Place-making has been hijacked by the creative and media industries

Bristol City Council was derided when they created the job of Place-making director last summer.

Whilst I’m pleased a business person was employed, the Tax Payers Alliance called the post a ‘costly indulgence’ and the leader of the city’s conservative group (the only party unsullied by power in Bristol) said it’s ‘the kind of job that brings local government into disrepute’.

We’re starting to see results from the £144,000 invested in this two-year role.  Our place-maker took 55 people to Brasserie Blanc (yes, that Monsieur Blanc) for a two hour ideas meeting – not all work obviously, they had to be fed too.

Austerity Britain? Not round these parts. Let’s hope the 340 council people due to lose their jobs this year get treated to cordon bleu dinners.

The invite list is interesting – aside from 14 from the council they largely come from the festival and media industries.  So it was astonishing that the list of proposals calls mainly for more festivals and media stuff.

Many proposals refer to Bristol as a hotbed of musical creativity, an illusion sparked by the brief heyday of Massive Attack and Portishead – it’s been 20 years: they were an aberration not a cultural revolution.

Then there’s the Banksy myth that makes those who want it to be so think that Bristol is edgy: Banksy might (just still) be, but Bristol isn’t: it’s middle of the road, steady eddy, vanilla.

There’s even a suggestion for Bristol to be renamed capital of sub-culture and for the council to support its subversity – state run anarchy, genius!

The list of proposals is swamped by arts happenings, ephemeral festivals, pop-up gigs, PR fluff and carnivals. All very ‘alternative’, but how does any of this reflect what makes Bristol the place that it is?

No suggestion of utilising the rugged but stunning Avon gorge, or the docks, or the countryside at every turn; there’s no reference to the history, industry and heritage that created its wealth and seats of learning; no mention of the iconic feats of engineering that dominate the skyline and connect us to the rest of the country. There’s nothing that recognises what makes it feel like Bristol and not Anytown.

The job advert said: “We’re looking for someone to help us distinguish our city from all others, and create a sense of pride in Bristol.”  And yet, the proposals are full of things that could happen anywhere. This is the result when you seek ideas from people with a vested interest; you get ideas on which their livelihood depends.

The list is now open for voting and more ideas. I’d hoped this might elicit something more substantial, but oh how my heart sunk at repeated requests to promote Bristol as the city of circus. If there’s one thing Bristol doesn’t need it’s more red-nosed trouser-dropping clowns.

Thirty years ago Place-making was understood to be the domain of architects and planners and the term had a purposeful meaning.  Today it’s been hijacked by people who think you can define a city by painting your face and juggling on the back of a flat-bed truck.


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