Glasgow 2020: Final Project Paper
Gerry Hassan, Melissa Mean and Charlie Tims
Glasgow 2020, a ‘project of mass imagination’ – which shows how new media, and community outreach, could be combined to generate and sustain this new culture of seriousness.
Pat Kane, The Democratic Interact, 2007
This project paper covers the following areas:
• The idea of ‘the official future’
• The importance of story
• Learning from the process
• Learning from the content
• Glasgow possible futures
• Assemblies of hope
• Lessons for public agencies
2. Glasgow 2020: A Summary
Glasgow 2020 operated on a number of different levels including:
• Glasgow-wide: examining different stories and futures for the city
• Cities generally: addressing and examining a series of themes across different cities and urban settings
• Futures literacy: exploring how people think and act now to influence and aid their preferred future.
In developing the above three themes Glasgow 2020 used as innovative process of ‘mass imagination’. This involved bringing together a range of processes including futures workshops with different geographic and interest communities, a ‘make a wish for Glasgow’ postcard campaign, a series of media events with the Evening Times, a website and competitions. It explored the following themes:
• Economic and social issues
• Education and lifelong learning
• Health (both physical and mental health), well-being and life satisfaction
• Renewing the public realm and public space
• Developing relationships and dialogues across generations, geographies and cultures
• Issues of public engagement, values and a sense of collective agency
• Deeper, more philosophical questions about the meaning and purpose of life, i.e.: what is the nature of progress?
A total of 38 events were held in Glasgow and in ‘peer’ cities including Helsinki, Gothenburg, London and Amsterdam. The events ranged from story-telling workshops with 10 people to large-scale events with over 700 people and successful engaged a wide range of people, communities and organisations across the city. A total of just over 5,000 local people came to events or directly submitted materials and their opinions to the project – a figure that is just under one per cent of the city of Glasgow’s population.
3. The idea of ‘the official future’
A powerful and influential account of thinking about the future is what is called ‘the official future’. This is the sum of the discussions, views and positions of public agencies, public discourse, and corporate and institutional sentiments about the future.
This ‘official future’ is across the Western world increasingly centred on the primacy of economic growth, competition and globalisation. It is a view of the future which while professing to be optimistic, is actually deeply pessimistic, promoting a depowering vision which implicitly states that the future has already been decided by vested interests so the only role people have in this is as a supporting cast.
The idea of ‘the official future’ with regard to cities and in particular, Glasgow has promoted a view of the world centred on:
• economic determinism;
• cultural determinism, i.e.: cultural regeneration as an economic tool;
• creativity and innovation seen as instrumental and aids in gaining competitive edge;
• urban regeneration increasingly defined through iconic buildings, modernist assumptions;
• the centrality of shopping, retail, tourism everywhere;
• problems with how pubic space and imagination are nurtured and protected;
• the lack of authenticity and uniqueness: can everywhere be a ‘cultural hub’ or shopping centre?
This world of ‘the official future’ has become the new urban orthodoxy with cities across the world competing for profile, status, cultural initiatives, shopping outlets, and visitors. It has also in Glasgow and elsewhere developed its own language – which contains a variety of in-words and jargon, such as ‘being invited to do the step-change’. Official city documents are now increasingly filled with the language of the consultant class and managerial, technocratic solutions. This invites us into a world where superficially every problem seems solvable, but the narrow parameter of the debate keeps many issues off the agenda.
This ‘official future’ is increasingly part of the problem, rather than the solution. Most people either feel alienated by it or don’t believe in its values, and they absolutely across Glasgow 2020 do not feel that they have a say or ownership of this ‘official future’. This poses fundamental questions about the future direction of cities, how we think of them, what we think success and progress are, which we will explore further in this paper and the book.
4. The power and potential of story: tales of the city
Glasgow 2020’s concept of a mass imagination was inextricably linked with the idea of story. This first emerged as a theme in the Demos Scotland 2020 project and book – where five story creators were used to create five possible Scotlands of the future.
The practically universal reaction to the stories of Scotland 2020 was one of positivity and people feeling they were being given an invitation to inhabit the different imagined worlds.
Glasgow 2020 began with this recognition of the power, reach and resonance of story as a way of imagining the future. One of the early straplines used about the project declared, ‘Glasgow 2020: Tales of the City’. It acknowledged that stories are particularly powerful in city settings – and more so in a city like Glasgow – steeped as it is in history, wave after wave of fundamental economic and social change, and culture, innovation and ideas. This was a city which liked to see itself through the ages in such phrases as ‘the Venice of the North’ and ‘the Second City of the Empire.’
There was a sense that many of the defining stories of the city – as it had experienced economic and population decline and social problems – were negative, debilitating stories: of Glasgow as ‘the sick city of Europe’, and of its reputation for macho men, drink, violence and sectarian problems. The ‘official Glasgow’ with its upbeat image of shopping, cosmopolitanism, culture vultures and creativity, did not seem to have any relationship with the bleaker version.
The project had a flexible idea of what a ‘story’ is, but it should be noted that ‘story’ is a very different concept from ‘narrative’. Story in the analysis of people as Robert McKee explains, which contains a plot, characters, a journey and resolution or attempted resolution. ‘Narrative’ is about connecting things and trying to identify or delineate a common thread. ‘Story’ searches for – even if it is a problematic word and open to challenge – authenticity.
Some of the key research Glasgow 2020 drew on about the power and meaning of story included Robert McKee, ‘Story’, Howard Gardner’s ‘Leading Minds’ and Christopher Booker’s, ‘The Seven Basic Plots’.
5. Learning from the process
Glasgow 2020 searched for the unofficial stories of the city’s future – the stories that live outside institutions, strategy documents and rhetoric of institutions and the media; shared stories which weave their way in and out of different age groups, backgrounds and cultures; stories which resonate and are inspired by people’s everyday lives and aspirations; in other words stories from the public imagination.
Glasgow 2020 used an innovative public participation methodology to tap into the public imagination and create a new mental map of the city. The rest of this section sets out that process and what the public engagement learning for other places and organisations are.
a. Network logic
The critical element in a citywide process of mass imagination is people. Forging wide and diverse networks and partnerships are vital in securing awareness, credibility and trust. Instead of expecting people to come to you, you need to work with and through trusted intermediaries and relationships to reach and invite people and communities to take part.
In Glasgow 2020, the core project team drew on a series of networks to create a flexible, light team which was able to aid the project adapting and evolving as it learnt from its range of activities. The project also worked with a wider range of collaborators and urban imagineers who on many occasions took the initiative and created something themselves. This resulted in a project which was able to connect with the formal Glasgow of council and public agency leaders to creative entrepreneurs, BBC journalists or young people across the city – from tower blocks to the city centre, as well as people in the Gambia, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Gothenburg and Stockholm.
b. Imagination not consultation
The last decade has seen a greater emphasis on community involvement in decision making in an effort to make a break from some of the socially divisive urban policies of the 1980s and 90s. However, consultation has often proved frustrating in practice with- at best- a great deal of ambiguity about how much real power or freedom communities have to influence decisions. Indeed many consultations have left people and communities feeling that options have been closed down long before any public discussion begin. In contrast a process of mass imagination opens all discussion and topics up; rather than starting with a pre-set agenda and policy boxes, it is about discovering a new mental map of the city starting with what people in their everyday lives are interested in.
Glasgow 2020 used two main tools to help open the conversation up: story and culture. Story because it is the natural way that people communicate and understand the world around them. Culture because increasingly culture is proving a far more effective way to inspire collective experiences than our current political or policy language. 38 events were run in total, none of which had a pre-set agenda other than to explore Glasgow’s future. Tools such as story-telling, role-playing, drawing and animation were used to facilitate the discussion.
c. Different strokes for different folk
If a process of mass imagination is to be truly public it needs to have many different ways for people to participate. Every city contains people with different interests and capacities- some might not be comfortable or able to write, people who have never used a computer before, people who don’t read newspapers, people who don’t speak English. There need to be many different access routes and invitations into public imagination.
One of the most accessible elements in Glasgow 2020 was the wish campaign inviting people to make a wish for the kind of city they wanted in 2020. Freepost postcards were distributed in public buildings around the city – people could write their wishes on the postcards and send them back. This began with an initial publicity drive of Glasgow public figures and celebrities in the ‘Evening Times’. A giant wishbook toured schools, offices and public buildings collecting people’s wishes. People could submit their wish on the website, where they could be viewed and rated by other visitors. Finally, all the six year olds (who will turn 21 in 2020) were written to and invited to make a wish for the future and to visualise, paint or draw their vision of the future.
d. Using disruptive spaces and everyday spaces
Glasgow 2020 was an independent project which created a reflective, experimental thinking space for the city, its people and its institutions alike. Creating a different mental map of a city through a process of mass imagination requires taking the conversation beyond the standard policy and political landscape of committee rooms and community halls. Glasgow 2020 did this in two ways.
First, it took discussions about the future of the city into the everyday public spaces of the city- into hair salons, cafes, libraries and museums in order to tap into the bottom-up intelligence of the city. And also to signal that the shared future of Glasgow was not a closed game to be played in smoke-filled rooms by experts and grandees, but instead a tangibly public enterprise.
Second, the project set up a series of ‘disruptive spaces’ to explore the future of the city. These experimental events helped to open up different perspectives and conversations as the unusual setting encouraged people to be more open. These disruptive events included turning a boat into an free office for a day; taking over trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh for two days and three cargo cabins filled with art being installed in different neighbourhoods across Glasgow, and ‘The Big Dream’ an interactive festival at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The aim with all the events was to create a ‘trading zone’ where different people could come together as equals and exchange different experiences, beliefs and hopes about the future of Glasgow. Harvard Professor Peter Galison coined the term to describe places that are “partly symbolic and partly spatial – at which the local coordination between beliefs and actions takes place.”
e. An open tool box
Mass imagination is not something to be defensively guarded. It is a public good: the more open it is and the more it is given away, the stronger it becomes. Therefore the process of imagining the future cannot be totally owned by the organisation starting it. It needs to be something that different people and organisations can pick up and run with.
Glasgow 2020 openly publicised the fact that it was ready to support others who were interested in doing their own Glasgow 2020 event. A range of events happened like this including a series of discussions in a women’s library, a visioning process by the Port of Glasgow community, and a neighbourhood church’s summer school which created a giant 3D model of the city in 2020. Post-Glasgow 2020 project the Six Cities Festival created seven postcards of the city futures which will be disseminated around the city, while a Glasgow 2020 music project has been created bringing together artists and musicians with storytellers to create music inspired from the project’s stories.
f. People as researchers and the freedom of information
Public imagination is not a process that can or should have one narrator or interpreter. The role of the core Glasgow 2020 was as facilitators and animators helping people themselves to understand, articulate and exchange their own views and hopes for the future of Glasgow. It is also important that the process is transparent and stories and ideas able to circulate, helping prompt further reflection and development of new ideas.
Glasgow 2020 encouraged three different spheres of conversation. First, the recreational sphere comprising of the make a wish campaign, the story writing competitions, the media partnership and coverage with the main city newspaper the Evening Times, and a dedicated website. Second the community sphere with events with specific groups. Third, the official sphere with institutions and organisations.
The circulation of ideas between the three spheres was encouraged. So for example wishes and elements of stories submitted were used as starting points for discussions in workshops. These workshops produced stories, which in-turn were given to authors who developed particular characters and storylines into complete stories. These stories were then distilled into seven emerging storylines for the future which were publicly tested and refined at the public event at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to which over 700 people came.
The combination of these six principles adds up to a project that is:
• a campaign (it seeks to enlist people in futures thinking)
• a public culture project (it engages their imagination)
• a piece of policy research (it generates learning for the development of urban policy and practice).
6. Learning from the content
a. Beyond litter and dog dirt
What kind of city do people want to live in come 2020? Instead of clipboards armed with a list of questions and boxes to be ticked, the people of Glasgow were invited to indulge in some wishful thinking. A giant wish book toured offices and public buildings, freepost wishcards were dropped in bars, libraries and community centres, and a website invited people to make a wish and also rank other peoples. In addition, every six year-old child in Glasgow was invited to make a wish- over one thousand of them did so.
So what patterns emerge from the total of well over 2,000 wishes that were collected? Seven clear clusters emerged which reveal a set of priorities which shape people’s well-being. What is immediately striking about the seven clusters is the dominance of value-based issues – what could be called the social and emotional capital of cities. The usual fair of local authority satisfaction surveys are there- crime, grime, health and education, but the other hopes, dreams and wishes that people spontaneously bring to the table in at least equal numbers, go beyond the usual remit of consulting on public service performance.
• The Five Giants
In 1942 the great social economist Beveridge identified five evils for society to conquer: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, and with them laid the groundwork for the birth of the welfare state. More than sixty years on the people of Glasgow identify their own five giants they wish to see the end of which reflect something of Beveridge’s spirit: poverty, bad housing, inequality, poor health, poor education and unemployment.
This cluster is a mix of wishes to resolve old Glasgow problems of sectarianism with desires for increased tolerance, integration and the city to be open and welcoming to difference and newcomers.
• Mental Aptitude
This cluster comprises wishes that hope for people possessing the right mental attitude, mental abilities and emotional skills to find their way in 2020 and to help them support one another: from resilience, self-confidence and self -esteem, having a positive mental outlook, to empathy, compassion for and friendliness towards others.
• Crime and Safety
Wishes for an end to crime, violence, and substance abuse, are underscored by a hope for a widely felt sense of safety so that people can enjoy the freedom of the city.
• Civic Pride
These wishes carry an internal and external dimension. Internally hope that people have more pride in their city and recognize its special qualities and contribute to creating and maintaining them. Externally, hope that Glasgow is recognized by other people and places as a great city.
Alongside the perhaps more noble Five Giants described above, run five grubbier scourges that people would like to imagine a future without: litter, gum, graffiti, spitting and dog dirt.
Many wishes pick up on Glasgow’s heritage as a ‘dear green place’, and hope that people will take on the personal responsibility to make it a stronger reality by 2020. Fears of environmental doom are powerfully countered by a hope that Glasgow can innovate out of disaster.
b. People have faith in the city
The new orthodoxy about how we see ourselves and the world around us asserts that we are a society of lucky pessimists. This is a worldview that can be summarised as “I’m doing alright and expect to do even better in the future, but the rest of the world is going to hell in a handcart”.
In one recent poll conducted by YouGov people were asked about whether they thought Great Britain was better or worse than five years ago, 62 percent thought it was worse, only 11 percent thought it had got better. Asked to look ahead and guess what Britain might be like in five years time, 53 percent said it would be worse and only 11 percent thought it would be better. However, when asked about their own lives in 2007 63 percent described themselves as optimistic.
This pessimism about our collective future is equally evident in polling people’s perceptions about the key institutions of the public realm such as health, education and policing, where the pessimists outnumber the optimists roughly 2:1. For example, only 18 percent of people believe that the NHS is likely to improve in the next few years, compared to 50 percent of people who think it will get worse. This is despite high levels of satisfaction with the people’s personal experience with parts of the NHS – one poll found that over three quarters of people are satisfied with their GP.
The danger here is that instead of seeing how quality of life for individuals and families is integrally related to the health of the ‘commons’, individual and collective well-being have become disconnected. As Tom Bentley has written there are whole host of personal decisions where the wider consequences- social, cultural, environmental, economic- are treated as externalities and therefore not taken into consideration. For example in relation to the environment, through using plastic bags at supermarkets, taking cheap flights and driving children to school.
With the much documented decline in trust and optimism towards so many of the institutions of the public realm, the challenge is to find new ways of decision-making and organising that can help reconnect individual and collective well-being by helping make choices visible, transparent and meaningful.
An alternative to the lucky pessimist
In contrast to the dominant story of lucky pessimists, we found the beginning of a different pattern being played out in Glasgow. In contrast to other collective institutions, people were largely optimistic about the future of their city. This potentially opens up a new more hopeful story about individual and collective well-being.
When asked whether they thought life would be worse or better in 2020 just under three-quarters of people said it would be better for them personally and Glasgow as a whole.
The Future: 2020 Better Worse Net optimism
Individual: 71.2 11 + 60.2
Glasgow: 69 13.5 + 55.5
The results for the city of Glasgow compares extremely well against people’s perceptions of other collective institutions. Even education, generally the public service people tend to be most optimistic about, has scored at best a net optimism score of +10 in recent years. The challenge for Glasgow is how to tap into this sense of optimism and activate the city as a meaningful and effective framework for collective action that links individual and collective well-being. The opportunity is there, but there are also warning signs that this will not be an easy or straightforward task.
An important bridging space between the city as a whole and individuals are Glasgow’s neighbourhoods. While people do tend to be optimistic about the future of their neighbourhood, it is at a level significantly lower than their optimism about their own life or the future as a whole.
The Future: 2020 Better Worse Net optimism
Neighbourhood 56.8 15.6 +41.2
It is in neighbourhoods that people are most likely to encounter other people on a level of intimacy not experienced as they move around the malls and the city centre. It is in neighbourhoods that people tend to feel most personally affected by litter, anti-social behaviour and by a lack of trust in those they live near. It is here that people are more likely to feel the gap between the Glasgow branding slogan, “Scotland with Style” and their day-to-day lives.
It would be easy to slam the city’s policy of the last twenty years, investing heavily in cultural regeneration of the city centre and in turn neglecting and alienating outlying neighbourhoods. However, as Garcia and Scullion found in their extensive research in the city, there is widespread support for iconic cultural regeneration projects amongst Glasgow’s working class communities.
Nonetheless, our research found that people in disadvantaged neighbourhoods felt excluded from the rising prosperity and thrusting development of the city around them. There was a sense of injustice- “our neighbourhood isn’t getting its fair share and is being left behind”- and a sense of frustration that people did not have any accessible ways to participate in Glasgow’s good times. As such there is a struggle to find a shared story of optimism about the future that can connect the city, the neighbourhood and the individual. Cities- rather than nations or firms- have increasingly been recognized as the engines of economic growth and innovation. The tantalizing question illuminated by the Glasgow 2020 project is whether cities can also become recognized as engines of optimism and hope about our collective futures.
The challenge for Glasgow is how to tap into this sense of optimism and activate the city as a meaningful and effective framework for collective action that links individual and collective well-being.
c. Futures Literacy
The questionnaires, stories and wishes showed that people in Glasgow are generally optimistic about the future of their city. But these came from individual perspectives. In discussion groups we bought together lots of different people to deliberate and draw up different shared perspectives on the future. We worked with groups from housing association tenants to council officials to create 2020 matrixes, exploring possible changes, continuities, trends and events and ranking them according to how likely and desirable people believed they were.
A number of patterns emerged from the matrixes themselves and the conversations they helped stimulate and structure:
• Optimism [about the future]
Confounding the common Scottish stereotype of the dour, fatalistic Scot, those that took part again exhibited distinctly optimistic tendencies. The most populated side of the matrix was consistently the “desirable” right hand side of the matrix, with the upper “likely” quadrant also better filled than the bottom “unlikely” quadrant. This perspective contrasted with 2020 sessions we ran with people in other cities. For example, in Helsinki change tended to be much more seen as unlikely to occur with the status quo assumed to hold even if it was not desirable.
• Uncertainty [about change]
There was a widely felt recognition that the city had changed significantly in recent years and that this pace of change would continue. However, there was significant uncertainty about the impact of change, highlighting the need to separate out attitudes towards the future from attitudes to change. There was concern about inequality and how much disadvantaged or excluded communities would share in the positive changes. There was also a sense of disorientation by the pace of change and a strong sense that progress had been far from linear or uniform. This uncertainty also contributed to a sense that many people did not feel that they had control over their lives, or had the power to make decisions.
“its got better for gay people, but its got worse on race and religion.”
“it is a divided city that makes progress in one area, only for another division to assert itself elsewhere”
“its better for some, worse for others. Health is on the up, education is down.”
• Confidence [in big projects]
The cluster of elements that people tend to feel most confident about being likely to change relate to investments in infrastructure and big projects. For example transport infrastructure, public buildings and housing improvements. However, there was some disquiet about whether this was sufficient to make a better Glasgow:
“you hope the people at the council have learnt that buildings don’t change people.”
“the investment in all the physical stuff looks great, but its not enough.”
“the city looks good but only in a marketing way.”
• Frustration [with other people]
While the matrixes show the potential for a brighter future, it is a future hamstrung by other people. Group participants found it much harder to express confidence in positive transitions on aspects of the future that were more dependent on other people’s behaviour. Things like reductions in violence, street crime, litter-dropping, vandalism, using cars less, people exercising tended to be consigned to the desirable but unlikely corner.
In many of the conversations there was a sense that the city had lost patience with itself and was getting increasingly desperate:
“the city should contaminate the drug supply so when the junkies are jacking up they know there is a risk you might die. It might make some of them think again and get rid of a few of them” – council official
“teenage single mothers should be sterilised to prevent them having children again” – single mum
As reflected in these quotes, the response to the frustration with other people was often a resort to tighter and tighter control by a strong-arm authority. This was a theme picked up in other parts of the project. For example, many of the stories feature the council as an increasingly intrusive force in people’s private lives, spying on them and penalising them for behaving in anti-social ways. At the same time, many people saw the city council as the focal point of the city and of a new, localised decision making.
Fascinatingly, the frustration at authority was met head on by an attitude by some authority of an equally powerful sense of frustration and disappointment at the people. After year on year investment and public services with more resources, some professionals had a resentment and anger that the people had not kept their side of the bargain and changed their behaviour.
• Recognition [of the need for new tools]
Sectarian attitudes, the relentless carbon-consumption of a city structured around shopping, bad parenting, alcohol abuse and the continual threat of violence often felt like intractable problems all vested in other people’s behaviour. For some people the only place they felt they could turn was the council and ever tighter crack downs aimed at breaking these patterns. But just as many conversations about the future turned in a very different direction, towards an idea of self-help and self-organisation:
“the big chances for changes don’t lie with the council- but with ourselves. We need to do stuff to live together better, and not just look to the political system to change us.” – westender
“It’s about a process for getting hope: we need to trust, to trust schools, children, ourselves. We need people in rooms talking. We need to understand ourselves. The community needs to come together to change. We need people to take control and volunteer themselves. We need hope but we know it’s hard.” – single mum, East End
These reflections and hopes for the future point to a radically different story of change; rather a future hamstrung by other people’s behaviour or being dominated by all powerful institutions, it has at its heart a powerful sense of individual responsibility and demands new patterns of participation and forms of social cooperation.
7. Glasgow’s possible futures
The stories Glasgow’s people created, the wishes they cast and their myriad discussions did not create a single unifying vision for the city. Instead a more complex and diverse set of storylines emerged from which seven possible scenarios can be distilled for what Glasgow could be like in 2020.
The seven Glasgows of the future – are neither sci-fi utopias or dystopias or imagined worlds of some fantasy. Instead each and every one of the seven can be found on aspects of the Glasgow of today, and for any of the seven to become the defining story of the city in the future is possible from where we are in the present.
The seven cities are:
• The Two Speed City
• The Soft City
• The Dear Green City
• The Slow City
• The Lonely City
• The Hard City
• The Kaleidoscope City
How we understand the seven cities of the future, which Glasgow 2020 sketched out, is central to how the future is shaped. Howard Gardner in his book, ‘Changing Minds’, addresses the issue of how ‘new’ stories emerge and become persuasive and established, rather than be dismissed and marginalised. This is a complex process which involves ‘new’ stories emerging and having to negotiate an intricate balancing act whereby they “have enough familiar elements so that it is not instantly rejected” and “yet be distinctive enough that it compels attention and engages the mind.”
This has wide implications for the emergence of any new city stories – which have to engage in this context between a ‘new’ story and counterstory, between content and countercontent. It is deeply illuminating of Glasgow’s future that all seven cities identified are not entirely ‘new’, but present in the city, its psyche and discussions today.
8. Glasgow 2020, cities and the future
What should Glasgow and learn from these stories and the project? Part of the value of the mass imagination process proves to be less about setting out a neat sequence of events and predictions that led inexorably and uniformly to a better, brighter, stronger city in 2020, but rather how it prompts a re-interpretation of events in the present and helps reveal blind spots in current thinking and practice in cities. To quote Proust, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Some of its most prescient findings include:
a) The importance of the unique
People want the distinctive nature of their city, its sense of pride, identity and very ‘soul’ to be cared for and protected. There is a sense of unease across the city that Glasgow is slowly and inextricably becoming just like everywhere else, and that this is being aided and encouraged by public authorities and ‘the official Glasgow’.
b) People are what make cities
It is people who make cities, not institutions, buildings or grand plans. It is their general well-being (emotional, social, spiritual and physical), happiness, confidence and prosperity of a people that matters most, not economic growth, social cohesion or democratic participation: which are all means to an end. The ‘official Glasgow’ seems to have forgotten this elementary truth, and tends to see people as instruments in the delivery of policy goals, or sometimes, barriers to these goals.
c) The relevance of gender
Glasgow as a city is more than most places shaped by gender. The Glasgow 2020 project was significantly influenced by gender in a number of respects. For example, across events, more women than men came, with an astonishing 68 per cent of participants female. Even more pronounced than this was the different voices and perspectives men and women spoke with. Women overall tended to have a more pragmatic, optimistic view of the future based on doing things, and helping shape and take control of their own lives. Men overall were more inclined to have a fixed and less positive view of the future.
Gender influences the city economically, socially, culturally and in relation to health, life expectancy, drinking and violence. Glasgow is still in public life dominated by men and a competitive masculinity, yet on another level, in local neighbourhoods and in community activism, a very different kind of politics, more shaped by women, is thriving. This points to two very different ideas of the city, and of very different kinds of politics and models of change. More men tended to see politics and change as something that happened elsewhere, and the preserve of politicians and institutional mandates; women on the other hand often did not see what they did as ‘politics’ and ‘change’, but rather lived, acted and supported themselves and others in doing things.
d) The prevalence of hope
One of the most illuminating findings from Glasgow 2020 was the prevalence of hope in every group we engaged with: hope at the individual level, in families, the neighbourhood and the city. We found this across divergent groups – from the most affluent to the most disadvantaged. Even in the most materially deprived parts of the city – people have not stopped believing in changing their lives for the better. This surely points the way towards the building blocks of a common vocabulary and set of common aspirations.
e) The importance of public space
There was a fundamental yearning amongst people of all ages, backgrounds and parts of the city for the importance of public space being recognised. This was most notable during the course of Glasgow 2020 in two aspects, one the re-opening of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and the other, the introduction of the smoking ban in Scotland in public places in March 2006. There was almost an identifiable yearning across the city waiting for Kelvingrove to reopen in August 2006, after it had been closed for over two years for refurbishment. The smoking ban on the other hand transformed many of the public spaces of the city – which has a significantly higher number of smokers than the Scottish average – and changed the way people enjoy themselves socially, culturally and in numerous other ways.
There was a noticeable feeling that people believed public space was being more and more squeezed by commercial considerations – with councils selling off public assets to balance their books and commercial pressures dictating largely how a city is spatially planned and lived. People frequently commented that there were few spaces to go within the city centre which did not try to relate to you and define you as a consumer; and this along with a sense of its location in history and civic pride in part explains the city-wide yearning for the reopening of Kelvingrove- a space where people do not feel like they are consumers all the time, bombarded with selling messages, and instead people can change speed, spend unhussled time, reflect and take time.
f) The values gap between people and institutions
Across Glasgow 2020 there was a profound disjuncture between the language used by government, public agencies and ‘the official Glasgow’. The new buzzwords, jargon and in phrases so beloved of the institutional classes of public and private sectors and the consultant classes, was absent from the way people – both within and outwith these worlds – chose to talk about their lives, the city and future.
This language gap is not something which can be addressed by identifying a new, less jargonistic lexicon or public grammar of governance. Instead, what it points to is the belief that many people have that the aspirations and values public agencies have are not the same ones as they have themselves, nor the ones they would like these agencies to have. What is revealing here, is the nervous, unsure, embryonic nature of this; people are not too sure of the language to use, and are a little nervous and wary of how to describe this state of affairs. However, across numerous events, people spoke of their sense that public agencies, government and corporates, were driven and influenced by a set of values very different from their own. They may not be sure of the words, but they suspect there is an institutional pre-planned agenda which reflects a deep-seated values gap between people and institutions.
g) The lack of collective agency and the power of networks
The desire for autonomy and control over one’s own individual life and for a sense of status and recognition played an important part in many peoples’ aspirations and their sense of well-being. People often advanced change in their own life or wider community by being active in the community, setting up a group or grass roots initiative, or establishing a business. What was missing in the city was a sense of collective agency – which people felt belonged to ‘them’ rather than ‘the system’. This seems particularly prescient given the decline of political parties in Scotland, the UK and internationally. In this situation, hosts of new networks and ways of living, working, campaigning and making your presence felt have grown up, but there is still this chasm at the heart of how decisions are made, and sense of a widening value gap and lack of a sense of agency which can nurture peoples’ hopes and aspirations.
Underneath these specific findings is a broader lesson about the primacy of values- individual and collective- in the hope for better futures in Glasgow. The goal of “moving up the value chain” is central to the official future and tightly tied to creating an “excellent economic environment.” The strong emphasis given in the emergent futures to intangibles such as happiness, pace, confidence, pride, environmental justice and fairness point to a need to widen our understanding of how value chains work in cities.
Richard Layard’s work has already prompted a rethink in policy and academic circles about the relationship between economic productivity and well-being by arguing that beyond a certain level of wealth, individuals are unable to translate increases in income to increases in improvements in life satisfaction. Offer’s research points to the uncomfortable truth that affluence feeds impatience, and impatience creates unhappiness. Elsewhere, Florida and Tinagli’s research into the three T’s of Talent, Technology and Tolerance suggests that we should flip the usual assumption of cause and effect: dynamic economies do not beget social cohesion; rather certain kinds of social cohesion and values can beget dynamic economies.
The wishes collected revealed a clear conception of the personal attributes people thought they would need to thrive in the future, including confidence, openness and tolerance. Matching this, a number of the emergent futures set out visions of the ‘good city’ that reflects these individual values, including qualities such as openness, tolerance, ecological awareness and emotional intelligence. This suggests that people have a strong desire to get a better alignment between individual and collective values, and the emergent futures set out the kinds of contexts in which people feel they could thrive.
This symbiotic relationship between individuals and their environment is supported by self-determination theory which asserts that three basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness) are necessary for individual well-being. The assumption is that people have an innate tendency to grow these capacities but only within a supportive social context; individual knowledge and skills are not enough on their own.
There are some clear implications for current policy in towns and cities where approaches to issues such as anti-social behaviour or encouraging green lifestyles tend to be couched in either a negative view of humans as inherently selfish and require the right sticks and carrots to behave ‘correctly’, or that the problems facing people are not social, but the result of poor choices made by uniformed or irresponsible individuals. The experience in Glasgow suggests the beginning of a very different, values led, basis for participation and engagement. As Ogilvy writes, “human virtues are renewable resources”, but they need to be created and sustained by practice and context.
9. Assemblies of hope
One of the central questions and challenges thrown up by Glasgow 2020 and evident across many of the Western democracies is the issue of agency. In an age of increased skepticism, scrutiny and sometimes even exhaustion and cynicism what is the role of agency and what values should they promote?
The idea of ‘assemblies of hope’ emerged in the project to address what is increasingly seen as the missing issue of agency. These bring together the idea of ‘assembly’: a loose, flexible, strategic configuration or network which is filled with a sense of generosity of spirit and practice, and ‘hope”: one of the key elements in articulating stories which aid people’s capacity to believe they can bring about change.
The ‘assemblies of hope’ would have the following:
• Provide a space where people such as artists, alchemists, imagineers, social and cultural entrepreneurs, green and environmental campaigners, people searching for new meaning and purpose in our society, business people looking to widen their understanding, and others, could come together to find and offer support and encouragement.
• It would aspire to open up a space for non-institutional thinking and imagination, and offer such activities as mentoring, shadowing, sharing and developing of ideas.
• They would value story, the power of story and the importance of storytellers. They would look to foster and nurture creativity and innovation which is not instrumental, but for its own ends and worth.
• Their aim in an age of economic determinism and culture reduced to a tool of economic policy, would be to create a series of non-economic spaces and conversations, whereby people could value and enter into relationships which were not judged by economic criterion.
• The ‘assemblies of hope’ would look to engage with institutions and ‘the system’ while being resourced to have autonomy, independence and not be a part of ‘the system’.
The experience of Glasgow 2020 is that an initiative such as this would muster a lot of support, interest and goodwill, and create something is both needed and unique both within and beyond the city.
In most cities there are already collections of people, networks and activities which offer some of the above – and which could be seen as embryonic ‘assemblies of hope’. The Glasgow 2020 book identified a range of initiatives in the city which we called ‘places of hope’, whereby creativity, imagination and a sense of hope could be seen. We did not draw up an exhaustive list – instead identifying sixteen places, ranging from the imaginative use of public space, to business with a social conscience, the importance of bringing up children and the issue of gender, and understanding the need for a common thread of civic pride. One of the initiatives emerging from Glasgow 2020 will be to explore the potential of ‘assemblies of hope’ as an idea, and the possibility of setting one or more up.
10. Some lessons for public agencies
Together these findings offer some practical insights into how Glasgow’s public agencies can begin to reconfigure their activities and relationship with the city. These include:
• In how the city consults and engages with its public, there are again clear recommendations in terms of the need to open up not just areas of policy and decision-making to public participation, but also involving the public in a dialogue which is upstream about what questions get asked in the first place.
• There is now a widespread distrust amongst the public about the merits and motivations of consultation. A more open, genuine process of engagement is needed, in which the public shape the agenda, topics and questions.
• There are also lessons about how the city develops its advertising and marketing strategy. Civic pride and a sense of authenticity and ownership amongst people already living in the city are just as important as chasing external media, businesses and tourists.
• There is the fundamental issue of the emerging ‘value gap’ between most of the institutions of the city and the public. Many people believe that the public agencies, institutions and corporates in the city do not have the same values as they do, or in some cases, that they are actually shaped by the values they profess they are.
• There is a lack of shared values and language in many of the discussions across the city. This is particularly seen in the view of ‘the official future’ which seems to have developed its own language and values which is increasingly disembodied, technocratic and jargon based.
• There is the need for institutions to dare to be part of the search for a new urban story. In past times, the city authorities felt confident enough to take the lead in nurturing a sense of civic pride, tradition and identification. This may have seen people as deferential and knowing their place, but it was a powerful story of civic progress and advance. In Glasgow, it had the confidence to use film, stories, books, educational materials and many other resources in a story which was genuine and owned by people, rather than advertising and marketing.
• The issue of gender and the different views of men and women point to very different kinds of cities, politics and change. Women had a view of politics and change which was shaped by doing things and a community-led view of the city. Men had a much more inactive, leave things to others view. This has deep implications for how institutions view the city and act.
The book produced as part of the project was launched at the Scottish Executive Six Cities Design Festival on May 23rd 2007. The book is called The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the Power of Mass Imagination.
The book sets out:
• the findings from the project and what they mean for Glasgow and cities more widely;
• the process and methodology- lessons for public engagement and public imagination;
• a number of the short-stories and presentation of the other materials generated.
The book will be disseminated throughout Glasgow, including distribution through Glasgow City Libraries, Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world.
A related, but independent initiative will see The Dreaming City, an album of nine pieces of music inspired by stories from the project will be launched in Glasgow Jazz Festival on June 25th and 26th 2007.
12. Further Discussions and Follow Up Work
In addition, Glasgow 2020 and Demos, would welcome the opportunity to have a series of discussions with relevant public institutions and agencies in Glasgow and Scotland. These discussions will help in drawing out some of the specific lessons for them individually and also scope out possible programmes of work on any of the key themes and issues.