What is Destination City now – and who is it for?

I’m looking forward to the next Citizens Forum about Destination City on Monday May 20 – not least hoping to find out just what it is. Booking here.

See below for an update from the event.

Councillor Brendan Barns, the Resident Representative on the City Envoy Network, has previously organised some excellent Forum events. Earlier reports on those here.

In February we heard Paul Martin, the author of an independent review of the programme, offer a preview of his report to the City Corporation. It signalled a move from the first phase of Destination City, focussed on big events like Bartholomew Fair, to a programme rooted in the unique attractions offered by the City’s culture and heritage. Transcript of Paul’s address here.

Paul had already provided an interim report suggesting that the next phase should be about “the future development of a liveable, lively and connected City in a uniquely historic, cultural and characterful setting”.

He followed through with recommendations about improving our public realm of streets and spaces in ways that will benefit residents, workers and visitors together with better information on our cultural and heritage assets.

The full review report went to Corporation committees, but in private session, so we don’t know the details. Instead we have a very brief summary, which I reported here. The vision in that is:

Destination City should be redefined as the growth strategy for the Square Mile as a destination.

Recast Destination City as a partnership approach to making the Square Mile a magnetic destination by:

a) Prioritising improving pedestrian connectivity between places.

b) A consistently lively and animated ground floor experience.

c) A premium concierge service for relocating businesses.

d) A particular focus on driving footfall between Fridays and Mondays.

Nothing explicit about a liveable City that works for everyone .

I’ve pulled together a summary here of everything that’s public about Destination City, covering Paul’s interim report, address to the Forum, and summary.

My hope has been that Destination City will, as Paul indicated, aim to develop “ a liveable, lively and connected City in a uniquely historic, cultural and characterful setting” and that will be done through the partnerships Paul highlighted in his address to the Forum. He said:

I’m thinking of cultural and heritage organisations, the Livery companies, the BIDs, businesses themselves, resident organisations – we need to think how we can harness the totality of these enormous and extraordinary community assets to achieve the goals of Destination City.

I’m now having doubts, not least because responsibility for delivery is going to be split between two Corporation committees, a new Board formed from the City Envoy Network, and Business Improvement Districts.

In practice BIDs may well be in the forefront, because they are developing public realm strategies and organising events. The problem for residents is that BIDs have no public accountability. They are set up by businesses, primarily to to serve their interests. There is one councillor observer on each Board.

For example, the Culture Mile BID when set up promised resident engagement, with a possible Community Forum, but nothing has been done. Their public realm strategy seems promising, but there are issues of engagement and accountability.

The summary report on Destination City says there will be “a new Destination City Board to build on, and succeed, the current City Envoy network with the proposed terms of reference and membership set out in the independent review report”.

Since the independent review report is not public, we don’t know what powers the Board will have, and what role a resident representative may have. Here’s Brendan’s original remit.

As I’ve said, I think Brendan has done a great job so far in organising the forums, but it isn’t reasonable to expect one go-between to engage residents in the future of a programme that may bring significant changes to their neighbourhoods – with no clear democratic accountability.

I hope that on Monday we will have Corporation officers, Members and BID representatives who will explain just what Destination City is – and who it is for. We also need to see Paul Martin’s report.

Update: we were very hospitably received at the venue for the Citizens Forum on May 20 – free drinks and canapés at The Amicable Society of Lazy Ballerinas in Fleet Street. We had a warm welcome from our hosts, Apex Temple Court Hotel, and from Lady Lucy French, chief executive of the Fleet Street Quarter Business Improvement District.

However, not much clarification on Destination City. Brendan explained the full report was not available, and he was only able to read us the official summary. There is what he termed a “corporate blockage” and it could be months before we hear more.

One useful exercise Brendan was able to offer was to provide notepads and pens and invite us to contribute ideas – as he did at an earlier Forum. Then he asked for our favourite locations, improvements to the Square Mile and sources of information. That led to some useful results.

This time we were to take on the role of the new Director of Culture for the Corporation – an appointment recommended in the Destination City review.

“If you were implementing the new strategy following this review, what is the first thing that you would do? The one thing that would have the biggest impact on the city that we all love”.

I think that the results will be interesting on two fronts: first for the expression of priorities that residents may have, and second for revealing who will have to take action to achieve change.

The challenge for Destination City 2.0 is that governance and direction is split between two committees and a Board formed from the current envoy network. Details in the summary reportand a paper to the Corporation Court of Common Council on May 23.

In addition, a lot of the proposed improvements to the public realm, and events, for example, are going to be undertaken by Business Improvement Districts who are not directly accountable to the City Corporation.

It will be interesting to work through the ideas generated by the Forum members, and see how many can be implemented by a Director of Culture, and how many fall to others.

Brendan had another useful idea. He emphasised that residents don’t have to wait on the Corporation to develop projects, we can do things for themselves, citing the Great Disputation organised at St Bartholomew the Great as part of Cloth Fair in September 2023. There may be another disputation this year, probably on September 15.

Brendan also said that he would continue to press the Culture Mile Business Improvement District for action on a community forum. That featured in the original BID proposals.

My sense from the evening was that everyone had a good time, and few people are as exercised as I am about the lack of clarity on Destination City, or the challenges of engaging with it. Free drinks, Brendan’s enthusiasm, and an introduction to another interesting City venue proved enough. Brendan also provided useful updates on upcoming City events.

I still think that more organised resident engagement with the programmes in Destination City will be important – but that may be further down the line, once internal Corporation staffing and decision-making is organised.

Ideas for the Director of Culture may provide some starters.

As I said at the event, congratulations to Brendan for being such an able go-between and Forum organiser, even if that isn’t in future enough on its own.

The next Forum will at the Broadworks Cultural Hub, Broad Street, on Tuesday July 16.

All background and blog posts about Destination City here.

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