Here & Now 8: Bridging the divide


1. Welcome
2. Editorial

8. Common wealth or private wellbeing?
Nicholas Falk AoU calls for a different approach to measuring value

11. Historical cities and everyday life
Carlotta Fontana looks at how contemporary life plays out in historic Mantua

14. All change in Chattanooga
A story of resurgence in this famous post-industrial Tennessee town

18. Reaching out a helping hand
James Gross AoU interviews Julia Unwin CBE AoU, the outgoing chief of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

22. How the government can tackle the economic divide that drove the vote to Brexit
Centre for Cities’ principal economist, Paul Swinney, lays out the facts

25. Urbanism and the gap
How gentrification took hold in London’s Brixton: an extract from the AoU’s forthcoming book, ‘Urbanism’

28. The clash and cohesion of Manchester’s cottonopolis
Lucy Sykes looks at how the gap between two Manchester neighbourhoods is being closed

32. Take Back the City
Tim White interviews Zahra Dalilah from the London political startup

36. Housing crisis?
Social geographer Danny Dorling looks at of one of the leading factors of inequality: housing

40. Why infrastructure investment matters: the contribution of civil society
John Worthington AoU on the long journey of city transformation

43. Bridging the divide in Bristol
Bristol’s former mayor, George Ferguson AoU, looks back at a key intervention in the city’s recent past

53. The neighbourhood unit
Urban idiocy: Brilliant but flawed ideas for the city part five

55. …And a final thought…
Urbanism, the silent educator: David Porter’s fifth instalment



As I suggested at the time, the result of the referendum on 23 June was a reflection of the general sense of disenfranchisement felt by a large proportion, possibly the majority, of the nation’s, and particularly England’s, population.

Nothing that has happened since, and it’s been an extraordinary sequence, changes my view. The ill-advised and desperate commitment by the then-prime minister to hold a referendum on a simplistic binary question has opened up all sorts of further questions to which no one can offer a clear answer, or even gauge accurately the consequences of different answers.

The Academy of Urbanism will remain confidently European and Internationalist in its outlook as the future unfolds, but in the meantime, this issue of Here & Now explores further the roots of this disenfranchisement. It draws examples from the places we have explored, the people we know, and the experience we have gained to suggest how we might promote a greater sense of belonging among communities, and a greater willingness to share responsibility for our collective interests.

It is my opinion also that the current circumstances represent decades of growing confusion and dissatisfaction with what we casually call democracy. The relationship between national and local governance has steadily deteriorated since the 1970s. Responsibilities have been pushed down to local authorities while power and control has been increasingly concentrated in Westminster. This is now well-recognised, and there are signs that the consequences are beginning to be addressed with the emergence of increasingly influential and powerful city regions.

What is yet to be tackled is the confusion within the electorate of the relative roles and strengths of representative and participative democracy.  Since the Skeffington Report, People and Planning, in 1969, successive governments have tried to increase public interest and involvement in the planning process, while at the same time allowing the decision-making process to become ever more professionalised and adversarial.  Public consultation is widely discredited as a device for legitimising vested interests, and elected representatives are vilified for their inability to reflect the interests of those who voted for them.

The introduction of Neighbourhood Planning by the last government may have injected a degree of logical process and responsibility into local planning, but it is still constrained by the wider context in which the duty to co-operate is often interpreted as an opportunity to confound.

The Academy’s continual search for places from which we can learn and offer guidance has identified many examples, at all scales across the UK and Europe, where participation and representation have been distinctly and discretely employed in the widest community interest. From the direct responsibility of the mayor of Rotterdam to the citizens of the city, to the community responsibility for Devonport Park in Plymouth, we can highlight evidence of how clarity of responsibility can unlock local resources, speed action and promote a greater sense of belonging.

There is no point in various sectional interests waving flags at each other bearing the same word. We need a better and broader understanding of the different forms in which democracy may be practiced, and more care in the way they are deployed.

Steven Bee AoU


How do we know? How do we know whether our propositions for an urban environment, small or large, really will work? When we make judgements about good and bad, do we really know? A director I used to work for was fond of quoting American quality management guru W. Edwards Deming: “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion!” The director is a data analyst, so no surprise there! It was rare to hear the riposte attributed to Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Nicholas Falk AoU picks up on this idea: “In short those who are making long-term investment decisions … would do well to go beyond conventional property measures, such as land values, to the factors that ensure long-term value or resilience, and that add to our common wealth. It is these factors that urbanists should seek to identify and promote.”

In her piece on leading a study of the historic city of Mantua with her architectural students, Carlotta Fontana AoU asks how such places meet the everyday needs of contemporary living. Her conclusion is to demonstrate to the next generation of architects and urbanists the: “necessary negotiation between the monumental dimension and everyday life, both having to share the same built environment, and the difficult task of preserving cultural heritage while providing good levels of urban usability”. Such negotiation is the stuff of everyday life in a successful urban environment of any kind and perhaps sums up the essential task of the urbanist as we try to create places that can accommodate myriad of activities and uses over time.

Kevin Murray AoU and colleagues pick up on this in the transformation of Chattanooga which “not only reimagined itself but, more importantly, gained from that new self-image the confidence to move forward.”

As we think about how we address the urban related disconnections – ‘the divide’ that, as Steven Bee AoU points out, has been highlighted by the Brexit vote – we ask ourselves how we facilitate the negotiation between different needs and uses, how to close or bridge the divide, and how to help communities develop the resilience to withstand the uncertainties facing the country.

The In-Focus… section looks at some of the reasons for ‘the divide’ – some would say chasm – between elements of our society and how we bridge that through our urban decisions.

While we need empirical evidence for what works, we have to use judgement too.

Alistair Blyth AoU

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