Tag Archives: Policy

From contribution to collaboration: Refugee Week and the value of seeing like a city

by Jonathan Darling, Geography, University of Manchester

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Image from Refugee Week 2013

Today sees the start of Refugee Week 2013, an annual celebration of the contribution of refugees to the UK that seeks to promote better understanding of why people seek sanctuary. Refugee Week has been held annually since 1998 as a response to negative perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers and hostile media coverage of asylum in particular (Refugee Week 2013). Refugee Week promotes a series of events across the UK, from football tournaments and theatre productions to exhibitions and film screenings, all designed to promote understanding between different communities.

Whilst Refugee Week is a national event it finds expression in local activities organised in a range of cities. In part, this is in response to the dispersal of asylum seekers across the UK, meaning that refugees and asylum seekers have been increasing visible in a range of towns and cities over the last decade. Asylum decision-making and policy take place at a national level, but the implications of such policy and the demands of integration and service provision are experienced at the level of urban authorities and communities. But what is the relationship between asylum seekers and cities, and how might we understand this relationship through the lens of Refugee Week? In this commentary, I want to suggest that by focusing on cities we might destabilise some of the problematic assumptions of national discussions of asylum and refugee politics, through drawing on the resources of cities as sites of social and political creativity, contestation and collaboration. Doing so shifts our view of asylum and refugees from a state-centred account of national hospitality, to a more complex account of the lived realities of urban refuge. 

National celebrations such as Refugee Week are in many ways positive interventions into public discussions over asylum. They have played a central role in challenging stereotypes, contesting myths over benefit claims and bringing to the fore the heritage of sanctuary that has shaped contemporary Britain. Refugee Week has also offered a platform for politically contentious campaigns for rights to work, access to education and anti-deportation campaigns, all of which have benefited from the shifts in public opinion and political will that Refugee Week has produced.  

However, as many of those working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK note, Refugee Week alone is not enough. Rather, there are risks attached to ‘celebrating the contributions of refugees to our history and heritage’. These words, the slogan for Refugee Week 2013, suggest three of the central challenges of refugee politics in contemporary Britain. Firstly, the emphasis placed on ‘our’ history establishes a fixed group defined by distinction from refugees, a ‘we’ whose history refugees may contribute to but always a ‘we’ at a distance from refugees themselves. Secondly, a concern with ‘history and heritage’ positions the contributions of refugees in the past. Refugee issues thus become concerns to look back on through visions of a hospitable past, without necessarily providing a means to address issues of contemporary asylum. Most strikingly though, Refugee Week foregrounds a logic of contribution in celebrating refugees. While a claim about contributions can appear to be a strong argument in the face of those who assert that refugees and asylum seekers ‘abuse’ welfare entitlements, it risks reinforcing perceptions of worth and worthiness that make refugee status into an economic commodity. Whilst we should recognise the skills, knowledge and dynamism that those seeking sanctuary bring, a logic of contribution places asylum into an economic frame of reference similar to the points-based system that determines immigration status.

Taken together, these three concerns suggest that Refugee Week might be taken as a governmental tool for the production of benevolent responses to those deemed to have ‘contributed’ enough to be worthy of refugee status and humanitarian compassion. Akin to forms of celebratory cosmopolitanism that market cities as sites of diversity, whilst tightly regulating the limits of tolerance, the rhetoric of ‘contribution’ recalls a conditional hospitality that may be open to a select few. Often such hospitality is open only to those past groups who have contributed to ‘our’ history, rather than reflecting an ongoing process in which this history is continuing to be made. A concern with contribution thus makes asylum and refugee discussions part of government efforts to ‘manage migration’ for the ‘good of the nation’, rather than in the interests of those seeking sanctuary and fleeing persecution.

How then might we envisage a different view of refugees and asylum seekers, one detached from a concern with their potential contributions to the nation and with representing a benevolent history? It is here that cities come to the fore. If we take seriously Magnusson’s (2012) demand to ‘see like a city’ rather than ‘seeing like a state’, we might find a different view of asylum seekers and refugees, one less concerned with contributions to an already existing entity and its history, be that the nation or the city, and rather more concerned with the collaborations and collective engagements that shape urbanism as a way of life. For Magnusson, cities are complex constellations of ideas, relations, encounters and institutions, never exhausted by their present form and never subject to a single mode of authority. Rather than a common ‘history and heritage’ to which refugees may contribute, seeing like a city implies multiple histories vying for attention, histories which are being made and remade as the city is itself becoming something new through the actions of those who inhabit it and the material relations that form it. What we might take from this view of the city as a site of incomplete political authority and multiple histories, is a vision of how cities are formed through collaborations, through the coming together of diverse interests and opinions to make urban space.

We might see examples of this form of thought in some of the practices and events of Refugee Week, most notably those that seek to undermine assumptions of asylum as an issue of compassion and humanitarianism. For example, as part of Manchester’s Refugee Week celebrations, artists Anna White and Emily Hayes have been working with the Rainbow Haven centre for displaced people in Manchester and Salford, to discuss the journeys individuals took to the UK and their experiences of life in Manchester and Salford.[i] The project involves asylum seekers and refugees embroidering their journeys to the UK onto a map, using disposable cameras to take images of their everyday lives and of things that are important to them, and collectively making banners to express different aspects of their lives in the UK and to display some of the relationships that emerge through the Rainbow Haven group. These resources are to be displayed at a series of events across Manchester during and after Refugee Week, including a celebration of the city’s ‘Shared Future’ with refugees. [ii] 

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

Image courtesy of Anna White and Emily Hayes

The significance of this work is not simply that it offers a creative means of exploring and expressing the social relations of refugees and asylum seekers. It does this and draws in part on the diversity of people, histories and stories that are brought together in the city. But it is also a project of collaboration. This is not a case of narratives being extracted and displayed by experts or analysts, but a process in which stories are made through working with others, in making banners, sewing journeys onto maps and discussing photographs. The product of such interactions are snapshots of a creative process, owned by all those who played a role in such a process. It is this sense of being part of a creative endeavour and employing this as a means to communicate stories of asylum, that is so valuable as it works to negotiate two sets of barriers. Firstly, those between asylum seekers and other residents of Manchester and Salford – through communicating common concerns, shared spaces and the realities of the asylum process. Secondly, those often unspoken barriers between asylum seekers and those who seek to offer support to them – through a creative engagement that is productive rather than dependent, collaborative rather than charitable. Projects such as this gesture towards the potential that creative approaches have in both communicating multiple understandings of the city and in destabilising assumed notions of how asylum seekers should engage with cities.

More than this however, projects such as this reflect an appreciation of urbanism as a way of life tied to the multiplicity of the city. The banners and maps created in this process are not contributions made by asylum seekers and refugees; rather they reflect collaborations that express the coming together of different journeys, narratives and experiences. They are not individual expressions or timeless versions of events to be placed into an archive of ‘our history and heritage’, but are the products of encounters, relationships and shared collaborations that communicate understandings of the here and now. In this process, the banners and maps of this project become collaborations in shaping, rather than contributions towards, a ‘shared future’. Seeing like a city is to view the politics of asylum in a similar vein, to think of the city as a compositional arrangement of multiple stories and journeys, all in the process of being made, diverted and retraced. As a compositional arrangement, the city is made through such journeys, and whilst such a reading implies a ‘history and heritage’ that is reworked through the presence of diverse stories, this is never a static or fixed narrative, nor is it ever ‘our’ history, the property of any singular group. Rather, the city becomes a banner in the making – a collaboration of those present, always being made yet never finally displayed.

A further resonance for this mode of thought might be found in the ways in which a number of UK cities have made tentative steps to challenge the state over asylum. We might trace a number of examples. Firstly, the manner in which urban authorities can act to support and publicise anti-deportation campaigns for local inhabitants threatened with deportation, such as recent cases in Leicester and Glasgow. Such situations position the authority of the city against the will of the state and seek to oppose deportation on the basis that individuals and families are part of the city, actively engaged in the fabric of local communities. Secondly, city councils in Bristol, Glasgow, Oxford and Sheffield have all recently passed motions that express concern over the destitution of asylum seekers and have begun lobbying national government to allow local authorities to assist destitute and refused asylum seekers. Again such voices stand at a critical distance from the decisions of the Home Office and challenge national policy from the perspective of those living with the consequences of such policies. In Manchester a ‘day of action’ is proposed at the end of June to highlight the situation of destitute asylum seekers in the city and to call upon the city council to both oppose the government’s stance on destitution and to intervene by offering support to destitute asylum seekers. Doing so would challenge a concern with refugees that extended only to those able to ‘contribute’ to the city or the nation, and would instead mark a concern with the needs of all those present in the city, regardless of status, contribution or ‘worthiness’.

These gestures, whilst limited and fractured at present, highlight the importance of viewing asylum from a different lens to that of a state-centred concern with contribution and historical hospitality. The potential of the city, as Derrida (2001) argues, is to take a critical stance relative to the forms of conditional hospitality and welcome offered by the state – to demand more on behalf of all of those who inhabit the city. Seeing like a city implies an awareness of the complex and unfinished nature of urban life, of how cities evolve, change and adapt as newcomers arrive and others leave. This framing of the city is therefore centred on valuing those who inhabit the city, those who make urban space at any given moment and through it perform a claim to a ‘right to the city’ that arises precisely from taking part in the negotiations, tensions and contradictions of urban life (Darling and Squire 2012; Lefebvre 1996). Whilst such a lens is unlikely to ever fully usurp a state-centred account of asylum, its importance may be in proposing a critical alternative, an urban critique of asylum and refugee policy centred on the possibilities that collaboration may bring.

Refugee Week brings with it opportunities, opportunities for dialogue and discussion around asylum seekers and refugees, around current policies and around the histories of sanctuary that have helped to shape many British cities. But such discussions should not be limited to a concern with the contributions that refugees have made or may make to the nation or to the city. This simply expresses a paucity of imagination and a failure to recognise the realities of asylum in contemporary Britain. Refugee Week should be about offering space for the expression of collaborative projects, collaborative politics and collaborative realities. It is in collaboration that contemporary cities are made and remade, as much through the investments, experiences and journeys of those seeking asylum as through any other inhabitants. Taking seriously such collaborations implies a politics of critique towards narratives of refugee contribution, fixed histories of national hospitality and policies that produce the destitution of many asylum seekers. Such a politics starts with the critical potential of seeing like a city.

References

Darling, J. and Squire, V. (2012) Everyday enactments of sanctuary: the UK City of Sanctuary movement in Lippert, R.K. and Rehaag, S. (eds) Sanctuary practices in international perspectives: migration, citizenship and social movements London, Routledge, 191-204

Derrida, J. (2001) On cosmopolitanism and forgiveness translated by Dooley, M. and Hughes, M. London, Routledge

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writing on cities translated by Kofman, E. and Lebas, E. Oxford, Blackwell

Magnusson, W. (2012) The politics of urbanism: seeing like a city London, Routledge

Refugee Week (2013) Refugee week: different pasts, shared future available at:  www.refugeeweek.org.uk (last accessed 10/06/2013)


[i] Rainbow Haven offers a communal space and drop-in centre for new arrivals in Manchester and Salford and seeks to meet the immediate and longer terms needs of asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. Anna and Emily have been working on a series of creative embroidery, painting, drawing and photography exercises at the centre for Manchester Refugee Week as part of a project funded by the Arts Council. Further details of their work can be found here: www.podcollective.co.uk
[ii] The banners produced through the project will be on display throughout Refugee Week (17-21 June) at the Peoples History Museum, Manchester and the Lowry Gallery, Salford, alongside forming part of the Shared Future Refugee Celebration on 22nd June at Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. This day of celebrations is organised by The British Red Cross to encourage understanding between and within communities and forms one strand of their work to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
Advertisements

The Difficult Question of Regional Cross Subsidy

by Adam Leaver, Manchester Business School

“You can’t revive the regions just through handouts from Whitehall…Revenues from the financial services sector were recycled round the rest of the country through the long arm of the state, creating the illusion of strong, national growth. Jobs were created but in an unbalanced way, over-relying on the public sector, funded by tax receipts from the City of London. And we’ve seen what happens when the conveyor belt breaks, as it did spectacularly in 2008. Those tax receipts fall, the money stops flowing and the whole country feels the consequences as the public sector contracts and jobs are lost. This nation is made up of 100,000 square miles. It cannot rely so heavily on one.” (Nick Clegg, October 2012)

Nick Clegg’s explanation of our current malaise is a seductive one in these times of austerity. The idea of an unsustainable cross subsidy form London’s vibrant financial services sector to the regions public sector jobs appeals to the prejudices of a metropolitan political elite who draw on this central perception. Such a view undoubtedly informed Osborne’s attacks on public sector wages and employment which he believed were ‘crowding out’ the private sector. It is also the bedrock upon which Boris Johnson now lobbies for London to ‘keep more of its own tax’.

Clegg’s paragraph tells us little about the pre-2007 world. Finance never contributed more than around 9% of total UK GDP and 11% of tax, even on the broadest interpretation of what activities constitute the sector – and that’s before we factor in the bailout money which exceeded the total taxes paid by the industry in the five years before 2007. Clegg and his fellow parliamentarians know this – this is ideology in its very old fashioned sense. But what he and others have done is to establish a new moral language around the regional economy, which talks about ownership, earnings and deserve on the one hand and dependence, subsidy and inefficiency on the other.

Such discourse abstracts from the sheer diversity of flows in any national economy. Global cities like London do attract capital, but they do so because they are a kind of conversion machine, taking national and international assets, converting them into revenue streams from which well-placed individuals skim high pay. London attracts capital because it is also extractive in other words. This can be seen from investment banking to private equity to infrastructure PFIs. This process of extraction requires an active state, through bailouts and subventions in the banking system to the underwriting of risks in infrastructure PPPs and PFIs. This implies the centrality of the state to a proportion of the UKs private sector.

PPPs and PFIs are a good example of where ‘extraction’ has distinct regional effects. The decomposition of activities around a contracted-out infrastructure project leads to a fragmentation of corporations around specialised functions, so that one company may provide the finance, another may build the school or hospital, another may manage the asset etc etc. In theory some of these functions need not be located on the site of the project. And certainly the revenue streams do not all circulate regionally: the finance company probably has its operating office in London, as might the asset management office. Even the operations might be co-ordinated from London using local contractors on site. Overseas companies that invest in PPPs/PFIs are likely to have an office in London, and those senior workers are likely to be extremely well paid.

Before PPPs and PFIs, projects that were State funded had revenue streams that would congeal in the regions where those projects were based, kicking in multipliers that would further benefit the local economy. The fragmentation of activities has led to a concentration of certain functions like financing and asset management in London. This has diminished capacity in the regions through the withering of broad competences, the fragmenting of supply and project chains, and skills drift as talent is forced to relocate down South to find a job. State-sponsored investment projects across the country have benefited private sector growth in London and the South East.

But infrastructure projects are not just about where the revenues go, but what liabilities are taken on to generate those revenues; and crucially who assumes responsibility for those liabilities when things go wrong. Many PPP/PFI schemes are highly levered: before the crisis projects were financed on around a 90/10 split debt to equity, though this has now levelled down to around 70/30. Even so, leverage produces interest payments that require servicing and a manifest risk of default. So the flipside to the revenue streams clipped by metropolitan elites is a tower of hidden contingent liabilities that may be passed onto the State, as when NHS Trusts cannot repay their PFI loans. Similarly on the operations side, contracts which allow companies to exit their obligations (designed to attract initial bidders) may leave the State with unexpected costs. This is what First Group did when it walked away from the backloaded premium payments on its First Great Western franchise, costing the taxpayer an estimated £800m in lost receipts. On the contracting side, unwieldy contracts can produce inefficiencies and exorbitant penalty clauses which are costly to renegotiate. And this is before we discuss the many contracts that overshoot their original estimates. All of these interventions should be thought of as State subsidies; received mainly by private subsidiaries operating in the capital, and paid for by taxpayers the length and breadth of the country.

This quiet cross-subsidy from North and West to South East has been running un-noticed for a long period of time. Its unanticipated result is a kind of regional moral hazard: the metropolitanisation of gains, and the nationalisation of losses. Perhaps by looking at the regional distribution of these corporate subsidies we might be able to challenge the simplistic picture mobilised by Clegg, Osborne and Johnson?

Urban land and conflict in the global South

by Melanie Lombard, Global Urban Research Centre, School of Environment and Development

In an urbanising world, land is a critical issue. In cities of the global South, where most urbanisation is taking place, where and how people access land is one of the most pressing concerns for citizens and states alike. However, land as a resource is subject to scarcity, whether actual or market driven, and is often associated with urban conflict. The insecure tenure deriving from informal transactions is seen as a source of wider insecurity; the interests of informal settlers and private commercial interests frequently conflict; contestation of urban spaces between non-state actors and state actors is common; and the latter often perceive informal land development as unruly and conflictual because it is not regulated by state law. Meanwhile, widespread attempts to implement legalisation programmes are themselves contentious, as land tenure processes are often ‘complicated, political and violent’ (Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002, 241). However, relatively little is known about the precise causes and consequences of land conflict in rapidly urbanising cities.

These were some of the considerations that informed the agenda for a workshop on ‘Urban land and conflict in the global South’, hosted by the Global Urban Research Centre at the University of Manchester on 14 March 2013. Funded by cities@manchester and the Institute for Development Policy and Management, the event brought together a diverse group of (mainly) early career researchers, presenting work on these themes from a variety of fields including urban planning, urban studies, development studies, and conflict management, carried out in diverse contexts including South Africa, Namibia, Mexico, Cambodia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey. We were accompanied by colleagues from the University of Manchester who introduced and chaired sessions, as well as Professor Carole Rakodi of Birmingham University, and Dr Leonith Hinojosa of the Open University, who as discussants offered incisive comments on the content of the papers, drawing on their own extensive research experience in these fields.

The broad aim of the day was to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to exploring the relationship between urban land and conflict in cities of the global South, including the linkages between land conflict and violence in the urban setting, and policy responses to this. The quality of the presentations and ensuing discussions resulted in a fascinating and stimulating workshop. At the end of the day, considering how to develop future research agendas in this area, several key themes which offered particular analytical challenges stood out, namely: defining conflict in diverse urban settings; interrogating categories used to understand land development and conflict and to devise policy responses; identifying relevant actors and examining the connections between them; and incorporating scale into the analysis.

Defining conflict

Urban conflict – understood as social tensions, antagonisms and the ‘many forms of low-level instability’ (Beall et al. 2011, 5) that occur frequently in the urban environment – does not necessarily result in violence and so tends to receive less research and policy attention than civil war or violent insurgency. However, ‘protracted social conflict’ (Azar et al. 1978), marked by successive violent episodes, is arguably more common and more intractable; and although less visible, latent or everyday conflict may be equally damaging for local populations. Conceptions of conflict need to be rethought in urban contexts, to take account of the diversity of urban social and political contexts, plural legal and governance systems, and the tendency for land conflict to overlap with and be exacerbated by ethnic or other identity-based tensions, blurring the boundary between ‘divided cities’ and ‘peaceful’ ones. For instance, Kamna Patel’s paper on urban upgrading in South Africa considered how the characteristics of urban settings influence land-related conflict, particularly the ways in which identity may influence claims and contestations.

Interrogating categories

Typically, processes of urban land development are characterised as either ‘formal’ or ‘informal’, and the ‘formal’ (tenure and related arrangements governed by state law, administration and policy) tends to be privileged, despite persistent critiques of this dichotomous framework (e.g. Roy 2005). A second challenge, then, is to interrogate hierarchical categories and their implications for understanding and addressing urban land conflict. A common response to urban land conflict has been attempted tenure formalisation. Colin Marx’s research from South Africa showed how this is underpinned by a categorisation of land management practices into ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. As a ‘solution’ to informal land tenure, formalisation is often preferable to displacement, an issue explored in Philippa McMahon’s paper on relocation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; but Beth Chitekwe-Biti’s work on upgrading in Namibia suggested that it may reproduce as much as ameliorate poor residents’ vulnerability to insecurity and exacerbate conflict.

Identifying actors

Essential to any analysis of the links between urban land and conflict is an understanding of the role of the state and other diverse actors. Environmental governance perspectives suggest focusing on resource coordination processes involving multiple actors (Budds and Hinojosa 2012); equally important is the power dimension underpinning the state’s fluctuating relations with other actors. Sara Fregonese’s paper on hybrid sovereignties in Beirut, Lebanon suggested the need to move beyond state/non-state dichotomies in the context of urban territorial conflict, while Sobia Kaker’s paper showed how land conflict emerges through ‘enclavisation’ in Karachi, Pakistan, when urban residents re-territorialise ordinary neighbourhood spaces in response to the state’s failure to address urban insecurity. In particular, state-market relations may determine intervention, in turn affecting state-citizen relations, as shown in Ozlem Celik’s work from Istanbul, Turkey. The third challenge is thus to identify the key actors involved in land conflict in particular urban settings, and the specific relations between them.

Incorporating scale

Finally, it is important to consider scale in analysing the development of urban land conflict. In my own work on local land conflict in two provincial Mexican cities, I explore the influence and interaction of global, national and regional factors on urban land conflict. However, multi-scalar approaches must incorporate local agency, relating to local power systems but also neighbourhood and household dynamics, where everyday conflicts frequently emerge and may be resolved, as suggested by several of the presentations.

Taken together, these four analytical challenges support the need to develop a further theoretical and empirical research agenda in this as yet under-researched field. While there has been considerable discussion of land conflict in rural contexts (Pons-Vignon and Solignac Lecomte 2004, USAID 2005, Huggins 2010, Development and Change 2013), it remains relatively underexplored in the urban setting. Some previous works have considered land tenure and urban poverty (e.g. Durand-Lasserve and Royston 2002; Payne 2002) and conflict within urban land delivery systems (e.g. IDPR 2006), and there have been some attempts to assess policy interventions (e.g. Payne et al 2009). In addition, attention to conflict in urban areas has increased in recent years (e.g. Beall et al 2011; Moser and Horn 2011; Moser and Rodgers 2012). However, the specific land-conflict nexus remains curiously under-researched in the urban environment, perhaps because it is often difficult and risky to research conflict and violence, and because interventions that explicitly seek to address poor people’s needs may challenge powerful economic and political vested interests. Nevertheless, continued rapid urbanisation; the effects of wider conflicts on urban areas and their roles in post-conflict situations; cities’ contribution to national economic development; and the evolving links between investors and property interests at global, national and local levels all make a pressing case for further exploration of these issues. The workshop provided a first step in this direction, and hopefully offered a platform for future collaboration between researchers in this field.

 

References

Azar, E., Jureidini, P. and McLaurin, R. (1978) ‘Protracted Social Conflict: Theory and Practice in the Middle East’ Journal of Palestine Studies 8(1), 41-60.

Beall, J., Goodfellow, T. and Rodgers, D. (2011) Cities, Conflict and State Fragility. Crisis States Working Paper Series No.2. London School of Economics.

Budds, J. and Hinojosa, L. (2012) ‘Restructuring and rescaling water governance in mining contexts: The co-production of waterscapes in Peru’ Water Alternatives 5(1), 119-137.

Development and Change (2013) Special issue: Governing the global land grab: The role of the state in the rush for land. 44(2), 189-471.

Durand-Lasserve, A. and Royston, L. (eds.) (2002) Holding their Ground: Secure Land Tenure for the Urban Poor in Developing Countries. London: Earthscan.

Huggins, C. (2010) Land, Power and Identity, Roots of violent conflict in Eastern DRC. London: International Alert.

International Development Planning Review (2006) Special Issue on conflict and accommodation in land delivery processes in African cities. 28(2), 127-285.

Moser, C. and Horn, P. (2011) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Conceptual Framework Paper, Manchester: University of Manchester, Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#1.

Moser, C. and Rodgers, D. (2012) Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Global Policy Report, Manchester: University of Manchester Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict WP#2.

Payne, G. (ed.) (2002) Land, Rights and Innovation, Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing.

Payne, G., Durand-Lasserve, A. and Rakodi, C. (2009) The limits of land titling and home ownership, Environment and Urbanization, 21(2), 443-62.

Pons-Vignon, N. and Solignac Lecomte, H. (2004) Land, Violent Conflict and Development. Paris: OECD.

Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning’ Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2), 147-158.

USAID (2005) Land and Conflict, A toolkit for intervention. Washington, DC: US Agency for International Development

Urban Forum – Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 30 April, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks and food reception.

Creating ‘age-friendly cities’: developing a new urbanism for all generations

Developing ‘age-friendly’ cities has become a key issue for improving the quality of life of all generations. Population ageing and urbanization have in their different ways become the dominant trends of the 21st century, raising issues for all types of communities. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be residing in cities. By that time many of the major urban areas of the Global North will have 25 per cent or more of their population aged 60 and over. Cities will remain central to economic development, attracting waves of migrants and supporting new industries. However, the extent to which what has been termed the ‘new urban age’ will produce ‘age-friendly communities’ remains uncertain.

Cities have many advantages for older people in respect of easy access to medical services, provision of cultural and leisure facilities, shopping and general necessities for daily living. However, urban life can also create threatening environments, producing insecurity, feelings of exclusion, and vulnerability with changes to neighbourhoods. These issues affect all age groups and not just older people. However, with older people spending 80 per cent of their time in the home and home environment, support from the immediate neighbourhood and beyond becomes crucial. What is the scope for developing age-friendly cities to take account of these issues? Some questions to be considered in the debate will include:

Cities are viewed as key drivers for economic success but can they integrate ageing populations as well? Can the resources of the city be used to improve quality of life in old age – just 1 in 20 households may have the money to take account of what cities such as Manchester have to offer? Can cities be designed in the interests of all age groups? What are the options for responding to different housing needs across the life course? How can older people be central to the regeneration of urban neighbourhoods? Can older and younger age groups work together to identify common needs and secure ‘rights to the city’ which work in the interests of all generations.

Our panellists will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Graeme Henderson, Research Fellow, IPPR North

If recovering from the financial crisis is the key fiscal policy challenge of this decade, an ageing population will be the biggest of the next decade, and the one after that. Too often population ageing is seen only as a burden on the economy but this plays down its potential benefits and the opportunities it will bring. Making work work better for older people who want to remain in the workforce for longer can help increase our country’s economic capacity in the same way that the influx of women into the workforce did in the post-war period. Adapting products and services, homes and even cities, to fit with the requirements and preferences of older citizens is opening up potential growth markets which we should be every bit as on focused on as emerging economies on the other side of the world.

Equally, older workers often have built up a vast amount of experience from working in the same or similar fields for many years. There is a justified perception that this expertise is not being properly utilised in workplaces and by society. A cultural shift is necessary to ensure that this accumulated knowledge is better understood and fully made use of.

While there is a moral case for developing age-friendly cities, we must not let take understate the economic case either.

Cities in the North of England already aspire to be at the frontier of embracing the silver economy. However, while they are home to several ground-breaking initiatives, these initiatives are largely isolated from wider economic strategies and have yet to deliver a breakthrough in turning around economic challenges. For example, the northern regions have the lowest levels of economic activity among older age men, while for women the three northern regions account for three of the lowest five performers amongst 50-59 year olds, and the three lowest among over 60s.

In most regions and cities, the response to ageing has been on the perceived costs of population change, its impact on service delivery, a focus on attracting a relatively declining cohort of younger workers and new sources of economic growth rather than considering the potential economic contribution of their growing ‘silver’ cohort. Ageism is sadly rife in our society and is perhaps the main obstacle standing in the way of a flourishing silver economy. There is also a perception that older workers extending their careers prevents young people finding jobs.

IPPR North’s new Silver Economies project will seek to address these challenges and look at how to better harness the economic potential of our maturing society.

Stefan White, Manchester School of Architecture

The role of urban research and design in making cities age-friendly: (con)testing the WHO design guidance in a Manchester Neighbourhood

We have just completed a participatory urban research and design project for of an age-friendly neighbourhood in ‘Old Moat’, Manchester, UK for Southway Housing Trust.

Our reflection on the Old Moat project is focussed on how the WHO age-friendly city programme and policies enable us to both understand (Research) and produce (Design) more inclusive urban environments. The key issues which have arisen in trying to come to know a particular neighbourhood of the city and then attempting to arrive at concrete proposals for making it more ‘Age-friendly’ are  how we decide to define and act in relation to  the three broad categories of ‘City’, ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Age-friendly’.

City

We have taken the view that the City should be understood as a  complex entity where physical and social issues and causes interact and interlock with one another: A multiplicity of networks at different spatial scales constituted through territorialised relations that stretch beyond its limits (Robinson 2005).  Urban research and design for a city of networks involves understanding and changing the relations between places, groups and services as well as the physical environments, organisations and provisions themselves.

Using the example of ‘Old Moat’ we argue that urban design should not be understood as limited to removing ‘unfriendly’ objects or surfaces but include stimulating both formal and informal enabling services, socialities and infrastructure networks.

E.g more benches are a common request heard in age-friendly research and a sensible proposition with regard to the average mobility of older people – however concerns over management and anti-social behaviour often prevent them from being installed or are the reason for their removal. How can we design a neighbourhood with more benches?

Neighbourhood

We have approached the concept of Neighbourhood as comprising both the community and the space in which it is practiced (DeCertau, Petrescu). This means it is not just a space on a map but made what it is by the people who live there. This approach asks that we address the political engagement or involvement of a community in parallel with any environmental ‘improvements’.

In this context we have found that the design of age-friendly cities presents immediate challenges in terms of both negotiating  and understanding territorial relationships between specific neighbourhoods and the general resources of ‘City’.

We argue that age-friendly urban research and design must facilitate community-led negotiation of interventions within both a neighbourhood and the wider city networks to which it relates.  E.g making an area especially suited for Older people may have the effect of reducing the provision elsewhere, how can we design an ‘Age-friendly’ neighbourhood in an ‘Age-friendly’ city?

Age-friendly

Following these relational definitions of city and the neighbours who both ‘inhabit’ and create it, we contest that while ‘Age-friendliness’ (as defined in the eight interlocking World Health Organisation ‘domains’) presents a social model for the understanding  (research) of the impact of the city on older people – and promotes participation as part of this –  it currently limits its definition of the role of design to a medical model (Hanson 2007).  This either assumes that the relations between ‘Citizens’ are not what, in fact, makes ‘the City’ liveable or friendly – or that design can have no role in changing these things.

We argue instead that  making a city more age-friendly is a participatory process of research and design for the development of  urban environmental proposals which should negotiate:  both physical and social  aspects of territory; within each specific neighbourhood;  across a range of scales and time frames of the city.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People Team, Manchester City Council

Ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involves risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Accordingly, the primary focus of age-friendly programmes has been on older people and ageing.

In the age of austerity the argument for all-age improvement social programmes is persuasive and intuitively ‘right’.  However there is evidence that without a specific focus on older people, especially in cities, the policy and delivery drivers that can create ‘good places to grow old’ are often overlooked.

The emerging debates, policy focus and city-based programmes concerned with age-friendly cities reflect a number of key demographic, economic and policy drivers.

The first of these is the compelling demographic driver.  As the Dublin Declaration, signed by 42 municipalities in September 2011, argues,

“In a world in which life expectancy is increasing at the rate of over two years per decade, and the percentage of the population over 65 years is projected to double over the next forty years, the need to prepare for these changes is both urgent and timely.”

So by 2030 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, whilst one-quarter of urban populations in high income countries will be aged sixty and over.  And by 2050 one-quarter of urban populations in less developed countries will be aged sixty and over. (Phillipson 2010)

These are well known and well-worn facts that we often tire of hearing, but they signal profound social and economic changes which will create new types of communities, not just in the relatively rich north, but also across the BRIC countries and beyond.

We know that ageing in cities, and specifically in disadvantaged urban areas, involved risks that can lead to ill health and poor quality of life.   Health inequalities affecting such areas are well documented and extremely persistent.  And as Gierveld and Scharf (2008) argue,

“There is emerging evidence that urban environments may place older people as heightened risk of isolation and loneliness.”

The position of older people in cities, at least in a UK context, is described by an Audit Commission (2008) report in these terms:

“Some Councils will see an outward migration of affluent people in their 50 and 60s…the remaining older population …tends to be…poorer, isolated and more vulnerable with a lower life expectancy and a need for acute interventions.”

Unfortunately, for most part the dominant narratives of ageing have concerned pension and health and care service reform.  I will leave aside for now the content of these narratives, but insofar as ageing is discussed in political and social discourse it is at this level.  There is also an important subplot developing in this story.  That of generational competition and the notion of the baby boomer generation having accumulated wealth (and power) for itself at the expense of the generations following it.  The impact of these narratives is all too often to prevent public policy moving beyond first base.

 

In response to these challenges the World Health Organisation age-friendly environments programme was launched in the mid 2000s and resulted 33 cities collaborating on the production of a good practice guide.  The WHO guide is based on eight ‘domains’ which include social and civic participation, the built environment, transport, housing and so on.  (WHO 2007)

In 2010 a Global Network of age-friendly cities was declared, bringing together around a dozen partners – including Manchester – signed up to ambitious plans.   138 cities have now signed up to the WHO network.

A criticism of the focus on older people in mainstream age-friendly programmes is that they either represent a missed opportunity to improving cities for all age groups and/or that they exclude young people or potentially create generational fractures.  In my experience this is an imagined risk.  And at a delivery level it is commonplace in age-friendly programmes that intergenerational approaches such as Manchester’s ‘Generations Together’ initiative, figure highly.  More widely, in a UK context there is little to suggest that the ageing agenda crowds out those aimed at younger generations.

The implications of the age-friendly approach that I’ve outlined suggest a broad range of national and local actions.  Partners should:

  • Work within the framework of  the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities and promote the Dublin Declaration on age-friendly cities and environments;
  • Respond to local needs, desires, inequalities and the specific challenges of growing older in each area with a holistic approach to cover the range of services, opportunities and neighbourhood needs important to residents, including healthy ageing in mid-later life;
  • Include cross-generational approaches in age-friendly programmes;
  • Adopt inclusive approaches that are flexible to the strengths of local communities, voluntary organisations and frontline staff;
  • Shift the focus of support services towards earlier interventions, ill-health prevention, whole populations and multi-faceted initiatives;
  • Learn from academic and expert partners and independent scrutiny and evaluation; and
  • Maintain a citizenship perspective on engagement to create communities of interest with older people in the lead.

CONCLUSION

The demographic, economic and policy drivers outlined above demand a linked up, programmatic response at international, national and local levels.  So for now at least, the international movement which aims to create age-friendly cities and communities should be encouraged to flourish.

It is being realistic to acknowledge that, in particular, in the western economies, the cold economic climate presents us with significant policy and delivery challenges in respect of disadvantaged urban populations.   In this context the specific and growing needs (and assets) of the urban old requires a distinctive voice, of which the age-friendly movement is an inspiring example.

References

Audit Commission (2008) Don’t Stop Me Now: preparing for an ageing population” Audit Commission, London

McGarry P and Morris J (2011) A Great Place to Grow Older: A case study of how Manchester is developing an age-friendly city.  Working with Older People Volume 15 issues 1, Pier Press.

Phillipson C (2010) Growing Old in Urban Environments: Development of Age-friendly Communities, in the SAGE Handbook of Social Gerontology edited by Dannefer D and

Phillipson C, Sage publications.

Scharf T and Gierveld J (2008) Loneliness in Urban Neighbourhoods: An Anglo-Dutch Comparison, European Journal of Ageing, 5, 103-115.

World Health Organisation (2007) Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide, World Health Organisation Geneva  http://www.who.int/ageing/publications

Going, going, gone! Empty Homes for £1, but at what cost to community?

by Matthew Thompson, PhD Candidate, School of Environment and Development Venmore St, Anfield (source Share the City blog)

Venmore St, Anfield (source: Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source Share the City blog)

Voelas Street, Welsh Streets, Toxteth (source: Share the City blog)

What to do with street upon street of beautiful period properties dating from the Victorian and Edwardian eras – the architectural heyday of the city in which they once proudly stood – but which now stand empty, derelict, and apparently unwanted? Well it all depends which city you are in of course. In London, these empty terraces would be snapped up in the blink of an eye – in the speculative feeding frenzy driving the epicentre of the FIRE (Finance-Insurance-Real-Estate nexus).

But this city is obviously not London. It’s Liverpool, where such demand is simply nonexistent. Or at least that’s the story we’re told by those behind the Merseyside Pathfinder programme, one of nine Pathfinders rolled out across Northern UK cities in New Labour’s massive £2.3 billion Housing Market Renewal (HMR) scheme initiated in 2003, which condemned some 400,000 homes nationally. In Merseyside alone, around 18,000 houses were targeted for clearance and redevelopment; a huge physical restructuring not seen since 1960s urban renewal.

In this blog post I question the rationale for HMR and unpack some of its contradictory effects in Liverpool, in opening up the space, so to speak, for experimentation in community-led self-help housing.

The policy narrative goes something like this. The so-called ‘wicked’ problems of long-term economic decline, emptying out of the inner-city, and increasingly concentrated deprivation – a downward spiral of demand, falling prices, rising vacancies, dereliction, and abandonment – requires a drastic solution: whole-scale restructuring of ‘failing’ housing markets and replacement of ‘obsolete’ terraces with a ‘sustainable’ mix of tenures for 21st century urban living.

Yet this is a city apparently going through a cultural renaissance: European Capital of Culture in 2008; its urban core transformed through culture-led regeneration and speculative development. In fact, despite a glut of empty apartments left over from the noughties building boom, Liverpool has successfully attracted new residents back into the city for the first time since the 1930s, after decades of decline.

History repeats itself. First as tragedy, then as farce. HMR made the same tragic mistakes of post-war modernist planning, but without the earnest paternalism of social democratic aspirations and welfarist goals. It came at the height of renewed state ambitions for socio-spatial engineering – albeit New Labour’s zombie-like resuscitation of the long-dead-and-buried political taste for comprehensive public planning, with the added ingredient of ‘roll-out’ neoliberalism. And it was of course overseen by a public-private partnership which in true QUANGO style was given the farcically slick name of ‘NewHeartlands’, clumsily flailing at rebranding a new place identity.

Through its focus on solving ‘market failure’ – by reconnecting local to regional markets plugged into global circuits of capital – it is not difficult to see HMR as a classic case of that powerful process of neoliberal capitalist urbanisation made infamous by David Harvey as ‘accumulation by dispossession’. And dispossessed they were. Compulsory purchase orders have displaced many residents of Pathfinder clearance zones to assemble large land banks. The eviction of an 88 year old Bootle woman who had lived in her terraced home all her life is just one of the more controversial examples sensationalised by the media.

Regeneration on this massive scale might be seen as the new extractive industry for our post-industrial age: mining speculative value from urban land through the successive recycling of our built environment. The new-build suburban houses with which Pathfinder replaced some of the Victorian terraces represent a downgrading of both urban density and build quality, with built-in obsolescence part of their very raison d’être.

It may seem all too easy to denounce HMR along these lines. At best a shambles, at worst a scandal. Its fiercest critics accuse it of state-led gentrification tantamount to class cleansing; a direct transfer of wealth from public funds into private hands. Yet even Grant Shapps, in a statement to Parliament, alluded to an intentional strategy of ‘managed decline’ for the financial benefit of developers and the state. Demolition plans teleologically set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy of blight.

But there’s a reason why policymakers and researchers call the socio-economic problems targeted by HMR ‘wicked’. There is a long and complicated history of complex structural forces, policy interventions and cultural conditions interacting and compounding in often unpredictable ways to produce the multifarious effects of decline with which HMR was designed to tackle. Had the programme been seen through to its 25 year conclusion in 2019 it may well have produced beneficial socio-economic transformation. But we will never know.

The Coalition government’s cancellation of HMR in 2011 – coinciding with the worst economic downturn and property slump in almost a century – has left the programme only part-finished. Owing principally perhaps to these capricious political and economic conditions, HMR has undeniably generated more blight. Dense urban neighbourhoods have been flattened or reduced to something resembling a warzone; swathes of wasteland aggressively fenced off from surrounding streets stubbornly still bustling with activity; hundreds of crumbling empty houses boarded up, left to rot. And all without the funds for either rebuild or refurbishment for reuse.

Unsurprisingly, various community and campaign groups – led by the likes of Empty Homes and SAVE Britain’s Heritage – have been vigorously campaigning for bringing these tinned-up terraces back into community use. Channel 4’s ‘Restoration Man’, George Clarke, helped kickstart a national debate in visiting several ex-HMR Liverpool neighbourhoods in his popular TV documentary – and is now championing community-led refurbishment projects as newly appointed head of the government’s Empty Homes Review. The Coalition government have introduced a £100million Empty Homes Fund and a £50m Clusters of Empty Homes Fund alongside a £75million Transitional Fund, specifically intended for refurbishing previously-condemned ex-HMR properties.

However, SAVE have highlighted in a judicial review how the Transitional Fund is being illegally misspent to demolish a further 5,000 houses. This follows the controversial decision to save Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s birthplace amidst the clearance of hundreds of surrounding houses in the Welsh Streets area of Granby; sparking angry accusations of being a ‘tokenistic smokescreen’ for civic vandalism.

And so it was into this fray that Liverpool City Council recently announced its ‘homesteading’ plan to sell off 20 ex-HMR houses for just £1. The plan follows a pioneering project in Stoke-on-Trent, in which 70 empties are being sold to local people for £1 with a low-interest £30,000 loan made available for DIY renovation, but with the crucial condition that buyers commit to living in them for a minimum of 5 years without subletting.

The demand has been so high – over 2,000 people or 100 per house registering interest – the council has extended the deadline and is considering making more empties available. This raises serious questions that need to be answered over the fundamental logic of HMR in writing off otherwise desirable housing as ‘obsolete’. It also signals more promising prospects for campaigns across Liverpool’s ex-HMR neighbourhoods to establish Community Land Trusts (CLTs) and housing cooperatives for community acquisition and reuse of empty homes.

In one of the three homesteading neighbourhoods, Granby residents have come together to form one of the UK’s first urban CLTs, Granby 4 Streets; a charitable organisation capable of bidding on publicly-owned assets for community ownership. One of these four streets, Beaconsfield Street, witnessed the start of the Toxteth riots in 1981, and has been condemned by council demolition plans ever since; wilful neglect which some residents feel is punishment for ‘the uprising’. But in the last few years, community activism in the form of ‘guerrilla gardening’ has transformed the tree-lined streets from desolation into a verdant display of ownership and pride of place. Communal street gardens, colourfully-decorated frontages, and wildflower meadows are enjoyed by residents and visitors alike in the popular monthly Cairns Street Market.

Granby 4 Streets mirrors similar campaigns across Liverpool to establish CLTs for the community ownership of ex-HMR housing; together representing a radical new model of urban regeneration through grassroots community asset acquisition. Their successful development might contain the blueprint for a small-scale bottom-up alternative to fill the gap left by the retreating state in our emerging era of ‘Big Society’ austerity urbanism.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the £1 houses in the homesteading plan will end up under local stewardship, owned and managed by CLTs, which are, in principle at least, democratically controlled by member residents for the mutual benefit of affordable housing in perpetuity. Or instead flogged off individually to more socially-mobile residents looking for a bargain with little stake in community life.

But the picture is more complex than this simple dichotomy. The conditions of the homesteading plan require that individual buyers live in their new homes for at least 5 years without subletting out to tenants, which may well protect against landlordism and ensure local people affected by HMR become the principal beneficiaries. However, there is no reason why homeowners, after this short period, would not simply sell up and move on, cashing in on their sweat equity to pocket the difference. This not only amounts to a considerable transfer of public assets into private hands, but may also stoke gentrification processes, further displacing original residents.

The positive potential of CLTs and other forms of mutual ownership lies in their unique ability to protect these assets under a trust structure to ensure that housing remains affordable and accessible to successive local residents for generations to come. Covenants and constitutional conditions built into the CLT governance model limit the resale value of houses and ensure a minimum equity stake is retained under CLT ownership so that homes remain tied to the locality and controlled by members through accountable governance processes.

Local authorities are nonetheless apprehensive to simply hand over entire terraced streets to CLTs for a number of reasons. First, individual ownership is perceived as a tried-and-tested model reflecting deep-seated ideological biases for homeownership and owner-occupation. Individuals appear more reliable in renovating one house at a time at a more manageable scale. CLTs must therefore do more to demonstrate their long-term financial and organisational viability as well as their expertise in housing management.

Second, CLTs produce a different set of tensions and contradictions within their own practices as well as in their relationship with the state, the market, and the surrounding local community. They must similarly demonstrate their capacity for inclusive democratic governance and fair representation of all local residents. Inward-looking or tightly-bounded groups may make CLT membership exclusive to certain people: emancipatory for some, but divisive for others. Owning assets in trust for the entire community, both present and future, is ultimately a matter of trust. CLTs must also first gain the trust and support of public and other external partners in order to access their most fundamental resource of all: land.

Finally, the biggest barrier appears to be politics. The transfer of public assets into CLT hands represents a considerable shift of power from local government to local communities. It is unrealistic to assume that councils would jump at the chance to divest their power to potential competitors for dwindling public resources at the local level. This is all too evident in the refusal of Sefton Council to support the otherwise successful £5.2million funding application to DCLG that would have enabled Little Klondyke CLT in Bootle, north Liverpool, to acquire and refurbish 120 homes for community reuse. As it stands, the CLT cannot access government funding without approval from the local authority. And so Little Klondyke remains derelict.

But the tensions do not end there. Even if Merseyside CLTs were to receive public funding to become institutionalised as housing providers there still remains the grave danger of co-optation into housing association structures. Large commercially-driven yet publicly-funded RSLs with profit-making development arms have been heavily involved in Pathfinder redevelopment schemes – and yet ironically formed out of the charitable housing cooperatives that emerged from 1960s grassroots community resistance to municipal urban renewal. Now contending for the £1 houses, these huge housing companies not only present stiff competition for CLT campaigns in the acquisition of empty homes, but also pose the threat of incorporation into increasingly professionalised and commodified social housing markets. Whether contemporary CLTs will be swallowed up into marketised forms of housing provision like their historical non-market antecedents – including many of Liverpool’s 1970s cooperatives – will be the greatest test for community-led self-help housing. Tragic the first time, farcical the next; it begs the question: will history repeat itself?

The relationship between large-scale regeneration programmes like HMR and community-led self-help housing initiatives is complex and ambiguous, and therefore one requiring deeper research. Ironically, it took the threat of dissolution posed by top-down spatial engineering to crystallise deprived yet diverse neighbourhoods into more cohesive place-based communities. Embedded in the ashes of HMR are the seeds of exciting institutional innovations in local asset ownership. The successful development of CLTs may herald a shift toward more mutual social relations and cooperative forms of citizenship that do far more to regenerate deprived localities than expensive top-down tinkering with markets. The real test for Localism – or dare I say it, the Big Society – is whether these embryonic seeds will be tended to politically; and given sufficient institutional nutrition to grow into financially-sustainable forms of inclusive local governance.

Understanding urban eco-systems and their cultures of participation

by Abigail Gilmore, Director of the Centre for Arts Management and Cultural PolicyInstitute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Site of Home. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The announcement before Christmas by Newcastle City Council to axe all of its funding to city arts groups, as part of £150m budget reduction, led to much vocal protest. Petitions were raised and articles and blogposts corralled the public to protect the cultural life of the city. The concerned voices of arts infrastructure in Newcastle and Gateshead were joined by luminaries such as Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, soap actress Jill Halfpenny and rock stars Sting, Mark Knopfler and Brian Ferry. This week, the decision has been softened as a new proposal for funding arts organisations has found £600k to fill the £1.15m hole – following intervention from Harriet Harman, and behind-doors negotiation by the Arts Council with the local authority.

Early on in the period of New Austerity, Manchester signalled its intention to buck the trend of local authorities by investing in its cultural infrastructure, through major capital development plans including Home (the new Library Theatre and Cornerhouse amalgamation). Investment in the Central Library renovations and in revenue funding for the new National Football Museum take place against a background of service delivery savings of £109m in 2011/12 rising to £170m in 2012/13. Elsewhere, the Whitworth Art Gallery have begun their major capital development and other venues such as Contact Theatre are hoping to attract investment for building improvements as well as continue fund-raising for outreach and engagement work.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Media City. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Behind these high profile investments, lie other less newsworthy stories. The reorganisation of music education provision as part of the National Music Plan, perhaps the  coalition Government’s  most defined area of explicit cultural policy making,  has resulted in not one but two music education ‘hubs’ for the city-region (one for the Manchester City Council footprint and the other for the remaining authorities), albeit as part of a 27% overall funding reduction to music services nation-wide. Development and investment across art-forms in the AGMA authorities has been hit by waves of local authority reorganisations and restructuring, and although there is a sub-regional strategic arts fund, obtaining investment is dependent on the capacity of arts organisations and artists to work closely with local authority officers to achieve an increasingly disproportionate amount economic impact as part of their measurable instrumental outcomes. Libraries, museums services and local authority-run heritage attractions are all subject to the increasing competition for diminishing budgets and led by an inherently shrinking capacity to defend or champion, let alone manage and fund-raise.

So for those working in the arts and cultural sector in Manchester, Salford and the other authorities in the Greater Manchester conurbation the context for engaging people as audiences and participants in their work is quite clear. But what of the other recipients of these urban cultural policies? How do these changes play out at ‘community’ level, outside of city-centres, in neighbourhoods and localities which are ill-defined by national policy frameworks? Are they recognisable in their impact on people’s daily lives or do they remain the conceit of a metropolitan arts elite, who are ultimately more concerned with rationalising their own existence?

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

Lowry on Walkabout Broughton. Image by Zora Kuettner.

From ballet to bread-making

Data from national statistics suggest that participating in arts, cultural and leisure activities has a place in the majority of people’s lives, if not on a daily basis. Taking Part statistics  find nearly 80% ‘engage in the arts’ at least once a year, and levels of museum and gallery visiting have according to these metrics risen by 10% over the survey’s lifetime to over half the population.  Similar numbers take part in active sports. Library and archive visits have decreased, reflecting changing patterns of use and consumption, and undermining arguments to keep libraries open. Taking Part does not reveal local patterns of participation however, or show whether these patterns are related to particular policy infrastructure, investments or developments. Furthermore surveys of these type are based on shared understanding of what constitutes arts and cultural activity, which is primarily ordered around formal ‘offers’ which are often venue- and institution-based. They cannot reveal much at all about participation taking place in communities, or what is means to participants in the context of their everyday lives.

A new research project lead by Manchester and involving co-investigators from four universities and from the cultural sector, in collaboration with a wide range of policy stakeholders. Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Value is a five-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of their Connected Communities: Cultures and Creative Economies programme. The project is led by Dr. Andrew Miles, ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change and involves an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at universities of Manchester, Leicester, Warwick and Exeter.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

Cheetham Hill Road. Image by Abi Gilmore.

The project argues that orthodox models of culture and the creative economy are based on a narrow definition of participation: one that captures engagement with traditional institutions such as museums and galleries but overlooks more informal activities such as community festivals and hobbies. The project aims to paint a broader picture of how people make their lives through culture and in particular how communities are formed and connected through participation. Fieldwork research will be taking place in villages, towns and cities in England and Scotland, beginning with the case study site of Broughton, East Salford and Cheetham, North Manchester, from Spring 2013.

The research focuses on participation as a ‘situated’ process, with ‘community’ and ‘place’ as central logics in the governance of culture, as a critical engagement with the Bourdieusan conceptualisation of cultural capital and its role in the reproduction of social structures. It will bring together evidence from historical analyses, survey data and qualitative research to understand how people participate in culture in their everyday lives and the value they attach to that participation. The empirical work has been devised to embrace different geographies of participation and the communities which are articulated, connected and reproduced within these ‘eco-systems’.

The Manchester city-region eco-system is characterised by Manchester’s rebranding as the ‘original modern city’, which draws on its history of civic engagement paralleled by investment in built creative and cultural infrastructure, alongside Salford’s more recent renaissance in the regenerated Quays.  It is not expected that these same characterisations will be upheld in the fieldwork sites of near-city centre Broughton and Cheetham, despite their geographical proximity to the heart of the cities’ creative infrastructures. The mixed methods research aims to see how these places and their cultural economies are constituted through ‘everyday participation’ to radically re-evaluate the relationship between participation and cultural value.  So, rather than measuring or analysing levels of engagement with recognised and legitimate cultural infrastructure – of Salford Quays, MediaCityUK or Manchester City Centre – the study proposes participation within communities as a source for articulating alternative understandings of value leading to a broader, more nuanced appreciation of ‘creative economies’.

In studying the situated practices of everyday lives in Northern towns, it re-treads the territory of Savage, Bagnall & Longhurst and Taylor, Evans & Fraser. The forms of participation which we expect to encounter may reflect the composition and the histories of these fieldwork sites, The demographics of the two bordering areas include high levels of benefit claimants and ‘NEET’ school-leavers, rich textured histories of immigration, great cultural and linguistic diversity, but a narrow(ing) range of public institutions – comprising libraries, churches, housing associations and lack of shared ‘neutral’ space. We will be hearing about what people do, eat, make, say, contend and ignore in order to produce their lives, and working with communities, policy makers and stakeholders to articulate the research findings in meaningful and productive ways,  to enrich knowledge of these eco-systems and their cultures of participation.

To follow the research visit www.everydayparticipation.org or follow us on Twitter @UEParticipation

A (Green) Roof Above Your Head?

by Andrew Speak, PhD candidate in Geography

There are some exciting, positive changes going on in some of the world’s cities and most people don’t even know it is happening.  That’s because it is happening above their heads!  I’m talking about green roofs.  A green roof is basically replacing conventional bitumen or concrete roof surfaces with a layer of plants.  The main type is known as an extensive green roof and consists of a thin layer of soil, which supports a mat of Sedum plants.  Sedum is a succulent plant that comes in many varieties, and has pretty flowers, but importantly can withstand the harsh conditions on a rooftop – periods of drought and high winds for example.  At the other end of the scale is an intensive roof which has a thicker soil layer that can support a wider variety of plants such as small trees, shrubs and even vegetables.

Extensive sedum green roof on Number One First Street, Manchester

 

Urban vegetation has many benefits, which are increasingly being recognised by city planners.  Street trees possess these benefits, but there is generally a lack of space at street level for tree planting schemes, so the space afforded by rooftops is a perfect site for urban greening.  There are a number of specific benefits:

  1. Reduced solar energy gain by building materials, through shading and replacement of concrete surfaces.  This lowers the need for air conditioning in summer which can lead to huge financial benefits.  Plants reflect more radiation than conventional urban surfaces.  Vegetation also has a cooling effect from the process of evapotranspiration which uses incoming long wave radiation to change water from liquid to gas.  The altered thermal budget of cities leads to a reduction in the Urban Heat Island phenomenon, which can make cities very uncomfortable places to be in summer.
  2. Plants act as passive filters of urban air pollution by providing a larger surface area for deposition.  Pollutants are then washed off in rains.
  3. Replacement of impervious urban surfaces with soil can reduce the pressure on urban drainage systems by acting as a storage buffer in rainfall events.  The water retained by green roofs is then returned to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration.  There is some evidence that pollutants can be retained within the soil layer as well, thus reducing the impact on receiving water bodies.
  4. Green roofs can provide habitats for birds and insects, thus replacing the biodiversity lost to urban sprawl.  Using native plants on green roofs is frequently promoted.
  5. Urban green space has a strong aesthetic quality and has been shown to reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being.
  6. By protecting roof membranes from huge diurnal temperature extremes and UV radiation, the lifetime of the roof is extended, thus adding another long term financial incentive.

The ability of green roofs to counteract high urban temperatures is being promoted as a form of climate change adaptation.  Work done by Manchester University’s Ecocities group has demonstrated the usefulness of green roofs to keep the city cool under future climate projections.

So if they are so beneficial, why aren’t UK cities full of them?  Currently, a lot of green roofs in this country tend to be ‘showcase’ roofs on National Trust visitor centres, garden centres and art galleries.  One inescapable reason is that green roofs do have a fairly high initial construction cost and intensive roofs can also have considerable maintenance costs.  Plus, not all existing buildings can support the extra weight that a wet or snow-laden green roof would add to the structure.  But this hasn’t stopped countries like Germany, Austria, and more recently the US and Japan, changing their googlemaps satellite street views from grey to green.

The contemporary green roof movement started in German-speaking countries.  One theory is that they sprouted spontaneously from flat roofs in Berlin that had been covered in sand as a fire-proof method after the war.   Deliberate roof garden construction was a large feature of the modernist movement, with flat roofs seen as an extra space to be utilised for enjoyment of healthy outdoor lifestyles.   The environmental movements that started in the 70s ensured growing numbers of people would start to look for alternative ways to live more sustainably.  Germany, Austria and Switzerland have always been very proficient at incorporating verdant elements into urban design, as beautifully demonstrated by the architect Hundertwasser.  Perhaps, it is something unique about the German appreciation of nature that has influenced the design of cities with a desire to bring nature into them.  Whatever the reason, Germany leads the way in green roofing with 5 square miles of green roofs being built every year, helped by government subsidies for construction costs, and policies that state new builds of a certain area with a flat roof MUST have a green roof.

‘Waldspirale’ in Darmstadt, Germany, by the architect Hundertwasser

 

Ubiquitous green roofing also exists in Scandinavia, where the turf roof dominates.  These roofs serve the purpose of acting as insulation from extreme winter cold, and have been in use since Viking times.   A recent trip to Norway opened my eyes to the possibilities of turf roofs, with everything from car garages to bin-sheds supporting mini-meadows.

No roof is too small for a green roof in Norway

A traditional turf roof in northern Norway

 

The UK lacks a definite policy at the moment with regards green roofs.  A number of architects install them on new builds, with the motivation being mostly driven by meeting BREEAM sustainability standards and getting an A or B on the Building Energy Rating, but there are no legal or carrot-and-stick methods to ensure green roofs are factored into new building designs.  Some new living roofs are even criticised because they are high-profile and well-publicised, which has led to accusations of them being a form of green-washing of neoliberal construction projects.

There are signs that the UK is catching up though.  The Green Roof Centre in Sheffield is doing great work at promoting green roofs and carrying out research on suitable plants and substrates.  They have also drawn up a UK specific code of best practice for green and living roof installation.  The Centre have been involved in a number of projects on schools, bus shelters  and university buildings, helping Sheffield towards having the highest number of green roofs.  London is also unveiling more and more green roofs of various sizes and types, often thanks to the influence of charismatic urban ecologist and green roof fanatic, Dusty Gedge.  Here in Manchester there are a number in the city centre, such as Number One First Street, The Hive, Spinningfields Apartments, Whitworth Art Gallery and MMU’s All Saint’s building.  There are a couple of notable roofs in the suburbs as well, such as the roof vegetable garden at Hulme Garden Centre and the intensive green roof on Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton which even has a pond on it!  And small DIY green roofs are popping up all over the place in people’s gardens.

So the ball is rolling, albeit slowly here in Britain.  Whether the motivation is to reduce air conditioning bills, attract wildlife, lower the burden on the city’s drains, or just have a conversation piece on the garden shed, more and more plants are sprouting up in the urban roofscape.

Andy Speak is a 3rd year Geography PhD student, investigating a number of environmental benefits of green roofs in Manchester. Watch Andrew talking about his research in this video.

Further info on green roofs:

www.livingroofs.org

www.thegreenroofcentre.co.uk