Knowing Your Place — that place you call home — Part 5

Who do we think we are? [part 5 of a nine-part series]

Some places are thriving — others, apparently, rather less so.

In this series we’ve already looked at some of the threads that bind communities together. How successful places make (and then maintain) a name for themselves is another key indicator of economic strength and community spirit.

But advocacy is not a comfortably British trait. We can do modesty with a hint of self-deprecation . . . but bragging — like sledging — well, it’s just not cricket.

Standing out from the crowd

We may understand that marketing is an essential part of business. We clearly have little difficulty in supporting our local sporting heroes. We may even accept that interest groups will lobby governments and regulators to defend the interests of their sector tribes. But there’s a degree of diffidence when anyone suggests public investment in local advocacy.

This diffidence is more than a reluctance to brag. It reflects deeper uncertainties about identity. Larger communities, particularly major cities, do, of course, recognise the need to advertise their special qualities — their distinctiveness.

Local Foreign Policy?

In recent times it is remarkable how many cities have appointed International Trade Directors — roles specifically designed to attract inward investment and boost the local economy. In preparation for possibly leaving the European Union, Yorkshire has discovered a huge advantage in its multi-ethnic community — their recent overseas trade mission to India was designed and led by local business leaders with Asian backgrounds. City partnerships are another staple of international trade — especially when language barriers are bridged — but few local leaders would dare champion their community’s own ‘Foreign Policy’.

Whilst central government can do little more than support specific industry sectors, the huge scope for place-based marketing is very much in the hands of local leaders. One might imagine that this is a higher priority for places that are growing fast — cities and dense urban areas racing to cope with the influx of people and their expectations. Advocacy is, however, a concern for communities of all sizes that choose to make a name for themselves and bolster local identity.

The importance of public art is often under-rated. Who would have imagined that Glasgow’s Necropolis — a Victorian cemetery — would have become such a massive tourist attraction? Beyond the promotion of tourism, the need to attract teachers, doctors, employers and young families are all part of ensuring that communities can thrive. In the advocacy arena, positive messages prevail in contrast to pleas targeted at central government bemoaning relative deprivation.

Some may argue that plans to reduce local dependence on central funding might weaken national cohesiveness — that promoting the local brand dilutes UKplc. Realists will counter that a DIY approach improves community spirit, a sense of local pride and produces tangible inward investment results.

Certainly, the residents of small villages scattered across Lancashire and into Yorkshire are well aware of the need to attract newcomers. The survival of their communities, their schools, local shops and doctors, depend on making their places attractive. Their local DIY efforts mean they now have the very best full fibre broadband capacity of the entire UK — and the reversal of years of gradual economic decline is well underway.

In June, in London, this advocacy theme will be shared amongst delegates not just from the UK but much further afield. In Intelligent Communities, the rationale for local advocacy requires local leaders to think beyond conventional short-term economics and identify local values that might not normally be counted.

Part 6 of this Knowing Your Place series (‘Artificial Intelligence in City Infrastructures’) will be published on 9thMay.

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