cropped-20140516_0805132.jpgEarlier this year I attended Urbanized; the second film in the #cityseriesleeds set of films. The aim, other than showing films in a great little cinema in Hyde Park, Leeds, is to encourage discussion and debate under the #cityseriesleeds tag and on various forums about how Leeds is and how it could be.

Both films so far have touched on the design and development of cities across the world. The discussion following Urbanized focussed on community engagement processes of various design projects shown in the film.

Someone suggested trying to get everyone’s views in any consultation just won’t help and that some consultation is just seen as ticking the box. A point also made, as shown in the film, was that smaller and different ways of getting people’s views might give planners, architects, designers and those elected and responsible for setting direction a gut feel so they can lead the project forward but based on their experience and mandate.

A few folk talked about how they thought timely communication at different stages of any engagement is crucial. Someone suggested that consultations/discussions are usually hijacked by the ‘usual suspects’ who shout loudest and are likely to put others and the little voices off contributing.

Time always catches up with things just when they are getting interesting but those present were asked to continue the discussion online. This post is part of that discussion.

I’m interested in cities and how what goes on in them works or doesn’t and what is or might be done to improve things. I originally thought I’d be attracted by the design and build elements of the films but what’s really taken my interest is how community engagement has been portrayed and specifically how the follow up discussion is developing and what it might lead to.

Letting conversations happen and different voices come to the table is part of how things evolve and I suppose a measure of how healthy society is; the city really talking. The discussions so far have led to some creative input with new people taking time to explore Leeds and share what they’ve found. There’s no shock that city design is complex and it’s clearly not possible to please all the people all the time. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Sim City was a compulsory part of school curriculum? And not just the building bit but the interaction with the city experts.

I like watching how discussions start, evolve and drift in various directions. I think that’s what Leeds Society of Architects and Culture Vultures, who jointly organised the series with Hyde Park Picture House, would want and are encouraging to happen so it then might contribute to actions that make a better Leeds. Sure as eggs is eggs, people don’t do things differently until they see things differently, and they generally don’t do that until they see something or take part in a discussion so they can better understand or contribute to help others understanding.

After the first film; The Human Scale, I asked the question

Is #cityseriesleeds also about how people get along in the places where they live… so not just about infrastructure?

In this and other discussions across Leeds, I can see there are some good people trying to encourage conversations and invite others, especially new and different faces, to find their voices. What pleases me is that new folk are starting to do stuff and share their views. And many folk have their own topics for discussions. Similarly, it’s great when the old hands, who have previously been the new voices, encourage the newcomers by sharing their experiences and knowledge. I have benefited from that and would do the same.

Perhaps there is something about the time being right for a conversation that’s more likely to lead to action rather than just more words. There is no doubt that people need to understand what it is they are being asked to contribute to so they can listen, query, understand and provide their views.

It saddens me however when the opposite happens as the following examples show.

I was hoping for a conversation but never mind.”

What if we add balance to the tolerance?

It’s a pity where attempts to explore things are blocked or when those tasked with delivering a project or providing strategic direction are absent from the discussion when perhaps they need to be involved.

Maybe the question I asked has been answered. If #cityseriesleeds and similar conversations #Leeds2023 etc are about how the city gets along with itself, as much as what it talks about, then letting the conversations develop, encouraging different voices and encouraging/including those tasked with delivering them to increasingly take part is fundamental. Having a big game of whack-a-mole doesn’t help. 

There may be disagreement but there’s always a sociable city way to do that.

Be sociable, share the space.