From dog poo to dead high streets, our cities are blighted by bugbears. That’s why a session at The Drum Live aimed to rebuild our cities in a day by asking the audience of associate editors to put forward their ideas.
As a nation we are willing to put up with mediocrity in our cities – from poorly planned parks to bleak high streets and cramped commutes.
In fact, according to research by Metro, the lack of personal space on busy trains and busses is an issue for 40 per cent of us, but as long as we have distractions like mobile phones, newspapers or books we won’t bother to complain.
But it would be a mistake to think that because people remove themselves from their surroundings with their digital devices they are entirely disengaged from their cities.
“On the contrary,” says Sophie Robinson, creative director at Metro. “Our readers are fully engaged with their cities and, when prompted, are really passionate about making city living easier. They just don’t feel that their ideas would ever be heard. One interesting thing we noticed from our reader survey mostly is that urbanites are happy to put up with the lows to experience the highs of the city. They are resigned that to get the good they have to live with the bad stuff the city can throw at you.”
Well, no more.
At The Drum Live, Metro along with design agency Fitch decided to take a stand against mediocrity and our readiness to simply accept things as they are.
The ‘Build a City in a Day’ session was packed with creatives, planners, and digital leaders all looking to help shape a city of the future. They were split into four groups and asked to brainstorm ideas for transport, the town square (entertainment), the high street or green spaces.
You might be surprised to learn that rather than envisioning a slick, hyper-connected city akin to something in a Will Smith movie, the groups were inspired by things that already exist around them.
“The solutions are about people wanting to be more involved in the community and making the city a more enjoyable, kinder, sociable place,” says Jim Whyte, senior insights analyst, Fitch. “I thought people would go for technological solutions like delivery drones but they haven’t. These are solutions to emotional needs rather than functional needs.”
The High Street
One of the areas people felt most passionate about was the high street. The picture painted for the future of our high streets is a bleak one, but the session found that shopping was not the key attraction for a high street. People wanted to see their local centres transformed into versatile community spaces.
“A lot of the time it’s about how we preserve the high street in the same way that it was in the 70s, meaning when a company like HMV or Woolworths goes bust it’s a case of ‘oh, this is terrible’. But people now want something that changes,” explains Whyte.
Brainstorming in this session resulted in ideas around established retailers sharing space with local shops, and wanted big brands to invest beyond just setting up a local store and back things like free Wi-Fi or charging stations as well as help solve bigger problems such as local energy sourcing.
“There were also a lot of ideas around sustainability and the use of modular architecture,” continues Whyte, revealing that a lot of contributions referred to Boxpark, a pop up mall in Shoreditch, East London, which is built from shipping containers. Each container houses a different local or global brand, café, gallery or restaurant.
“That concept really resonates with people,” he says.
The Town Square
In the town square, people wanted to see communities generating their own entertainment – like local food tasting days organised by restaurants or concerts put on by local musicians.
The contributors also felt that people are sometimes guilty of not fully engaging with their surroundings and so there were a lot of ideas which centred on no Wi-Fi or mobile-free zones and areas of the town square where people could come together and connect without the distraction of technology.
One key theme emerged from the discussion on how to improve green spaces – that there are bugbears that will never be resolved so it has to be about turning the negatives of city living into positives.
And there is one particular annoyance that seemed to unite everybody – dog poo.
“The insight was that dog owners love their dogs but often may not feel the same love for their park, as dog poo and poo in bags are left all over the place. But if there was a benefit to the dog then maybe they’d make the effort to use the bin,” says Robinson.
The group came up with an idea for a bin that gives dogs a treat when you place a poo in it.
“This has to be designed,” says Robinson.
Another theme was the lack of ownership people feel to their local park and it was decided that if councils created a sense of shared ownership through some sort of local committee our city parks would be better treated. The group thought that those without gardens would be first on the list for this committee and there could be the launch of a local park awards to encourage people to invest time in green spaces.
Without doubt, the biggest pain points for urbanites is travel – of course there were ideas around teleportation (we can all dream) but there were also suggestions of ways to simply make the stressful navigation of the tube, train, or bus station a more enjoyable experience through mediums like music.
To fight against the rudeness on our trains and buses, some people suggested ‘Good Deed Feeds’ on transport platforms to encourage commuters to use their manners.
Ideas on improving our cityscapes are all well and good, but how can these be turned into actions?
“I was surprised as to how brilliant the ideas were and mainly as to how practical and easy many of them could be implemented,” says Robinson. “These are all doable and we will be feeding the best ideas to local councils for free in the hope that we inspire them into action.”
To see the final Smart City plan and accompanying Ideas Key click on the images below.
This was first published in the 23 July issue of The Drum. You can buy a copy from The Drum store.