by Heather Cameron
What does quality of life and ‘a good place to live’ mean? What are the key challenges to ensure quality of life in cities today? How can we create better places to live and who needs to be involved? These were just some of the questions explored at a seminar hosted by Policy Scotland, Glasgow University’s research and knowledge exchange hub, last month.
Running the event was Dr Georgiana Varna, Research Fellow at Glasgow University. Georgiana is a multidisciplinary scholar, specialising in urban regeneration and public space development.
Cities back on the agenda
A particular emphasis was placed on the importance of both place and people. Georgiana noted that cities are very much back on the policy agenda as we try to fix the mistakes of the 60s and 70s. She alluded to the New Urban Agenda, which embodies three guiding principles:
- Leave no one behind
- Achieve sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity
- Foster ecological and resilient cities and human settlements
Following Georgiana’s introduction, several short presentations were given by a range of professionals and scholars.
Speaker: Michael Gray, Housing and Regeneration Services, Glasgow City Council
Michael Gray of Glasgow City Council delivered the first of the presentations, focusing on the Commonwealth Games Athlete’s Village in the East End of Glasgow. There was a clear pride in what they achieved with a belief that the result is a sustainable, cohesive community.
Michael did allude to some concerns that have been highlighted by GoWell East surveys regarding speeding vehicles, lack of buses and lack of local retail. But he also noted that lessons have been learned from the project, which was very complex in terms of procurement, design and construction, and that future development is addressing such concerns.
Speaker: Keith Kintrea, Glasgow University
Keith referred to Scotland’s standings in the PISA survey, showing that maths, reading and science achievement in Scotland sits in the middle and ahead of England, despite their efforts to improve. However, he noted that there is no room for complacency as those children in the most deprived areas were less likely to do well – nearly 70% of Glasgow pupils live in the most deprived areas.
Again, the importance of neighbourhood/place was emphasised, this time for local educational outcomes. It was noted that while Scottish schools are less segregated than the rest of the UK and more inclusive according to the OECD, (similar to countries such as Finland), this is not necessarily the case in cities. Keith concluded that we need to do much more about what places do in terms of educational outcomes.
Speaker: George Eckton, COSLA/SUSTRANS
George highlighted the importance of transport for delivering social, economic and environmental initiatives, and for growth in city-regions. Inequality in social mobility was put down to inadequate transport and it was noted that many people are disadvantaged in the labour market due to lack of mobility.
He stressed the need to increase the use of sustainable transport and argued that a collaborative approach will be essential to create inclusive growth for all.
Speaker: Andy Milne, Scotland’s Regeneration Network
Andy focused on community regeneration, arguing that the issue of centralisation and decentralisation is crucial. He stated that as a result of centralisation, urban areas – where most of the population live – are vastly under resourced.
Interestingly, he also noted that regeneration doesn’t work when not all areas are addressed. He argued that successful growth and inclusion will depend on economic policy decisions and not on all the small actions taken to address inequality.
Speaker: Richard Bellingham, University of Strathclyde
Richard’s focus was on smart cities. He noted that cities rely on critical systems – food production, waste/water handling, transportation, energy systems, health systems, social systems – and that if any one of them fails, the whole city fails.
The issue of rapid growth was emphasised as something cities need to respond to in a smart way. The recent 50-lane traffic jam experienced by Beijing suggests that there was a lack of smart thinking in its approach of building more roads for more people.
Richard suggested that greater collaboration is required for smart cities to succeed.
Speaker: David Allan, Scottish Community Development Centre & Community Health Exchange
The final presentation focused on community development. David highlighted the importance of community development approaches to build healthy and sustainable communities and referred to four building blocks of community empowerment:
- Personal development
- Positive action
- Community organisation
- Participation and involvement
Two examples of successful community-led initiatives were presented: Community Links (South Lanarkshire) and Getting better together (Shotts Healthy Living Centre).
Key elements of these initiatives were identified as: community-led, responsive to community need, fair and inclusive, and flexible and adaptive. Challenges were also identified: the level of understanding of ‘community’, community ‘stuff’ is often seen as nice but not essential and there is a lack of capacity and supply at the local level. David also noted that there is a danger that city-regions may exacerbate existing inequalities by concentrating resources in powerhouses.
He concluded by noting that future cities are unlikely to look like something from Back to the Future. Rather, they will probably look very much like today but the underlying systems need to change.
‘Smart successful cities – distinct, flexible and delightful (great places to be).’
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