The pandemic has seen the places we love suddenly vacated, empty and soulless. People retreated, were afraid and anxious. Now with hope in a post pandemic world, people are emerging from the fog of COVID. Some confidently striding back to ‘normal’ while other gingerly find their feet.
This is an opportunity for those who are place makers to step up and come into their own, getting back to basics, making sure the places we frequent are clean, safe, friendly and vibrant.
Places making is not gentrifying, making a place wealthier and displacing the current occupiers and inhabitants. No, place making is ensuring the places we use daily are well managed and enjoyed by everyone. No matter what the area, socio demographics or politics, places – our towns, cities and public places should be cleaned, safe, loved and vibrant.
Whose responsibility is it to manage the public places we all frequent? Surely this is the statutory responsibility of the local authorities we pay our taxes to? Yes it is and yet in some instances, places are let down by these institutions. A combination of always stating that there are more pressing priorities or a policy of squeakiest wheels getting the oil, means some places get neglected, forgotten and even overlooked. It is only when a community comes together, that a place can really lift and achieve its place potential.
During the pandemic, on the street on which I live, a WhatsApp group was established. Initially it was to support those who contracted COVID, needed help with shopping, medicine or just a means to chat and feel less lonely in a COVID world. As time has moved on, all sorts of community activity happened with the group. Sharing ideas of improving public areas, new litter bins emerged, grass cutting in communal areas, planting new trees, cleaning grot spots, addressing dog fowling, ASB and working with the police and council officers. A rising tide does indeed raise all boats. Simple community spirit harnesses the existing energy and resources in the street at ‘no cost’ to work with the local authorities, police and residents to make the environment better. This model of improvement works at so many levels when considering the places we all frequent. From streets and villages to our towns and cities.
Business Improvement Districts take this model of improvement further. BIDs came into being in the UK in 2004 and businesses within an area see the benefit of formally establishing a community of improvement supported by additional income to create a fighting fund to address areas of concern or enhancement. With over 320 now in operation in the UK, they are a successful non-political model of place management, again not gentrifying but making places loved, looked after and enjoyed for the benefit of everyone.
We all like places that are pleasant, we dwell longer and return to them. You don’t generally return to a bad experience.
In Leeds we have a strong community of business leaders working alongside those statutory authorities to improve the city centre for the benefit of all those who work, live and visit it. With a board representing all sectors of the community, LeedsBID continues to bring new events, innovation and active management.
New activity animates our city centre and provides another reason to visit, supporting the businesses who benefit from the footfall and spend. Statutory authorities benefit too with services such as parking, leisure and theatres being frequented. It is only by promoting the total offer, that everyone then benefits and it’s only through true collaboration that we harness that community energy, at no cost, to improve the places we are all proud of.
Places need people and people need places.