Posts Tagged 'Bristol'

Can academics help cities innovate?

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the Inclusive City, reports on how Bristol’s innovations in city governance are seen abroad and on how academic analysis can contribute to policy-making.

In the summer the City of Bristol was shortlisted for the International Award of European Capital of Innovation 2018.  The iCapital award goes, in theory at least, to the city within Europe that is considered by international experts to be the most innovative.  The winner of this competition will be announced on 6 November.

The European iCapital award emulates, in many ways, the European Green Capital Award . This international prize, which recognises the important role of local authorities and local stakeholders in improving the environment, has now reached its tenth birthday.  Bristol won this accolade in 2015, and the Bristol iCapital bid sought to build on this achievement.

Are these international awards important?  In an era of rampant, self-serving, city promotion, or ‘city boosterism’ as it is known in the USA, it can be argued that these awards might be in danger of rewarding cities with effective marketing departments, rather than substantive achievements.

Moreover, critics argue that international competition between cities can distort local decision-making. They claim that city leaders pursuing these prizes can lose touch with the need to focus on the effective local delivery of vital public services for local communities.

There is force in these arguments. Much depends on the rigour deployed by the organisations making these awards and on the way individual cities approach the bid process, should they choose to compete.

In the case of European iCapital the EU operates a pretty sturdy evaluation process.  It requires all applicant cities to submit fairly detailed bids. An independent, international jury assesses these bids against specified criteria. Shortlisted cities are then required to send a team of representatives to Brussels to present their proposal to the jury in person, and the team is then cross-examined on the content of their bid.

I should declare an interest.  Ideas set out in my book, Leading the Inclusive City on how to develop place-based leadership, have contributed to the development of the One City Approach to city governance now being implemented in Bristol. These ideas featured quite boldly in the iCapital bid and Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, invited me to join his team presenting the Bristol bid to the jury of evaluators in Brussels last month.  This was a nerve-racking but rewarding experience.

This year Bristol was the only UK city to make it into the group of twelve ‘finalist’ cities. An announcement by the EU last week indicated that Bristol has not made it into the last six cities. This latest news is  disappointing for those who worked on the bid.

However, there are, perhaps, three main reasons why participating in respected, international competitions of this kind is a good idea for cities.

First, the process of preparing and delivering a good submission can, in itself, help civic leaders clarify their thinking, improve their ideas and develop their strategies. Second, raising the visibility of your city in national and international circles is now recognised as an important task for modern city leadership.  This is not just because a good reputation can attract potential investors and talented people, it can also raise local confidence and self-esteem.  Third, some cities actually win these awards, and the funds can be used to enhance the quality of life of those living in the winning cities.

The Bristol iCapital bid places the city in a small group of cities within Europe that are seen, by independent experts, as highly innovative. In my view, to reach the final stage of this international competition reflects well on the city.

But allow me to raise a broader question.  Should academics participate in initiatives of this kind? Some scholars will feel that it is inappropriate to become closely associated with specific policy initiatives. They will argue, and it is an intellectually coherent argument, that academics should observe, analyse and reflect, not act in an explicit way as policy advisers.

A contrary view, and one that enlightens the shift to ‘engaged scholarship’ now visible in many countries is that, while scholars must, of course, retain their independence, scholarship can be improved and advanced by contributing directly to public policy debates and community-based campaigns.


Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Feature Image from Bristol City Council.


Democracy, Inequality & Power: Policy & Politics conference 2015

Policy Press Journals Executive Kim Eggleton gives us a whistle stop tour of the key themes and speakers from the 2015 Policy and Politics Conference. Whether you’re looking to find out more about the event or just be reminded of all that was covered over it and to have a flick through some of the photographs taken then you’ve come to the right place…

Danny Dorling addresses the delegates at the Policy & Politics conference

Danny Dorling addresses the delegates at the Policy & Politics conference

Last month saw the annual Policy & Politics conference take place in the centre of Bristol. Over 154 people attended to listen to 140 papers on varying themes relating to Democracy, Inequality & Power. 

This conference always offers an exciting line up of keynote speakers, and this year was no exception, with Mark Purcell, Danny Dorling, Kate Pickett and Andrew Gamble all delivering excellent plenaries to the attendees. Summaries of all the plenaries are available on the Policy & Politics blog, as well as short video from Danny Dorling.

The conference also had some fascinating themed panels on subjects such as education as public policy, neoliberalism in post-crisis societies,  the regulation of sex work and pornography, and communities and dissent.  28 countries were represented at the conference and a good deal of discussion and debate was enjoyed by all, some of which you see on Twitter using the #ppconf2015 hashtag. Some pictures of the conference are below, you can see the full collection on Flickr.

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Policy & Politics 2015 [FC]For more information about the Policy and Politics journal as well as link to free institutional trials please click here. And why not head on over to the Policy and Politics Blog which is full to the brim with great content from the journal, it’s contributors and editors.

Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?

In today’s guest post Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the inclusive city,  suggests that government policies rather than racial prejudice by individuals are to blame for urban disturbances, such as those in Ferguson and Baltimore in the USA and in Bristol and other cities in the UK.


Robin Hambleton

Having visited several American cities in recent weeks, and talked to public servants, business leaders, community activists and academics about current urban stresses and strains, it is difficult not to conclude that US cities face deeply troubling challenges. Continue reading ‘Leadership lessons from the Baltimore riots?’

Policy Press March ‘editorial picks’: Environment and Sustainability

Continuing in our new series of monthly ‘editor picks’ Assistant Editor Laura Vickers tells us a bit about her background, what she’s most excited by in upcoming Environment and Sustainability titles and how the true measure of success in any future colonisation of Mars would be having access to ingredients to make the Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries…

Policy Press - 015Name: Laura Vickers

Title: Assistant Editor

What’s your background story?

I started at Policy Press straight out of University after completing my undergraduate degree in Sociology at Birmingham City University and then moving back home to Bristol. After a short period of work experience over the summer at the Press I then took up the position of Publishing Assistant. I’ve had several different roles at Policy Press over the past five years and became Assistant Editor in 2013 and subject editor for Environment and Sustainability in 2014.

What does your role entail and what do you enjoy most about it?

I have overall responsibility for the peer-review system and am subject editor for the Environment and Sustainability list. I also support our Senior Commissioning Editor and Director with their commissioning activities across a range of subject areas and our trade list. I enjoy the contact I have with our authors and editors which is mainly via email but putting faces to names when I attend national conferences is always a pleasure.

What most excites you about Environment and Sustainability?

The issues covered across our Environment and Sustainability titles affect all of us both now and also in the future. The debates around whether climate change is happening are over and we are now faced with the essential ‘what do we do about it?’ questions. Our titles provoke debate around this question and I hope they make a difference to those debates.

What key things are happening in Environment and Sustainability at Policy Press this year?

In 2015 Bristol is the European Green Capital so there are a lot of exciting events taking place at the University and across Bristol to celebrate. The annual Policy and Politics Lecture on Tuesday is being given by Lord Anthony Giddens entitled ‘The Politics of Climate Change’ and there are many more events and talks taking place over the next year related to the theme of the environment linking in with Bristol 2015.

We continue to publish some great titles in the fields of the Environment and Sustainability. Towards the end of last year we published ‘Sustainable London?’ edited by Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees as well as ‘The Challenge of Sustainability’ edited by Hugh Atkinson and Ros Wade and of course shortly before those we also released Joel Magnusson’s great book ‘The approaching great transformation: Toward a liveable post carbon economy’ where Magnusson looks at life after the end of oil and other fossil fuels highlighting many warnings for the planet but also offering us some hope.

What reading book is currently on your bedside table?

Brick Lane by Monica Ali (I have to admit that it has been there for quite a while though).

Victoria Pittman led the editorial picks in February – what would you say is her secret superpower/thing she is most awesome at doing?

Well, in our first (and now annual) Christmas baking challenge in 2013, Victoria wowed us all with her delicious mince pies winning first prize, so I think she’s pretty awesome at making those and it’s a shame we now have to wait another 9 months before we can taste them again.

Victoria’s question for you is: If the earth was about to be destroyed and you could only take one book with you to another planet, which one would you take?

The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries! I’m hoping that if this was to happen we would have colonised Mars and there would be some kind of supermarket open so that I could make some onion bhajis rather than just fantasise about them.

What question would you want us to ask our next editorial interviewee?

Who will win the Rugby World Cup later this year?


If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy….

Policy Press February ‘editorial picks’: Criminology and Criminal Justice

Blog: The Challenge of Sustainability


Can we save our town centres?

The state of Britain’s town centres is back on the political agenda, as many of our towns and cities continue in their struggle to survive, regenerate and prosper as social centres. In his guest post author and researcher Julian Dobson, whose book Save our town centres publishes today, shows the failure of depending on market forces to ‘solve’ the town centre problem.

Julian Dobson 2Last month local leaders across the UK who had pinned their hopes on plans to regenerate landmark sites in partnership with Tesco had to bin years of planning and negotiations: the giant retailer pulled out of schemes to develop 49 sites, dumping promises to create at least 8,000 jobs, more than 1,100 new homes and nearly 2.5m square feet of retail space.

Wolverhampton’s Royal Hospital, derelict for 14 years, was just one of the victims. Less than a year ago the local council leader, Roger Lawrence, was hailing a £65m scheme to bring the site back to life, create hundreds of jobs and revitalise the city centre.

Yet last month, local MP, Pat McFadden called Tesco’s decision to walk away from the redevelopment: “a betrayal of the people of Wolverhampton and a clear breach of the promise made to the people of the city.”


Frustration continues to typify the debate on the future of town centres. Local and national leaders place their faith in private developers and big retailers to rescue towns from decline, only to have those hopes dashed time and again.

Speaking in Parliament on 10 February Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, declared that town centres were: “threatened by all sorts of forces: not exactly evil forces, but forces of change.” His roll of shame included supermarkets, betting shops and takeaway food stores.

Two days later Northern Ireland’s minister for social development, Mervyn Storey, took up a similar theme at the Northern Ireland Town Centre Futures conference. He argued: “[there is an] urgent need to radically rethink how we regenerate and revitalise our town centres as multifunctional social centres.”

“The decline of our town and city centres has taken decades, exacerbated by…a naive faith that ‘the market’ will solve the problem it has created”

There are signs that this is starting to happen. In Bangor, Northern Ireland, artists have worked with the local council to bring a run-down parade of shops back to life. In Falkirk a series of festivals have created a buzz and sense of local pride.

But the real changes we need go much deeper than that. They involve rethinking how space is used, who has access to it and owns it, and where the economic, social and environmental benefits flow.

Naive faith

The decline of our town and city centres has taken decades, exacerbated by social and technological changes, unintelligent planning decisions, and a naive faith that ‘the market’ will solve the problems it has created. It may take as long to reconfigure town centres in ways that generate lasting local benefits.

Artist mural Stokes Croft, Bristol

Artist mural Stokes Croft, Bristol

But in the meantime there are powerful symbolic actions that can demonstrate the direction of travel that’s required. In Todmorden, West Yorkshire, local people are rethinking public space and creating a new narrative for their town by growing and sharing food. In Bristol, street artists have pioneered alternative futures for Stokes Croft, an area neglected for years by the city council and private landowners.

On London’s South Bank, Coin Street Community Builders has shown how creating affordable homes for local people rather than yet another bleak office city can bring lasting benefits for everyone, opening up the riverside as a public space and preserving a diverse community in a city that is increasingly the preserve of the affluent.

Such symbolic actions can signpost new ways of thinking of urban space as part of the ‘commons’, the shared resources from which we all benefit and for which we all share a responsibility.

The challenge of town centres is a microcosm of the challenges of 21st century society: how to create an economy that works for all, how to create good places to live in, how we construct our identity in a world in which life is increasingly commoditised. There aren’t any quick and easy solutions, but despite the continued angst over the future of our towns and cities I believe there are many reasons to be hopeful. That hope is found in the places where people have been ready to challenge the assumption that wealth will trickle down to localities from corporate activity, and where they have begun to define the value of places and spaces on their own terms and in response to local needs.

How to save our town centres [FC]How to Save Our Town Centres publishes today and is available from Policy Press. It can be purchase from the website with a 20% discount by clicking here.

You can also follow Julian on twitter @urbanpollinator

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Public transport – an update

Well, the end of November has come and gone, and, miraculously, we still have a bus service through my village!!

In some respects, I am heartened by this as an example of how ‘people power’ can have an effect, with many passengers signing our petition, and, probably more importantly, individually expressing their dissatisfaction to the bus company, local authority, parish council and local MP.

Depressingly, though, it appears that political machinations may also have had a part to play, as only a couple of days after the announcement of the revision of the planned ‘service changes’, which arose as a result of a meeting between the local authority’s transport committee representative and the bus company, plans for a 2-year study to consider the feasibility of an Integrated Transport Authority for the Greater Bristol area were also dramatically thrown out, by the same transport committee representative and his counterparts in the other two unitary authorities that surround Bristol. Could it be that compromises to the planned cuts were offered as a bargaining chip by the bus company to counteract the prospect of a severe curtailment in its power and influence in the future under an ITA? (There was also a strong rumour that another operator had expressed an interest in providing buses along an extended route which would have represented better service and better value for money for passengers.)

What was particularly noticeable, in the immediate aftermath of the decision, was the alacrity with which the latest changes to the services were publicised – all of the players scrambling to take maximum credit for ‘a creative solution to this problem’ on their websites and in the local press – a striking contrast indeed to the silence surrounding the original proposals …

Jo Morton
Production Editor, The Policy Press

Traffic jam: Ten years of ’sustainable’ transport in the UK – A timely analysis of the UK government’s sustainable transport policy 10 years after the publication of A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone.

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