Thursday, 17 June 2010

Debating with BID managers

Spoke today at the 'World Congress of Town Centres and Downtowns', a mainly American and British gathering of Business Improvement District managers. My remit, clearly, was to give the audience something to think about, given the stance I take towards BIDS in Ground Control. On the whole I got a receptive and interested reception although I did provoke the ire of one American BID director who claimed that I conflated gated communities and BIDS in a 'sloppy' manner. His question was the last of the session so I didn't have time to address his points properly, which I'll briefly do here.

The reason I think BIDS and gated developments have a lot in common is because both are privately run organisations which rely on fees from their members to provide common - ie. 'public' - services. Secondly, I draw parallels between BIDS and privately owned places such as Liverpool One because they are both run according to the same 'Clean and Safe' - ie. high security and sanitation - principles laid out by the New York Mayor's Office in its guidelines to BIDS. He also felt I was simply arguing that public money was 'good' and private 'bad' and was harking back to a non existent socialist utopia. One of the themes underpinning Ground Control is that the last decade has seen a wave of development comparable only in scale with the 1950s and 60s which saw modernist arterial roads and tower blocks slice through cities and communities. My argument is that the disturbing consequences of the very public centralised planning of the post war period have in many ways been replicated by the wholesale privatisation of cities more recently. Ground Control is not a call for a return to centralised planning but a commentary on the consequences of today's property fuelled approach to cities, as practiced particularly in the US and Britain.

I spoke afterwards with Cathy Parker and colleagues at the Institute of Place Management who suggested that we both debate these points in their journal, which I'd be very happy to do.

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