Reflecting on the Remaking Cities Congress in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which took place in mid-October, I can honestly say it exceeded my expectations and surprised me in a number of ways. I felt privileged to have been invited to this second Congress, the first of which took place 25 years ago.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is on the east coast of America is a captivating mix of the old and new, with the former heavily shaping the latter. By this I mean the significant wealth generated by oil, steel and glass manufacturing from the late 1800s to early 1900s which have both influenced the built and social infrastructure into this century. Pittsburgh has managed to convert its decline from a wealthy but dirty, industrial past with high unemployment and outward migration during years of depression and recession, to a thriving economy. And by investing in its heritage and working across sectors, the city is now consistently voted the most smart and liveable in the US.
The superbly organised programme of activity – talks, presentations, visits – culminated in the core activity of all‐day Theme Workshops that dealt with post‐industrial cities in five areas of concern:
1. Re‐Positioning the City in the Global Economy
2. The Physical city
3. The City as an Innovation Hub
4. Urban Systems and Infrastructure
5. Planning and Social Innovations
Four common themes permeated all five Theme Workshops: sustainability; wise allocation of resources; equity; and public engagement. Equity emerged as the overriding theme in all its manifestations – social, economic and environmental.
I felt the workshop headings belied the thrust of the debate as I was taken by surprise by the strength of feeling for community involvement in all aspects of urban design and planning for and allocation of resources. This is usually a non-profit mantra and so it was pleasant hearing it from a largely public and private sector audience.
In the workshops, we developed propositions for each theme on the key messages we wished to convey through our own countries and networks and voted on them the following day. Below I have included some of the high-scoring highlights, relevant to CDF’s work:
1. Invest in neighbourhoods for equity
Post‐industrial cities need to commit to sustained investment in under‐valued and blighted neighborhoods over the long‐term. They must demonstrate measurable strategies to achieve social and economic equity.
Score: Strongly agree 54%; Agree 29%
2. Provide financial incentives for re-use.
The Post Industrial Cities of the Future must develop a wider range of creative financial incentives to encourage residents and small developers to reuse existing lands, buildings and neighbourhoods.
Score: Strongly agree 69%; Agree 21%
3. Provide wealth-building investments at the community scale.
The Post Industrial Cities of the Future must create innovative financial and wealth building strategies for development of the physical city (community‐ invested development, community land banking, micro‐loans, rent‐to‐own programs, etc.).
Score: Strongly agree 59%; Agree 30
4. Direct innovation funding to underserved communities.
Cities should direct innovation funding to include a portion of the resources invested to training, education, mentoring, and participation for underserved communities.
Score: Strongly agree 59%; Agree 22%
I was proud to be able to contribute to these propositions and cited both Community First and Big Local programmes as examples in the UK where resources and decision-making has been successfully devolved to local communities.
Where we could effectively learn, though, is from the US banking sector and non-profits who collaborate locally and, whilst things aren’t perfect – there are still financially underserved communities – it brings into sharp contrast the weaknesses and lack of financial diversity in the UK. I shall be using this experience to reinforce the messages of the Community Investment Coalition campaign and expand the horizons of UK policy-makers.
The final extreme I experienced was the acceptability of the term ‘community development’ which is embedded in American narrative, in contrast to the UK. In the US no-one is expected to explain community development – it is accepted as fundamental good practice for all sectors working together for the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of communities. In fact the Pittsburgh revival began in 1944 with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. Here in the UK the principle has been whittled away, with its raison d’etre undermined by financial pressures and a political propensity for new, shiny ideas.
Here at CDF we admire the role these cross-sector partnerships can play in supporting effective community development, which can help achieve the ambitious propositions that the Congress supported. I am hopeful that a common political appetite for ideas from across the pond, the re-emergence of community development dialogue amongst local UK public servants and the evidence from CDF’s work, could result in a contemporary revival of the practice. One which encompasses all sectors and is part of our accepted national narrative.
– See more at: http://www.cdf.org.uk/remaking-cities-part-two/#sthash.hTOwLDM6.dpuf