Ideas for a New Brum

Stef Lewandowski posted this last night but I’ve been holding off writing about it while I get my head around what it might mean.

In short he’s involved in a city-wide ideas project.

I was invited to be part of what the consultants, Urban Initiatives, who are running the project are terming the ‘City Team’ – basically about twenty people who they see as being good ‘ideas people’ (well connected, opinion formers, etc etc.) to come up with good thinking about how Birmingham should change, grow and improve over the coming ten to twenty years.

What he’s finding exciting is that they’re open to all ideas from all areas – what he’s calling crowdsourcing. I think that’s stretching the definition a bit but the basic idea – that they’re widening the net and actively looking for different thinking – is sound.

Skepticism still abounds, of course, since this is the council we’re talking about. No disrespect to our leaders but councils aren’t renowned for innovative thinking. That’s just not their job. But Stef seems cautiously convinced.

It turns out (taking this at face value obviously) that this is for real – the council have employed an independent firm of consultants to crowdsource opinions from a wide variety of groups, but the kernels of the ideas that they are looking for are being sourced from an invited group of people (of which I am one) – people who have an opinion and aren’t afraid to air it.

So it’s simple – we come up with some radical (or maybe not so radical?) ideas, we come up with some a list of things that we believe in, the consultants take them, flesh them out, present them to other people, get feedback, have dialogues, start debates, etc. and then all of this gets distilled down into a Charter (a statement of intent), a Masterplan (the nitty gritty), and a Business Plan (the long term strategy for the city).

It all still seems a bit pyramid-like to me, though I grant you I can’t see any better way to get ideas into the current system. And it’s good to see that unless he’s jumped the gun Stef is able to blog about it at length, thus giving everyone else access to the process both in the comments on that post and on their own sites. The conversation on this is now open and, one hopes, will be tracked.

What would be really neat would be for Urban Initiatives, the consultants, to make this whole process completely transparent, not so they can be kept accountable or anything but so that the rest of us can work with their frameworks in our own groups. The system they have in place would be unaffected by this (unless they want it to be) but just the process of encouraging parallel conversations would produce some interesting results as people find a common grammar for discussing their city. And when the Masterplan finally comes out we’ll actually be able to digest it. Wouldn’t that be a novel notion?

Ah, I’m rambling as usual. Go to Stef’s post, read it and leave your big crazy idea.


  1. I’m really heartened that they’re asking people like Stef to be involved with this. I don’t know who else from within Brum’s creative chunk they’ve also invited, but I truly hope that this is an active environment for participation, input and tangible output for all involved rather than just a token one.

    Total transparency is a must if this is to be a real vision with acknowledged, workable and well-considered outcomes for a city which (to an alien in Brum like me) has a shedload to crow about and, yet, has so much to come.

  2. I’m also contributing to this – so its great that the City’s creative sector has some representation as the role of culture and creativity is absolutely central to the City’s master planning process.

    Stef’s crowdsourcing idea is great – so do contribute your thoughts and we’ll do our best to represnt them.

  3. Emma Larkinson

    Just read Stef’s posting about the first meeting with urban initiatives – sounds exciting and I recall the impacts of the last big rethink of the city centre – some good some bad. It would be great to link up with some of the ‘propositions’ for digbeth that came out of a project that MADE ran earlier this year – four artists considering the potential for Digbeth and the challenges of resisting the gentrification of the area – Stuart Mugrdige, Rob Colbourne, Sturat Whipps and Nicole Slater Hunt – there’s an exhibition on now at MADE – 122 Fazelely Street – ‘Holding the Edge’. The opporunity for broader voices to present alternative propositions in the context of change within the city needs to be welcomed.

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