Designing cities for people not developers

What I have seen and spent what seems to be a lifetime fighting, is corrupt town halls pandering to greedy developers, fast bucks, palms greased, with result every town looks the same, the same corporate chains dominate the town centre, the same corporate chains find in every ghastly shopping centre.

This neither brings in visitors nor is popular with locals who see familiar landmarks destroyed, lose their sense of place, money is drained out of the local economy, then large chains close, go bust, expanded on debt, leaving behind desolation, as we have seen with BHS, House of Fraser, Debenhams and many other zombie companies kept afloat by their banks.

Corrupt town planners who have not a clue what constitutes good town centre planning or how local economies function love big development. Big development lots of money sloshing around, some of which finds its way into the wrong pockets.

A few examples illustrates failure of good town centre design and planning.

Sincil Street runs parallel to the High Street in Lincoln. A street of Victorian buildings, local indie businesses, or was. Up until a few years ago, Sincil Street between the hours of ten in the morning and four in the afternoon was busier than the High Street, the High Street the same corporate chains find anywhere and everywhere. Now Sincil Street is being destroyed, the local council acting in cahoots with the local coop, local businesses driven out, chains brought in, Victorian building destroyed.

Enter the picture Lincoln BIG and Visit Lincoln. Both are hyping the chains, it gets worse Visit Lincoln being paid to do so.

Many towns now have businesses development groups, accountable to no one, act for and controlled by big businesses, not one vote per business, based upon the size of local business tax.

Experience Guildford employs Town Rangers, no one knows what purpose they serve other than to deliver a glossy A4 newssheet to local businesses which goes straight in the bin. They also subsidise the town centre car parks at Christmas, the one time of the year when the car parks are full to overflowing.

Latest examples of Lincoln BIG, take selfies and post on instagram, install an app that has access to data on phone and if use default facebook log in access to facebook data and that of friends

Ask any local businesses what is killing them. High rents, high local business taxes. The local coop owns the properties hikes the rents, Lincoln BIG exacts a levy on top of the local business taxes. Local businesses see no benefits.

Visit Lincoln masquerades as a tourism body, acts as a quasi-PR agency, is paid to hype the corporate chains moving into and destroying the character of Sincil Street.

Fake-Left Guardian had an article describing the dire state of Sheffield. The local council responded with eight tweets, big development taking place, corporate chains listed, same chains find anywhere. The same Sheffield City Council that destroyed thousands if not tens of thousands of street trees, harassed and criminalised protesters.

Empty two-coach Northern Fail train Lincoln to Sheffield, hour and twenty minutes only starts to fill as nears Sheffield passing through small towns like Worksop, making the point, not worth visiting for corporate chains find anywhere.

One of the chains mentioned, 200 Degrees, a small coffee chain serving mediocre coffee, the same chain hyped by Visit Lincoln and Lincoln BIG.

Oh the irony, when Sheffield has a thriving coffee scene and 200 Degrees empty.

In Sheffield Union St, coffee shop, co-working space, pop up kitchen, community hub located in an occupied building, Now Then, an interesting magazine, supported by local community and local businesses, published by a not-for-profit.

Farnborough destroyed half its town centre for a superstore, an estate of social houses surrounded a grassy green destroyed for the car park. A 17th century inn destroyed for a drive-thru McDonald’s.

Wastegate, chain eateries and a superstore on the edge of Aldershot town centre, destroyed the town centre now boarded-up retail units and the chain eateries pulling out from Wastegate.

In the centre of Guildford Tunsgate Quarter, a sterile shopping centre, boarded-up units, same crap cooperate chains find in every ghastly shopping centre across the country, devoid of people. The only use, provides a handy short cut. One of the crap corporate chains Cosy Club, a fake 1930s bar, so fake a Monty Python parody of fake, Visit Guildford promoted on twitter over a dozen times.

Contrast with North Laine in Brighton, three long streets, similar Victorian street scene as Sincil Street in Lincoln, local indie businesses, butcher, baker cheesemonger, bookshops, music shops, coffee shops, restaurants, worker coops, not a chain in sight, always busy.

When all places look the same they become soul destroying, we lose our sense of place, alienation sets in.

We need to green our cities, protect our existing green spaces.

In Farnborough they are destroying the remaining green space for development, in Sheffield tens of thousands of street trees have been cut down.

City centres should be pedestrianised, delivery vehicles park on the periphery, deliver by hand cart and trolley.

Cities generate data, the data should be used as a common good. Citizens may consent to access to their data receiving benefits in return, the data randomised and made available to local businesses.

The city should support and encourage local businesses and local coops, encourage to network with each other

Citizens need to seize control of their local Town Halls, open to public participation, network with other citizen-controlled Town Halls. No more one party states.

There is not a conflict with locals and tourists. There is only conflict when lose businesses serving locals and replace with businesses selling overpriced tourist tat, when AirBnB moves in, rents are hiked, but that is a problem of over-tourism lack of regulation, rather than tourism per se.

At the time of the English Civil War, the Diggers asked the question: who owns the space? The space they were asking of was land, who owns the land?

They saw God created Man and Woman as equal, the land was owned by everyone and no one, it was a common wealth. 

The question is as pertinent today. Who owns the space, who owns the public parks, public space, the empty buildings, the data we generate?

Space is not static, something to be owned. It is dynamic, only has meaning if used, lived on, shared, enjoyed. Derelict buildings we must occupy, put to use on behalf of the community, fight the loss of community space.

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