A New Urban Agenda for UK Cities
Learning from the debates of UN Habitat 3
Just as a reminder: in developed countries (OECD ones, for example), 75% of people live in cities and cities produce around 80% of value added. In the UK, between 2000 and 2010, three metropolitan areas produced 57% of the growth of the country.
There is no doubt – cities matter and getting ‘our cities right’ is the most important thing our government should do.
Yet, there was no UK government representation in Prague last March – when the focus of the discussion was ‘our cities’: the cities of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the type of organisation that both sides of the EU argument should respect. The US had a delegation and several participants. So had Norway, Switzerland and Israel.
I was told that delegates from the Department of Communities and Local Government (the side of the government that deals with city, economic development, infrastructure, etc.) does not participate in the Habitat III process at all.
Perhaps when the PM or Chancellor discuss jobs and prosperity dressed in boiler suits, they really think that our future prosperity comes from manufacturing. How come the TV shots about the growing economy are never in a busy urban street?
The discussions in Prague were on how to make European cities ‘right’. Here are some brief pointers for a NEW URBAN AGENDA for the UK– for the benefit of those who could not come:
1. Put cities as the priority for prosperity and well-being in the country. They already are - just recognise it!
2. Adopt a national urban vision and framework to guide all other legislation that impact cities (OECD-led policy paper 3). This is because often other policies inadvertently undermine cities. For example, if we believe that jobs and growth will come from independent businesses and SMEs in the centre of cities, perhaps removing councils’ incentives to promote them (business rates) is not the best move – other tax advantages would be preferable.
3. Enable cities to have effective management and strong local government: good partners to promote and champion innovation. Resourceful mediators between communities and investors. Should a city, primary engine of the economy, be run by the best managers and executives or by underpaid and demoralised staff?
4. Promote excellent livability: adequate housing, services and opportunities. The UK has done a lot in the past 20 years to promote models of mixed communities, good streets, dense public transport. But can we afford to stop?
5. Focus on sustainable cities – not just buildings!
6. Accept immigration (let’s face it – hoping that it will stop is just a feeble dream), and turn it into an engine of growth.
7. Move quickly towards smarter infrastructure and agile smart planning – able to anticipate issues and monitor progress.
8. And yes, stop tinkering with the housing problem – get on with it!
MARTINA JUVARADirector at URBAN Silence
URBAN Silence is friendly and fun, but committed to intelligent work