CityBites Podcast: Culture + Place

This episode of the CityBites ‘Connections’ podcast series is on the evolving relationship between culture and place. You’ll hear how different types and scales of organisation are mitigating the damage to the creative sector… how society, government and the market are reassessing culture’s value to local identity and economy… and what aspects of this changing world could be with us for the long term. 

In cases like the Southbank Centre, ‘London’s living room’, culture creates and defines place. Normally audiences flock to these destinations, but so do people who just want somewhere inviting to meet, work or pass the time at no charge. Now too many venues – whether single- or multi-purpose – stand empty, and as guest Gillian Moore points out, the generally sensible move to diversify revenue has had awful knock-on effects as the pandemic hit tenant businesses.

At the other end of the spectrum, individual artists and freelancers from fashion to video face an economic cliff-edge, though some help has come – often from each other. For some, this massive disruption could force a change of career. Even if individuals come out OK, will the neighbourhoods where they made and shared creative output be the poorer?

Somewhere between the two lies public art: beautifying barriers, making statements, cheering us up – and in recent years, claiming more space in development and regeneration schemes. It’s worth considering how climate action could intersect here. The creative industries were worth £306m a DAY to the UK economy in 2018 and had been on the ascendant; that talent and investment will be seeking a new outlet, and both climate action and cultural delivery can be very effective at ground level. That’s a topic for another podcast…

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Today’s guests have been working to reduce the pandemic’s damage to culture and place across all scales:

Gillian Moore CBE is Director of Music at the Southbank Centre. She has worked at bringing music and the arts to London and international audiences for more than 35 years, including efforts to integrate education and the arts. She held leadership roles at the London Sinfonietta before joining Southbank in 2006 and was awarded an MBE in 1994 and a CBE in 2018 for her services to music. She also writes and broadcasts regularly about music, and you can find her on BBC3 – or see her championing column on the Southbank Centre here.

“People do happen across the Southbank because they just happen to be wandering along the riverfront. But we can never take that for granted. We know that even people who live half a mile or a mile away, kids who live on local estates, they’ve not seen the River Thames. So we have to make lots of extra effort to be in different places.” – Gillian Moore

Aida Esposito is founder-director of creativethinking, a cultural strategist for cross-sector clients and co-director of the Tottenham Creative Enterprise Zone. She is a passionate cultural and creative specialist who has delivered  innovative strategy, development and projects around the world. Through the pandemic, among other things, Aida has been connecting councils with individual artists and small businesses to generate work and help shape what places can look like.

“I think arts organisations will become much more savvy about how they use digital to augment what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to say, and how they show work. Hopefully we will have a digital world which is complementary, another public space to use and engage with alongside other more physical manifestations.” – Aida Esposito

Paul Augarde is an award-winning placemaking strategist, working with cross-sector clients on socioeconomic and cultural regeneration strategies and focusing on resilient mixed communities. He’s an associate at Coherent Cities and WorkWild and a board member of arts charities ACAVA and UP Projects. Paul was core to the creation of Poplar Works and helped direct the £1.5m Creative Workspace Resilience Fund on behalf of the Mayor and the Creative Land Trust.

What the creative workspace sector has done really cleverly is support their tenant base. So as and when we come out of this, they will still have a strong market and a strong set of tenants. Whereas I suspect within certain parts of the private sector, that won’t be the case and they won’t have built that strength.” – Paul Augarde

Listen to the podcast to hear their lively debate…

or check out these resources:

Catch all podcast episodes on Future of London’s City Bites page.

   

The wonderful Queenhithe mosaic of London’s history seems particularly apt & the far end still has room for our current disaster. Designed by Tessa Hunkin and executed by South Bank Mosaics under the supervision of Jo Thorpe [thanks to Spitalfields Life for the info]

Curb Appeal: Managing Covid-19’s impact on public-private space

Social distancing has been key to reducing Covid-19 transmission, but it’s also been hugely disruptive. As loosening restrictions jostle with public confidence and business risk, what are the implications for urban design and movement, and for business and landlord viability? And can we flex enough to navigate a second wave?

Watch this lively webinar, hosted by RE:Women, to find out:

  • What councils, landlords and planners can do to make the space outside shops & restaurants a pleasant ‘waiting room’
  • What impact retail and F&B occupiers expect on operations and revenue, and what they’re doing about it
  • How area-aware station design for Crossrail and other projects could be impacted – and can help with local recovery.

Speakers:

  • Harbinder Birdi – Senior Partner, Hawkins\Brown
  • Jacqueline Bleicher – Founder/Director, Global Urban Design
  • Ally Reid – Investment Manager, LandSec
  • Lisa Taylor – Director, Coherent Cities (session producer & moderator)


Connecting Bristol

To outsiders, Bristol’s One City Plan – navigating its first year of challenges, tweaks and additions – seems to embody exactly the kind of inclusive vision this unique place needs as population, sustainability and economic pressures bear down.

The timing is right, if not too late. Savvy investors and developers are turning their attention from the Southeast, and to a degree from cities like Manchester, to “edgy”, “evolving” “property hotspot” Bristol. As CBRE put it,

as a string of high-rises prepare to take their stand over our unassuming skyline, it seems that the next chapter of our city is finally taking shape. Bristol has a new generation at its helm: changemakers who share a thirst to put this great city firmly back on the map.”  – CBRE Bristol report: https://bit.ly/2Rfl1GX

With phenomenal per-capita talent across research, design, engineering, the arts, environment, health, economics, technology and social enterprise, Bristol could capitalise on all this new investment to build the equitable, green and thriving city locals want – and visitors gush over.

Getting there is a messy proposition, though, as shown in the June closure of the contentious Bear Pit. More generally, the city’s goals could be swamped by commercial imperatives as Brexit threatens to sap the Southwest economy.

There are promising signs that the latter (at least the goal-swamping) can be avoided, mainly thanks to Bristol’s people. Labour Mayor Marvin Rees presides over both the One City Plan and a unitary government, albeit one tied into a combined authority for complex projects like the rail station. Risk-embracing entrepreneurs, artists with faithful audiences and experienced activists all thrive – although their homes and workspaces are becoming less affordable. Notably, many of the developers and agents keen to extend that “string of high-rises” also claim a personal affinity with the city and its history.

One of the most useful assets in all this is the network of urban practitioners – professional, amateur and student – who connect those groups. Whether they’re based at engineering firm hot-desks or artists’ co-ops, they seem able to speak a common language, and to listen well.

The Placemaking Collective UK got to meet about 20 of them in early 2019, hosted by Michael Cowdy of McGregor Coxall and colleagues from Mott McDonald, APG Architecture, The Circle/Bearpit Social and Wapping Wharf. Despite the cold, it was the biggest PCUK field trip yet, with lots of local people sharing perspectives and learning from each other.

The trip started at Bristol Temple Meads (aka “the Poundland of national rail stations”, touched on the St Phillips Marsh/Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone and stopped at Castle Park, the Broadmead Centre, the Bear Pit and Wapping Wharf (map below).

While every one of these places has its eye on the future, each is also locked tightly to its past – some more harmoniously than others. Historic England is naturally heavily involved in redesign of Brunel’s Grade I-listed station, but the traditional rights of taxi drivers on the unlovely forecourt may be more of a drag on design.

As Mott McDonald’s Sean Symmons put it, Temple Meads definitely doesn’t say “Welcome to Bristol!”, so the successful redevelopment of the station and surrounds are key to city ambitions.

Interesting spaces are creeping closer to the station [timeline], but the adjacent St Phillips Marsh and Enterprise Quarter – with their promised 11,000 homes and 22,000 jobs already underway – are “still dead after 6pm” and need to demonstrate that they are connected and worth investing in, despite the challenges of contaminated sites, left-over infrastructure… and being a marsh…next to a river that floods. With the national economy, regional engineering strengths and local assets firmly in Bristol’s favour, it will all come good, but it’s still a hard sell, with the inherent risk of less-than-stellar developer concessions.

With less at stake, pretty but neglected Castle Park is embracing water, with plans to reconnect or uncover buried waterways as part of a larger effort to use the city’s public realm for sustainability and recreation. Bristol’s river, canals and floating harbour are all starting to be used more interestingly, including by brewery Left-Handed Giant – which raised £1.05m on a £450,000 crowd-funding target to set up.

What few tourists get to see is the functional commercial core of the city at the Broadmead Bristol Shopping Quarter, which could be Croydon, Crawley or any dated-but-useful shopping precinct. There are some decent buildings, but the key here will be to extend the good pedestrian links from the river via Castle Park and beneath Debenham’s (as of this writing) to the soon-to-be-reworked Bear Pit.

During the Placemaking visit, Bearpit Social Café owner Miriam Delogu talked about the community efforts she and friend Simon Green and others had tried to host in the space, a submerged roundabout that’s been a refuge for rough sleepers, but one plagued with violent crime and drug abuse. She and her colleagues gave up for safety reasons, and she talked about the difficulty of trying to connect with people who just want to be left alone.

With a current population of about 450,000 and another 120,000 expected over the next 10 years, the question of who lives in Bristol, how their needs are prioritised and how they get along will be increasingly fraught.

The last stop on the trip, Wapping Wharf and Gaol Steps, could be seen as typical hipster gentrification – or as a step in the right direction. The mixed-use development will provide 38% technically affordable homes mixed in with market sale property, shops, restaurants, shared workspace and access to the water on both sides. It’s an attractive place, and clearly adds to the city’s offer. Is it an exemplar for the new One City Plan? It will be interesting to hear what plan leaders say.

Thanks to Michael Cowdy for organising and hosting, to him and fellow hosts Sean Symmons, Miriam Delogu, Adam Parsons (APG Architecture) and Louis Lane for their time and insight, and to Michael, Maria, and Paul for the additional photos.