Why we need a Guide to Culture Mile and Destination City

Plans to engage residents in Destination City highlight the need for accessible information about the Corporation’s flagship programme, and a main area for cultural development. I suggest we need a Guide to what’s happening and what’s planned, with councillors taking a lead in its development. You can skip to the Guide proposals here.

Update summary – see end note: Destination City is under review, and there will be more emphasis on developing what’s also a Liveable City, and promoting existing culture and heritage assets rather than staging costly events. That makes resident engagement even more important

This week the Destination City team presented their plans in public for the first time, and explained how residents may be involved in the Corporation’s flagship programme to attract more visitors to the Square Mile.

The slides for the meeting at St Giles Cripplegate on November 7 were similar to those that I’ve embedded here, where I’ve added background reports and blog posts. I shot some video from the front row, which you can see here. The audio isn’t great, but auto-captions will help.

What was new were plans for residents’ engagement, initially flagged as a panel in the meeting flyer. Councillor Brendan Barns, who is a member of the City Envoy Network, explained that he aims both to represent residents and also organise engagement on behalf of Destination City. Here’s video of the key part of Brendan’s presentation, where he says there will be invites to meetings, with drinks, at interesting venues.

I think that’s a great idea – and incidentally the City Corporation are going the same way with with the Question Time originally scheduled to clash with the Destination City event. That has moved to December 14 6 pm at the Old Bailey, with a festive celebration afterwards. Sign up here for either or both events.

However, I don’t think that monthly drinks are sufficient on their own. I once wrote a book about community participation, and could go on nerdishly about the need for clarity about the nature of the offer (consult, engage, create?), a planned process, and range of methods ensuring everyone can be involved.

I think the issue is more fundamental.

It isn’t possible to engage residents in a programme unless there is basic information available about what is going on, and what is planned.

That is necessary both for Destination City, and for the City’s north western cultural district called Culture Mile, which includes the Barbican Estate, Smithfield, Golden Lane Estate – and St Giles. It is the City’s main residential area, and a key element in the Destination City cultural programme including the Barbican Arts Centre and a new home for the Museum of London in West Smithfield.

There are plans for an information hub at Barbican Library, which I suggest could be piloted in advance of its development. At the moment there is little available.

Destination City has a comprehensive website for visitors, but nothing for residents. The Culture Mile Business Improvement District – formed this year – does have news on its website of a community fund, but its main remit is business, not residents.

At the same time there are a lot of plans for development in Culture Mile which would be of interest to residents if there were a good information point. Discussion in Corporation committees suggests councillors often find it difficult to understand what’s happening.

I’ve pulled together a set of webpages with reports and blog posts about Destination City, Culture Mile, and the Community Information Hub.

I’ve also developed ideas for a Guide to Culture Mile and Destination City listing some of the things under development that need more public explanation.

However, the information needed is held by different departments and organisations. While I’ve made a start in gathering resources, I think the only way to create what’s needed is for a group of councillors to take a lead. That’s how we put on Cloth Fair to complement the main Bartholomew Fair, thanks to councillor Matthew Bell and other Corporation Members. The City’s Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee might take an interest. More about that in the Guide proposals, together with lots of links.

The Destination City team said at the meeting that they would provide a report back on the issues raised, and I’ll do another post when that is available. I’ll also update this post with any feedback from Destination City and the Culture Mile BID, who I have invited to comment. I’m most concerned to help develop something useful – not score any points. There’s a lot of good news … just rather hidden.

At an earlier City Question Time Policy Chief Chris Hayward said in response to question I raised: “if you feel we’re not consulting widely enough on Destination City, or the more engagement residents could have, we want to know how precisely we do it … we want Destination City to be owned by the residents as much as by anybody else.”

Here’s trying.


Update 1. The Corporation’s Policy and Resources Committee heard on November 16 that an internal review of the Destination City programme is underway, and will report in early 2024. It also appeared from discussion that the Corporation may not fund Bartholomew Fair and organise big events in future. Those developments may affect the scope of resident engagement.

Update 2. The Culture Mile BID announced in their newsletter that they had commissioned a study of the public realm.

“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.”

At the moment engagement is limited to an online survey.

I’ve now posted: New study to design streets and spaces in Culture Mile raises issues of resident engagement.

Update 3. Discussion at Culture, Heritage and Libraries committee on November 20 signalled a reset in the direction of the Destination City programme, with more emphasis on promoting existing cultural and heritage attractions, rather than big events with bought-in acts. Residents will be offered more say. More here.

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