Destination Square Mile needs support for wandering about

The City Corporation’s programme to attract more visitors is pitched in competition with other London destinations, including Canary Wharf and Covent Garden, as I reported earlier.

One destination that might have been mentioned is South Kensington, which has a wide range of cultural attractions. The City prides itself on that too, saying: “It is recognised as home to some of London’s most important cultural landmarks”.

Where the Discover South Kensington website currently beats The City of London site is in supporting visitors who want to wander about rather than just go to a particular event, or attraction.

On the City site there is a Featured Experiences page with links to specific attractions, and one about hidden gems and where to find them. There are links to specific trails, and a recommendation to visit the excellent City Information Centre near St Paul’s.

However the trails – like that for Secret Spaces – require a download or visit to the centre for a paper copy. I couldn’t find any online trails (though they may be somewhere in the links). The Plan your visit page again recommends the Information Centre, with plan your journey links for Google Maps and Transport for London.

By contrast the Discover South Kensington site has both sections on places to go, what’s on, places to eat etc and also ones on Find your way on foot and Trails.

The Find your way on foot section links to an interactive online map developed by the Footways project, designed to help you explore quiet walking routes to and around South Kensington.

You can follow the routes on your phone, and activate pop-ups about places of interest.

The Trails section offers explorations including “days out with kids, discovering hidden gems, strolling through the parks, delving into the extraordinary museum collections and so much more”

Each trail has its own map, with more details about places.

Closer to the City you can seen example of trails that I created with Footways in Clerkenwell, celebrating its heritage and radical history. There are more self-guided talks on their website.

I know it is early days for the City site, and there may be further development. The first version of the Bartholomew Fair programme – due in September – promised to “Improve wayfinding by increasing awareness that the City is not individual buildings, but a collective of fascinating places to see, spend in and work at”.

I know from working with Footways that it is relatively easy to create maps and trails using their system, particular if one can access information from historians, enthusiasts and guides – as we did in Clerkenwell.

I think that the issue may not be the challenge of producing online maps, but rather the sort of experience that the City wishes to offer.

The main emphasis in the Destination City presentation which goes to committee next week, and on the website, is on promoting places where visitors will spend money. That’s fair enough, since the aim is to bolster a leisure economy hit by working from home.

However, there is a lot to enjoy in the City just by wandering about … and from that also dropping into pubs, cafes and restaurants and spending some money.

The three-week Bartholomew Fair programme will cost £1.3 million, with a lot going on performers and shows brought in for the occasion. I hope there’s something left to support the joys of wandering about, built on the cultural and heritage assets and expertise already in the Square Mile.

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