Fighting the Recession – ‘Buildings and Others’ or Social Capital?

So Dundee is looking to get an outpost of the V&A museum, housed in a  new £42 million building – with a business plan that suggests it could feature local strengths in illustration, comics, animation, interactive media and computer gaming.  So much for  jam, jute and journalism.

It appears to be part of a longer term strategy that the city has been following based on the thinking of Richard Florida (The Rise of the Creative Class).

Florida suggests that urban regeneration depends on a city attracting enough of the right kind of people – the creative class – to create businesses and jobs.  And the way to attract the right kind of people is to have the right kind of buildings – good housing stock, excellent public parks and other amenities. At its hearts appears to be a belief that if a city is failing it is because it does not have enough of the right kind of people.

This is an expensive strategy, and there is a real risk that it widens the gap between the haves and the have nots.  There is a reliance on trickle down and a hope that some of the magic pixie dust of these creatives will rub off on the locals.  And even if it doesn’t? Well they constitute a ready made supply of willing labour for the creatives – its better than nothing

I got to visit Dundee several times in recent years as I helped the Sirolli Institute to set up an Enterprise Facilitation Project in the City.  The project had a relatively modest investment requirement.   The investment was in building social capital, a group of local people who believe in the potential of local people and the power of enterprise as a process and a discipline to help them to transform their lives.  They recruit and manage a person centred coach whose sole job is to facilitate the hopes and dreams of local people.  To hep them make progress on their projects on their own terms.  It is based on a belief that the City already has all of the resources that it needed to manage its own regeneration.  It is an approach that recognises that the best hope for a good economic and social future lies in the long term development of local people – not in attracting outsiders and depending on them to deliver a better future.

Yesterday I got the chance to visit UrbanBiz in Leeds.  They have a small, poky office on the main road through Chapeltown.  Poorly designed and basically equipped; it is hardly a ‘signature building’.

Yet it was jumping!

People waiting to use computers, to talk with advisers to make something happen for themselves.  The centre may not win any design awards – but it is convivial.  It is ‘of the people’.

Regeneration does not depend on buildings to attract outsiders.  It depends on the engagement and sensitive but powerful facilitation and co-ordination of local people. On the development of social capital.

Losing the fixation with buildings and others – and knocking a couple of noughts of regeneration budgets (the people focused approach is so much cheaper) might just be the way forward.

2 Replies to “Fighting the Recession – ‘Buildings and Others’ or Social Capital?”

  1. I just loved this post for a couple of reasons. First it affirms my belief that enterprise building is NOT so much about concrete and carpets as much as it is about connecting and collaborating. Social Enterprises must qualify for carbon credits and if its Size we are talking about the communities that help build such enterprises far out number their brick-and-mortar cousins by several noughts. The people centric approach to building enterprises of the future will be far more effective because they focus on “verbs” not “adjectives”.

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