THE OPEN CITY
When the mood of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.
Late 1960s slogan, attributed to Plato
The first step to a better future is imagining one. Glasgow 2020 has been a practical experiment to find an alternative to the closed city by opening up Glasgow’s future to the mass imagination of its citizens. This chapter shares the storylines generated for the future of Glasgow and explores what it and other cities can learn from the process. It then asks how bottom-up storylines can be turned into action and begins to map out the core components of what it would mean for a place to become a more open city in terms of everyday governance, culture, design and planning. It concludes by identifying a number of places of hope and imagination in the city and sketches out the notion of ‘assemblies of hope’ as one vessel to carry forth and nurture change.
1. POSSIBLE FUTURES
The stories the people of Glasgow created, the wishes cast and the ideas exchanged did not create a single unifying vision for the city. Instead a diverse set of storylines emerged from which seven possible scenarios were distilled to describe what Glasgow could be like in 2020.
The Two Speed City
By 2020 economic and social divisions are so entrenched that Glasgow has become two cities living side by side in blissful ignorance of one-other. One half believes that ‘everyone is middle class now’ while the other half is bedded down in social housing estates, existing in temporary jobs or on benefits. Both halves believe that they represent the majority experience of living in the city.
The two cities are self-replicating. With social mobility at an all time low, people are born in the same side as they die. There are little to no movements between the two cities and the politics of Glasgow are entirely conducted around the values of the richer half. The excluded have by and large opted out of voting, politics and notions of citizenship.
The connected, cash-rich/time-poor part of the city is constantly in a rush. There are special toll roads, air conditioned walkways and luxury water-taxis carrying people to and fro, cocooned from the rest of the city. The other half have to rely on crowded, dilapidated public transport. They have plenty of time but with little to do, spending most of their time, hidden away at home.
The Soft City
For years Glasgow’s soft city – its sense of friendliness, nattering and blethering often led by women – had been constrained by the hard city of men. By 2018, the unchecked growth of drug addiction, violence and anti-social behaviour had reached crisis point. Glasgow looked to those excluded from the old-fashioned hard city of toxic masculinity: women campaigners and men prepared to align with them and change.
A city once renowned for masculine attitudes, behaviour and values, runs to a very different heartbeat. Women in 2020 have formed the vanguard of a new cultural epoch, working in different, more co-operative ways. Many men enthusiastically sign up too, liberated from the pressures of machismo and competition.
Football is no longer so important – one sport amongst many. Glasgow has lost the chip on its shoulder, is making up with Edinburgh and reaching for peace with the wider world. It has even taken the step of apologising for its role in the British Empire, and brought a still lively Bill Clinton to the city to chair a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to mend sectarian disputes.
The Dear Green City
What was once a gritty industrial place has now embraced the green life. As the price of energy spiralled out of control, Glasgow’s fierce cultural independence and sense of itself has translated into a collective effort to go ‘off-grid’ and generate its own power.
Glasgow’s green revolution sees exercise bikes hooked up to generators in schools, offices and homes, while windmills and solar panels top most buildings. ‘Glasgondalas’ now line up along the banks of the Clyde and special bikes have been developed to take the edge off riding up the hills.
The city leads the promotion of clean energy and sustainable living: exporting eco-friendly energy to the rest of Scotland and the world. With climate change causing a permanent drought down south, Glasgow is even managing to make a nice profit piping water to England.
The Slow City
By the early years of the twenty-first century, more Glasgow voices were starting to question the city’s preoccupation with shopping, and its pride as the biggest retail centre outside of London. Glaswegians began to come down with consumption fatigue, and slowly turned their back on the thrill of compulsive spending.
By 2020 many have abandoned preoccupations with wealth, conspicuous consumption and rewarding talent with money. Instead there is a widespread sense that there are more profound issues at stake: finding some deeper meaning to life, investing time and love in bringing up children, caring for neighbours, the vulnerable and the old.
It becomes a city that values slowness and deliberation over the fast. There is now a sense of pride in taking time doing things, doing jobs well, building products that last, and there is no longer a social stigma attached to therapists – you are weird if you don’t have one. Yoga has replaced football as the city’s exercise of choice, and the council sponsors offices to introduce siestas. Well-slept, well-exercised and well-meaning; this is the new civic-spirituality.
The Lonely City
The lonely city is an atomised, individualised, hi-tech future. People are free to create their own lives on their own terms. They work, play and socialise through their computers not needing to interact with anyone who isn’t just like themselves. All communities are based around longtail individual interests rather than shared geographical places.
Interactions with neighbours, people on the street and in shops have become an optional extra. Everything that Glaswegians used to rely on each other for (security, humour, ideas, companionship, even violence), can now be secured by relationships mediated through technology. The world is full of opportunities and possibilities, but for someone looking for a face-to-face friend, Glasgow feels like a lonely place.
This is a Glasgow where people seek meaning, satisfaction and freedom through technology and consumption, but where they do not make a connection between their lifestyle choices and the fragmented, empty nature of large parts of the city.
The Hard City
The city authorities ran out of patience with their people a long time ago. All efforts to support trust and community have failed. Government intervention extends into citizen’s lives as never before, enforcing curfews on entire families, banning smoking in the home, outlawing the use of petrol driven cars. Children who break rules at schools are interned in youth detention centres outside the city known as Ned-Camps.
This is a city that is proud that it practices ‘hard love’, ‘tough on failure and tough on the causes of failure.’ Bigger and bigger sticks are needed to get people to respond and behave in the way government wants them to.
Teenagers are temporarily sterilised to prevent pregnancy and ASBO kids are named and shamed during prime-time TV ad-breaks. Neighbourhoods can take part in street-versus-street competitions text-voting out their favourite nuisance neighbour, who is then deprived of any rights to benefits or housing. As a consequence crime has dramatically reduced and the city is much neater, cleaner and quieter, apart from the constant growl from the police helicopters swirling overhead.
The Kaleidoscope City
Once so white with a predictable range of voices, accents, cultures and clothes, Glasgow has exploded into a kaleidoscope of diversity. The city is known for its open doors policy to newcomers and its tolerant cosmopolitan atmosphere. Waves of newcomers have arrived and been absorbed: the Poles, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Somalis, the Iraqis, the Lebanese… even the English are at home here now.
Immigrants have shaped the cuisine of and propelled Glasgow into the gastronomic premier league, while the pink pound has animated the city’s nightlife. These changes have led to an unheralded degree of change, where the old divisions and identities are barely remembered by the younger generations and new Glaswegians. Partick Thistle has become the most successful football team in Glasgow, buoyed by the support of newcomers.
Learning from the possible futures
What should Glasgow and other cities learn from these stories and Glasgow 2020? 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 the main blindspots and rethinks the project revealed include:
• In the allocation and targeting of health resources our findings corroborate other research that advocates a shift away from just focusing on the material determinants of ill-health – such as unemployment and bad housing – and a shift towards addressing social and cultural determinants.
• 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 are also lessons about how the city develops its 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.
Underneath these specific insights is a broader lesson about the primacy of values- individual and collective- in the hope for better futures in cities. 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.
There is a further need for better upstream accounting and integration of the values that people hope our urban infrastructure can promote and their downstream impacts. Ravetz explored this in terms of “total metabolism mapping” and the stark disconnect it can reveal between the cities we want and the ones we get. For example, in transport, our upstream values are needs like access and opportunity. What we actually get are congestion and climate change, something that can be obscured by the tendency to focus on delivery and outputs such as more roads or increased public transport numbers.
In Glasgow this metabolism problem is evident in the provision of social housing. The upstream values people seek from homes are about security, comfort and retreat, but in the rush to deliver on these needs through repeated cycles of demolition and rebuild, often what people end up with is a sense of uncertainty, disempowerment and injustice.
2. FROM STORYLINES TO ACTION
The question remains, how much can the closed city take on and use this kind of learning? There is a danger of little more than fine-tuning the closed city into a smarter, more sensitive, streetwise version of itself armed with a refreshed mental map to guide its official future, but essentially business as usual. Such an outcome would do little to broaden out what is in danger of being a cyclical revival of cities into a more sustainable and widely shared structural renewal.
The social geographer Susan Feinstein asked the critical question: “can we build the cities we want?” The emergent storylines generated through the process of mass imagination blend both radical change and conservative nostalgia; a heady brew of hopes and fears for what the future might hold. Together they represent a significant opening up of the urban imagination about the kinds of lives- individual and collective- people hope are possible in our cities. At the same time, they expose a stark ingenuity gap between peoples’ hoped for futures and the current set of tools and resources available to help get them there.
Progressing any of the emergent storylines- or averting any of them- requires more than just opening up space for non-institutional voices and storylines. It also requires finding new ways to mobilise communities of interest and action behind those storylines. It demands developing new patterns of participation and new patterns of producing collective goods. If the first step to better futures is imagining them, then the next steps are about developing the means of collaboration and innovation that help make those better futures possible. The experience of Glasgow provides some clues as to where and how these steps might be taken.
Urban gold mines
The 2020 project emerged in the gap between public institutions and people. This is a gap that is usually characterized by a lack of trust and connection, where fatalism and frustration pervade. But in this commonly negative space, people in Glasgow generated enthusiasm and optimism, and brought into focus two potentially powerful resources for the future of cities.
The first resource is people – people as reciprocators who are disposed towards finding opportunities for social cooperation and self-improvement. The second resource is the power of the city as a collective institution that people identify with and are optimistic about. This is a rare commodity compared to other public institutions from local authorities to the health service. Cities have become accepted as one of the primary units of economic growth and significant investment is now routed through them to promote economic productivity and innovation. Indeed part of the optimism that people feel is a result of the improving economic conditions of cities. But the city is far more than its economy, just as it is far more than city hall. People have an energy and passion for their city, they are proud of it and they care for it. At its best, the city is where people find recognition from others and where they feel that they matter. This pride and faith often comes in spite of how people feel about the council and whether or not they feel they are getting their fair share of the economic good times.
At the moment, the city as a shared idea and resource is only called on for marketing brochures and occasionally for mega-events like the Olympics or Capital of Culture bids. The question is can it be mobilised on a more sustained everyday basis? And can a better connection be made between the city as a collective resource and the shift towards personal improvement? Significant investment has gone into stimulating and supporting economic innovation in cities. There is now a growing need to match this with equivalent investment in social and democratic innovation. Cities could be the ideal unit and site to focus this effort; small enough to be tangible yet large enough to affect change at a scale that matters.
The Power of Us: from mass imagination to mass collaboration
To help begin to close the gap between the cities people want and the cities people get requires looking beyond the structures and tools of the closed city. It is also perhaps not very helpful to look back to what many consider the last great age of cities in Britain, the Victorian period. Rather than industrial methods of organisation there is a need for responses that both fit our post-industrial times and that go further than either city boosterism or new localism.
One potential source of ideas for new ways of working is the emerging paradigm of user-participation and production spurred by the web 2.0 phase of development of the internet which relies on the contributions and collaboration of many people to create content for others. As Benkler has described, while the industrial revolution centralized the means of production into large corporations and bureaucracies who had the capital and resources to achieve economies of scale, now a combination of cheap computers, new social software and distributed computing capacity, are starting to give production power back to people.
According to Topscott and Williams, these “weapons of mass collaboration” are “giving rise to powerful new models of production based on community, collaboration and self-organisation rather than on hierarchy and control.” YouTube, Skype, Linux, flickr, Second Life, eBay, Seti@Home are all stars of this new era and have become household names.
Online Mass Collaboration
The online encyclopaedia created and maintained almost entirely by amateurs now has over six millions articles in 250 languages. It is guided by the philosophy that “unmoderated collaboration among well-meaning, informed editors will gradually improve the encyclopaedia in its breadth, depth and accuracy”. Maintenance tasks are performed by a group of volunteers; these include developers, who work on the software, and other trusted users with various permission levels including “steward”, “bureaucrat” and “administrator”.
The Sound of Music
In the last 10 years the whole recording industry has been turned on its head by people more able to make and exchange music on their own terms. The falling price of digital technology and recording software, combined with music blogging and the emergence of music-focussed social networking sites like Myspace have moved the distribution of music closer to people’s hands. Whereas previously being “signed” to a record label, was a route to fame for musicians, now people are unlikely to be signed unless they have already attained a certain degree of fame amongst communities passing around and commenting on their music. In 2007 un-signed Enter Shikari’s album reached number four in the UK charts, purely off the back of Internet talk.
Proving mass collaboration is not just something for left-field cyber warriors, US pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly set up an online open R & D lab where “seeker” companies and scientist problem solvers interact in an eBay-like marketplace. A company posts a problem and a scientist offers a solution in return for a reward. Four years after it had set up over 90,000 scientists had signed up and over $1.5 million paid out to bounty-hunter solvers. Bluechip firms like Dow Chemical, Dupont and Procter & Gamble have also signed up. The latter were prompted by a decision to outsource 50 percent of new product and service R&D in order to help the company keep up with the pace of change in its sector. InnoCentive Chief Executive Darren J. Carroll explains his motivation as “trying for the democratisation of science.”
Run on similar lines to Seti@Home which uses the downtime on personal computers to search for aliens, FightAids@Home is the first biomedical distributed research computing project in the world. Run by the Olson Laboratory in California the project is powered by the World Community Grid which also powers other humanitarian projects. Free software downloaded by over thousands of people across the globe uses idle cycles of computers to help research the structural biology of Aids and develop new drugs.
As these developments show, individuals and groups of all shapes and sizes are beginning to take advantage of network communications, sharing effort and material resources in decentralised networks to solve problems- all without traditional managerialism of the state or large organisations. Moreover, virtual collaboration is starting to leak into the physical world, with people pooling tangible resources such as cars through carpools, playing hybrid virtual/physical games such as Cruel to be Kind, Assassin and Can You See Me Now, and supporting change in the real world through sites such as Pledgebank with its strap line “I’ll change the world but only if you help me”.
So how might these self-organised patterns of collaboration and innovation begin to be applied to the organization of cities? In some ways they are already embedded in their DNA. Warren Weaver’s 1948 essay “Science and Complexity” was probably the first sketching out of cities understood as complex systems, but it was Jane Jacobs who fully explored and popularized the idea. She described the “street ballet” of the well-populated sidewalk which provides a wide bandwidth for interactions and the flow of information between strangers. Together the self-organised collaboration of “many eyes on the street” creates a public good- a sense of safety. As Jacobs wrote, “vital cities have a marvelous innate capability for understanding, communication, contriving and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties.”
How many people does it take to change a city?
Understanding cities as complex systems means recognising a vital city is not in the gift of a planner or top-down visionary at city hall, nor in the gift of a hero architect drafted in. Instead it depends upon the thousands of everyday choices made by the people who decide to live, work, play, bring up a family or start a business there. In other words, the vibrancy and quality of any place depends on how successfully it mobilises the widespread participation of its people.
However, it is perhaps not that helpful to say that the renewal of cities will come from the participation of everyone who lives there. The gap between the lone hero architect or charismatic mayor and the mass participation and collaboration of everyone is large. We need some steps between the two if cities are to achieve more distributed patterns of participation and power.
Over five thousand people took part in Glasgow 2020, which amounts to around one percent of the population of the city. Is one percent enough to change a city? It sounds low but it could be an important beginning. It is worth remembering that out of Wikipedia’s four million registered members it is the 47,000 active members among them who actually keep the encyclopaedia thriving with regular posts and edits – just over one percent of its members. Those five thousand people in Glasgow, made up of teens, hairdressers, council officials, health professionals, artists, single parents, entrepreneurs, community activists and many more represent a new pattern of participation made up of people outside, inside and between Glasgow’s formal institutions of governance. How these people are linked together, empowered, and bridged with others could begin to build the stepping stones from mass imagination to mass collaboration, and with it a very different kind of city.
3. BUILDING THE OPEN CITY
Not all the workings of online mass collaboration can be grafted onto the planning, design and governance of cities. But two aspects do hold particular potential to help structure a more open city: peering and sharing.
Peer-to-peer working offers an alternative to more hierarchical approaches, including both what can seem paternalistic public services and corporate command-and-control. Peering tends to be a more egalitarian way of working that can comfortably work with participants who have a range of different motivations (altruism, financial, learning). It also values and meshes different skills, and supports the development of two-ways relationships between people. These are all valuable commodities in cities wrestling with problems of low voter turn out, isolation and segregation.
Online sharing of everything from intellectual capital to spare processing capacity underlines the fact that to facilitate collaboration there is a need for shared resources. The vibrancy and dynamism of mass collaboration to create entirely new shared resources or commons makes a sharp contrast to the story about the commons, such as parks and public services, which is often one of scarcity, pressure and loss.
Alongside the social value of sharing runs an environmental imperative. Shared access to space, goods and services rather than exclusive individual ownership has the potential to be both less resource intensive and deliver improvements to quality of life. This is an issue of growing importance as one of the main challenges cities face is how to respond to climate change and the end of the age of cheap oil.
If we are serious about turning the kinds of storylines created by Glasgow through mass imagination into action there are then two critical dimensions of our cities which greater peering and sharing could help re-calibrated: power and space.
A. SPACE: FROM PRIVATE TO PUBLIC
Social fragmentation, the decline in trust of other people, and the rise of private ownership and management is pulling space in our cities in two directions. At one end we find frictionless, neutral plazas, walkways and squares that in trying to appeal to all, end up appealing to nobody. At the other end we find spaces built around niche consumer experiences that balkanize the public into different lifestyle, age, ethnic and spending power brackets.
During the Glasgow 2020 project there was a strong sense that people wanted a different kind of space- an alternative to lowest-common denominator blandness on the one hand and extreme fragmentation on the other. For example, there was an almost palpable yearning for the reopening the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which did reopen in August 2006 after being shut for extensive refurbishment. The Kelvingrove is a shared space which is past of Glasgow’s past and current day civic pride, where people feel like they can go and meet and mingle with others without being defined just as a consumer.
If cities are to effectively mobilize their citizens, then more shared spaces like this are needed. They form the basic building blocks for the city- places where people and groups can pool their resources and create new kinds of commons which meet their diverse needs and aspirations. If in a democracy dominated by representation the function of public space is to enable people to be seen, then in a democracy animated by collaboration the function of public space is that it should be used.
How these commons are nurtured cannot be left to either just the market or the state, but a more mixed economy combining some qualities of both and also emerging models such as social enterprise. For example, in Glasgow the council opted to establish its Culture and Leisure Department as an independent charitable trust. This was a bold step undertaken for largely financial reasons, but could yet yield innovative and more open ways to help develop the civic infrastructure in the city.
Proposals for the open city – from private to public space:
User-generated content has been at the heart of the Internet’s biggest success stories over the last couple of years – profiles on Facebook, tags logged on del.i.cious, videos uploaded on Youtube. The coming years will increasingly see the interaction with virtual and physical world Cities should be investing to make the most of this interaction by opening up access to the kinds of tools urbanites will need.
DIY Kulture Centres would be open houses of studios and workshops where people can turn their creative or civic ideas into reality. Staffed with experts to help and advice, people would be able to access all the cool tools they have ever wanted to and try out everything from woodwork, metal work and graphic design to photography and publishing. Aarhus in Denmark already has one- it is smart and chic and is a shared space and resource for everyone. Meanwhile in California a number of public libraries have added saws, drills and screwdrivers to books and DVDs on the list of what they lend to people.
Emphasising access over ownership in this way could be extended to other areas. Cities could encourage the spread of multi-service networks where communities share access to under-used workspaces, workshops and equipment. For example, a mobility network that includes car-sharing, buses on demand, lift-sharing and bikes.
Raising the Commons
Over the past twenty years we have fallen in love with the blue space in our cities again. Instead of buildings designed to back away from stinking docks and murky canals, watersides have become the centrepiece in regeneration efforts. But just as our blue space was once neglected another commons currently lies wasted- our sky space. The Blue Nile song evocatively invited us to take ‘A Walk across the Rooftops’, conjuring up beautiful images of Glasgow, but the current reality is not so picturesque. Roofs are one of the great unused and uncared for land masses in cities, often just used for air conditioning plants and plumbing. Cities should reclaim them for shared public use with running tracks, green roofs, solar energy, art installations and gardens.
The Freedom of the City
Places need to find ways to legitimately build a better sense of shared values between the city, neighbourhoods and individuals. While city marketers often talk about the brand values of a place (humorous, generous, outgoing are some of the values used to describe Glasgow) these rarely translate into anything practical or distinctive. Top-down visions created by ‘the system’ engaging people only as an after thought clearly do not work either.
A democratically created Place Pact could be one way to set out the aspired values and the practical action they could mean at the level of the city as a whole, neighbourhoods and individuals. There is ground to build here: Glasgow already has a system of Neighbourhood Charters which help local communities take action to clean up their neighbourhood and the 2006 Local Government White Paper for England also mooted the idea of local charters which may include things like setting priorities for service providers and community bodies.
A Place Pact would be broader and more organic- more in common with the Chartists People’s Charter and the Charter of the Forest than John Major’s ill-fated Citizen’s Charter. It could set out the common values of the city and suggest what they mean in terms of voluntary action by people, neighbourhoods and businesses and public institutions. For example: in Glasgow one of the strong themes was a desire for the city to live up to its name as a Dear Green Place. Banning plastic bags, getting a green energy supplier, sourcing local food, walking more are all actions that a quango, a business, a household, or an individual can commit to doing.
Place Pacts will not work or be legitimate if they are issued by city hall. They would need to emerge from the type of deliberative, distributed and creative discussions used during Glasgow 2020. They could be written by individuals or groups and then “signed up to” by other people, providing a space for learning and collective efficacy, building solidarity around shared values rather than performance targets. They could draw on advances made by pledgebank.com, the Global Ideas Bank and the wishes rating system on the Glasgow 2020.
Cities could have an public holiday for citizens taking the form of two days annually set aside for a city’s residents to enjoy and celebrate everything they love about their city and/or volunteer for activities. Everything would be free and open access for residents- transport, exhibitions, private members clubs and gyms. Two days are necessary so workers in the service and leisure sectors get at least one day off. The Public City days expand on the successful ‘Open Doors’ programme, where once a year public and private buildings – from synagogues to factories – throw open their doors to the public.
B. POWER – FROM INSTITUTIONAL TO PERSONAL POWER
Shifting the balance from institutional to personal power in cities is less about what central government or city hall chooses to devolve to neighbourhoods and communities but more about what people can grow and create for themselves and what resources they need to do it.
When people think about the future of their city they don’t just hope for a better physical environment, they also hope for better humans. Glasgow 2020 found a clear set of mental aptitudes and skills that people think they will need in order to thrive in the future city. Investing in personal capabilities is an area of growing interest. The UK government’s 2005 equalities review outlined a set of capabilities individuals should have, which included the capability to engage in productive and valued activities and the capability of being and expressing yourself, and having self-respect.
Elsewhere, Gardner has recently written what is effectively a manifesto – setting out the essential “Five Minds for the Future” that people need to have “both so we can survive as a species and so we can have a world that we’d want to live in”. The five minds he advocates nurturing are the:
• disciplined mind: schooled in basic subjects but also a master of a profession, vocation or craft;
• synthesising mind: makes sense of disparate and complex information;
• creating mind: asks new questions and finds imaginative answers;
• respectful mind: appreciates and engages with different cultures;
• ethical mind: enables responsible behaviour as a citizen.
Can more open cities provide the context and means by which investing in better human performance also improves collective well-being? The critical issue here is how improvements in individual capabilities- or power- aggregate up to serve collective ends. At the moment a perverse opposite is occurring where our urban environments are in some important ways actually disempowering individuals. For example, a recent study of 4.4 million adults in Sweden found that the incidence rates of psychosis and depression rose in proportion with increasing levels of urbanisation.
The following proposals all aim to increase the producer power of individuals by investing in the capacity and resources for social cooperation and collaboration. They bring together both individual values and capabilities and create a sense of shared context to realise and actualise them.
Proposals for the open city – from institutional to personal power:
While still popular in other cities, particularly cities in the US to help raise funds for infrastructure projects, bonds have fallen out of favour in the UK since their Victorian heyday. However, with some remodeling they could form an innovative form of participative civic pride.
Cities could have an open slate of civic projects that are identified by public nominations and online voting. These could be as small as supporting a community allotment or city festival, or as big as building a new concert hall. Once projects have crossed the threshold of specified number of votes and have been vetted by a peer panel, they go on the official list and qualify for city bond support. Individuals, community groups, companies, public sector organisations would be able to support a favourite project through buying financial bonds or contributing their time and skills with time-bank bonds.
Cities could agree to distribute a percentage of Section 106 monies as City Bonds, helping to open up and democratise this contested and opaque development tool. To help incentivise the system people could opt for a percentage of their council tax bills to be set aside for city bond projects. Time-Banks bonds could also earn people money off their council tax bills.
The benefit of City Bonds is that it allows people to participate in shaping a city’s development priorities in a less blunt and more tangible and sustained way than just voting. It also gives public, private, civic organisations and individuals a transparent and more egalitarian way of contributing to collective projects.
We continue to fail to get the housing we deserve – just six percent of new build in was rated as good or very good by one recent survey in one part of the UK. An alternative is a greater role for self-build. Experience elsewhere in Europe shows self-build encourages quality and social interaction. Self-builders tend to invest the ‘profit’ from lower production costs (compared to off-the-shelf products built by volume house builders) in environmental innovation and better design. Self-builders currently represent thirteen percent of new housing supply, which means it is already larger than the output of the largest volume house builder in the UK. But perhaps even more significantly is the evidence that up to seventy percent of house buyers would consider self-build if they could.
Within Glasgow, there is already some evidence of people beginning to see this as a viable way forward. A group of ten families in Easterhouse (the Collree Self Build Housing Association) have nearly completed the design and build of their own homes with the support of the local housing association and a firm of architects. However, at the moment most self-build is limited to single plots due to a lack of supply of land and the domination of volume house builders.
Cities could commit to making a percentage of new build in their boundaries self-build. This could be set at a minimum of ten percent, a figure viewed by a Joseph Rowntree report on self-build as achievable, and could then grow further with demand. Such a move would need to be supported by changes to land provision, planning policy and practice, the adoption of new technologies and a modernisation of the self-build industry.
A good idea and people’s enthusiasm can quickly get squashed once they run up against paperwork and regulation. For example if a group of neighbours wants to run a community festival they suddenly find waste management plans, risk assessments, license applications, and even flood risk assessments need to be filled out.
Producer Aid would provide a bank of skills and time form which individuals and groups can apply for the professional help they need to make an idea real. It would work in a similar way to Legal Aid which provides services to people without the resources to pay for their own legal representation. Professional aid would be given to support people through insurance, licensing and health & safety processes and build people’s skills in the process.
Places of Hope
In Glasgow we found a clutch of spaces that worked as productive commons- shared spaces that brought people together and fostered collaboration (see below). The Places of Hope represent a mixture of institutions, networks and activities beyond the mainstream, imaginative public organisations and spaces, and creative companies.
They cover a range and scale of projects, organisations and networks, but some common themes run through many of them. One of them is a sense of openness and new or once marginalised communities (Glasgow Mela, Glasgow Women’s Library); another is the belief in the efficacy of networks to facilitate activism (Glasgow User Manual, Critical Mass); the personalised use of public space (Sandyford, Saltire Centre); the power and publicness of art (Castlemilk Environment Trust; Studio Warehouse); and the importance of a design aesthetic and style (Matthew Algie, Linn). Some of these places and spaces have a sense of ‘fuzzy’ power, some are deeply collaborative, others enterprising. None of them sit in the conventional mainstream, or have anything other than character and uniqueness.
1. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
One of Glasgow’s most prominent and loved institutions, Kelvingrove opened in 1901 as part of Glasgow International Exhibition. It is a favourite of local people and a popular tourist attraction providing a connection between the city’s civic traditions and pride and how people see the city today. It was recently re-opened after a multi-million pound refurbishment.
2. Glasgow Women’s Library
Growing out of an arts project, Women in Profile, Glasgow Women’s Library was set up in 1991. It is a unique resource in Scotland and the UK providing an archive, information, and undertaking research and events on women’s experiences, culture and histories.
3. Studio Warehouse Glasgow
This maze of independent studios and galleries in what was previously a warehouse and industrial space used the publicity and status of attracting the Paris based Comme des Garcons ‘guerilla store’ in 2006 to establish and expand their site.
4. Mono and Monorail
A bar and vegetarian food shop sit beside a live venue for bands (Mono) and independent record store (Monorail), in the east end of the city centre. There is something collaborative, warm and welcoming about this space with a cool, laidback attitude and free wi-fi (as distinct from most commercial places in the city).
5. Hidden Glasgow
This small group of dedicated amateur historians make it their mission to catalogue some of the less well-known aspects of Glasgow’s industrial past, photographing and saving for posterity images of some of its forgotten buildings and institutions, and organising walks and talks about the city, past, present and future.
6. Galgael Trust
Known as Galgael or Gal-Gaidheil and based in Govan from where they build wooden boats in celebration of the Clyde’s heritage. ‘The Gift of the Gael’ was their first full size boat launched on New Year’s Day 2000. They have built many smaller pieces: rowboats, carvings, furniture, and all their ventures aim to have a focal point for the community, involve learning and enriching people’s lives and give the river back to the people.
7. The Jeely Piece Club
The club has been active in Castlemilk since 1975 to improve the lives of children and parents. Now based in new premises it provides support for pre-fives in The Jeely Nursery and for 5-12 year olds in The Jeely Playzone. It encourages parents to assist staff in the club’s activities, aim to identify different ways to help parents be parents, and has a well-respected outreach programme in the area.
8. Glasgow Caledonian University Saltire Centre
Situated in Glasgow Caledonian’s city centre campus, the Saltire Centre opened in 2005 and provides a learning environment with different spaces to meet different needs – from social interaction to group work and places for silent study. Within a stunning architectural and design setting, there is a one-stop advice shop, connectivity for students and members of the public, and commissioned public works of art by Toby Paterson and Gary Breeze.
9. Critical Mass
A green campaigning and cycling group who once a month cycle through Glasgow city centre at a slow, steady speed to change the traffic pace with a loud beatbox announcing their presence.
10. Sandyford Initiative
A sexual health service with a difference. Sandyford provides a welcoming, personalised space and a model of public health which addresses sexual health in a holistic and non-stigmatising way. For an area that has long proven controversial in the West of Scotland Sandyford has won international attention and plaudits.
11. Glasgow Mela
The largest multi-cultural festival in Scotland celebrating the music and dance of the South Asian sub-continent. Established in 2001, ‘Mela’ means ‘gathering’ in Sanskrit. It offers an inspiring day of fun and festivities ranging from Bhangra to Russian folk and reggae, henna painting, curry and kulfi.
12. Linn Products and Records
Linn Products are an independent engineering company specialising in producing some of the best hi-fi in the world. Based in a Richard Rodgers designed headquarters in Waterfoot, outside the city, their training office as well as Linn Records is in Castlemilk. The label has a track record of nurturing talent in classical and jazz music – and gave the Glasgow band The Blue Nile their breakthrough.
13. Castlemilk Environment Trust
A local charity that aims to improve the environment for its inhabitants. This is linked to the large open space network of Castlemilk. The Trust looks at issues of access, health, biodiversity, public art, conservation, landscape sustainability, maintenance, and management with the goal of aiding regeneration and has even brought Yoko Ono’s art to Castlemilk!
14. Glasgow User Manual
This is a community activist network for sharing resources and initiating campaigns to, in its words, ‘halt the erosion of our communities’ and prevent the city’s ‘neighbourhoods becoming ‘catchments for the benefits of the mortgage broker.’ www.glasgowusermanual.com
15. Matthew Algie
The UK’s leading independent coffee roaster founded by Matthew Algie in 1864 and to this day remains a family run business located on the city’s southside. Promoting great coffee (and tea) they support fair trade and have entered into partnership with Oxfam to open a new chain of coffee bars serving the best coffee called ‘Progreso’.
16. Hampden Park
This is one of the most loved and revered places in Glasgow and Scotland. The national football stadium and home of Queens Park FC and a place where Glasgow transcends the football divide (except when the Old Firm are playing each other on cup days). Scene of the most enthralling European Cup Final of all-time when Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960, as well as the 1976 and 2002 finals.
Assemblies of Hope
How we nurture creativity for its own sake is a crucial part of aiding the birthpains of the open city. The answer might be signposted in the idea of ‘academies of hope’ described by Graham Leicester in a recent paper addressing arts and cultural leadership. Scotland 2020 two years ago also identified the ingredient of ‘hope’ as one of the key elements in articulating stories which aid people’s capacity to believe they can bring about change. These are useful concepts and can be expanded upon and developed.
If cities are to develop more shared stories about their future then they will need to invest in spaces, forums, contexts and experiences where people can go beyond their usual circle of family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues to develop and swap ideas about the future, as well as the skills and relationships needed to progress them.
Assemblies of Hope would be flexible networks that sit outside the official institutions with membership open to anyone interested in practical projects to improve the city, where people from arts, culture, environmental groups, public agencies, business or no sector can find peer-support. They would aspire to open up a space for non-institutional thinking and imagination, and offer such activities as mentoring, shadowing and twinning groups and organisations. Their mission would be to explore and test ideas to help mediate the transition from the old culture to the new one still not fully formed, from the closed city to the open city.
Not the End
Glasgow 2020 was a bold and imaginative experiment, using public space and public conversation to explore mass imagination and the idea of hope in the context of the city. The city and futures that surfaced point in a very different direction to how much of current urban policy is framed, with its emphasis on competition, big developments and language of economic step-change and transformation.
The historian Lewis Mumford wrote in his celebrated ‘The City in History’ of the city not just as a place of economic calculus and exchange, but as a place of love and empathy:
For the city should be an organ of love; and the best economy of cities is the care and culture of men.
We have tried to set out the beginning of a manifesto for the open city, a city that takes on something of Mumford’s proposition. Glasgow 2020 has shown that people have the imagination to create their own stories filled with hope of future worlds and possibilities. The challenge continues to give voice and life to such dreams.
The original references and footnotes have been taken out of this version and can be found in The Dreaming City: Glasgow 2020 and the Power of Mass Imagination, Gerry Hassan, Melissa Mean and Charlie Tims, Demos 2007