run by planners for City Plan 2040. The headlines were:

  • The need to celebrate the City’s hidden gems;
  • Encouraging an active street culture, with public spaces that have markets, spill-out space, events and activities;
  • Make more of the north bank of the Thames;
  • Ensure we have the right facilities and complementary uses – public toilets, open spaces, food and drink – to complement cultural and leisure offers;
  • Clear signs and wayfinding, and inclusive approaches to public welcome, particularly for spaces accessed through buildings such as roof terraces.

Second, encourage more citizen-led initiatives like Cloth Fair by helping us find support and collaboration within the Corporation and BIDs.

Third, make the Forums more than monthly meet-ups. Barbican and Golden Lane Estates have a Neighbourhood Forum. The Culture Mile BID proposed a community forum in plans for resident engagement , but nothing has come of it so far. Now is the chance to move something forward together with the promised information hub at Barbican library. Maybe the forum should be part of the Residential Reset programme.

Unless ideas can attach to City or BID programmes with some resources, or are clearly DIY efforts with enthusiastic champions they won’t go anywhere.

I’m a bit of an engagement nerd after working in the field for a while, so I hope Brendan will excuse some gentle provocation on methods. Thirty years ago I wrote a Guide to Effective Participation for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and drew on Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of participation as a model. Arnstein suggested the lower rungs are Manipulation and Therapy, followed by Consultation and Placation.

I offered a revised model based on the idea of stance: what is the power-holder offering: Information, Consultation, Deciding Together, Acting Together, or Support for Independent Initiatives.

So far we haven’t had consistent Information about Destination City, and only one consultation exercise for a 2040 plan.

Brendan’s initiative – if it is smart – might just give us a leg up the ladder. Otherwise I fear we’ll be stuck on Arnstein’s second rung – therapy with a free drink.

Citizens Forum meeting

Monday 15 January 2024 from 6.30-8.30pm at The University of Chicago Booth Business School’s London campus at One Bartholomew Close. Sign-up here.

If you’d like to help with organising the Citizen Forums or have ideas for Destination City you can contact Brendan by email at brendan.barns@cityoflondon.gov.uk

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