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Leading the inclusive cityPlace-based innovation for a bounded planet$

Robin Hambleton

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781447304975

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447304975.001.0001

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Understanding place and public policy

Understanding place and public policy

(p.78) (p.79) Chapter 4 Understanding place and public policy
Leading the inclusive city

Robin Hambleton

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that place should play a much more prominent role in policy making. The meaning of place is considered and five reasons for paying more attention to place are outlined: 1) Place-based identity, 2) The environment, local loyalty and the quality of life, 3) Enhancing governmental effectiveness, 4) Places as building blocks for local democracy, and 5) The need to combat place-less power. Three themes relating to place in modern public policy are then discussed. Place marketing is criticised because it can distort public spending in ways that work against the creation of the inclusive city. Place making and place shaping are, on the other hand, key areas where civic leaders can take steps to create more inclusive cities. The first Innovation Story in the book, describing the creation of the High Line, a remarkable ‘public park in the sky’, in New York City, is presented. The troubling growth of gated communities in cities, meaning privatised zones in cities that exclude people, is analysed.

Keywords:   gated communities, High Line Park, identity, New York City, place in public policy, place making, place marketing, place shaping

We shape cities, and they shape us

Jan Gehl, Cities for People, 2010


A crucial argument of this book is that place should play a much more prominent role in public policy making. Place is, as I explained in Chapter 1, a neglected dimension in public policy – particularly at the national and state levels. This is because higher levels of government are disabled by departmentalism. They construct their public policies around functional domains – for example, the economy, education, health, social care, transport, agriculture, policing, energy and so on. Because departmental thinking is so deeply embedded in both the design of these government institutions and in the thought processes of the public servants they employ, political leaders are often not well served when it comes to comprehending the overall impact of public policy on particular places.

This is one of the reasons why local government is so important in modern societies. Locally elected leaders and their officials tend, on the whole, to have a more holistic understanding of the challenges particular communities are facing. For example, the socio-geographical intricacies of a city, or a neighbourhood, are more readily grasped than those of a vast territory. Also, in an important sense, local government politicians and their public servants are literally closer to the people they are there to serve. They possess tacit knowledge of what it is like to live in the place they govern.

True, city and county halls can also be victims of ‘silo thinking’ and have many imperfections. But, in my view, and I draw here on my experience of working in policy-making roles in both local and central governments, departmentalism tends to be more entrenched in the modus operandi of higher levels of government. This is partly because the realities of life at the street level are more distant. But it is also because the departmental culture generates particular ‘ways of seeing’ the world (Berger 1972). Questions and challenges tend to be framed in a departmental way and the gathering of evidence usually reflects departmental priorities and preferences.

A consequence is that the effectiveness of central government decision-making is impaired. As I noted in Chapter 1, Warren Magnusson discusses this phenomenon and suggests that national governments tend to ‘see like a state’, rather than ‘see like a city’. His claim that policy makers should attempt to see like a city – an approach that involves ‘… positioning ourselves as inhabitants, not governors…’ (p.80) (Magnusson 2010, 53) – is consistent with my argument that place-based policy-making should be strengthened.

But what do we mean by ‘place’? And what, exactly, are the benefits that can flow from bolstering the power of place-based leaders in modern societies? In this chapter I will address these questions in a four-step fashion. First, I consider the question: What do we mean by place? Second, I outline the main arguments why it is useful for policy makers to pay more attention to place. Third, I examine some of the roles that place can play in public policy making. And, fourth, I sound a warning note about the privatisation of public space in the city.

It is helpful to illuminate the argument about the significance of place in public policy making by offering a concrete example. Later in the chapter I therefore present an Innovation Story, the first of many in the book, to illustrate the effectiveness of place-based leadership. This relates to the High Line, a now famous public space, located on a disused, elevated railway line on the west side of Manhattan in New York City. This success story demonstrates the extraordinary power and wisdom that a local sense of place and place-based activism can bring to public policy making.

What do we mean by place?

Human geographers, environmental psychologists, architects and planning theorists have advanced our understanding of place a good deal in the last forty years. Yi-Fu Tuan, in his influential book, Space and Place, provides a thoughtful examination of the ways in which people feel and think about space (Tuan 1977). He notes that space and place are basic components of the lived world; yet we tend to just take them for granted. These words are, for example, often used interchangeably without too much thought. His great insight is to show how, while the meaning of space can merge with place, they have rather different emotional roots. For him place is associated with security (consider, for example, the saying: ‘There is no place like home’), while space has connotations of freedom (for example, the recognition that: ‘We all need space to develop’).1

Tuan argues not just that we are attached to the one and long for the other, but that the ideas of space and place require each other for definition:

What begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value… From the security and stability of place we are aware of the openness, freedom and threat of space, and vice versa.

(Tuan 1977, 6)

Tuan also shows how place exists at different scales:

At one extreme a favourite armchair is a place, at the other extreme the whole earth. Homeland is an important type of place at the medium (p.81) scale. It is a region (city or countryside) large enough to support a people’s livelihood.

(Tuan 1977, 161)

Tuan’s presentation of how to understand place is highly respected. But, in the years since he wrote his classic text, place has become a rather contested concept in the broad field of spatial studies. Scholarly contributions – in geography, sociology, city planning, architecture, urban design, ecology and environmental psychology – continue to debate the meaning of place. Indeed, there is a vast literature, some of it highly theoretical, on the perception of place, the psychology of place, the sense of place and the design of place (Canter 1977; Gehl 2010; Massey 2005; Relph 1976).

In an early, influential contribution, one that questioned traditional conceptions of place, Manuel Castells outlined the contours of ‘the informational city’. He claimed that we were witnessing ‘the historical emergence of the space of flows, superseding the meaning of the space of places’ (Castells 1989, 348). His analysis was prescient, particularly when one recognises that he was writing before the invention of the World Wide Web. In modern life the widespread use of the Internet means that information does, indeed, flow very rapidly through networks and across vast distances. It enables people to act across space in a way that was virtually unimaginable thirty years ago. But, in my view, Castells goes much too far when he claims that: ‘The fundamental fact is that social meaning evaporates from places, and therefore from society…’ (Castells 1989, 349).

Great power is, undoubtedly, exercised by those who control information flows in the modern world, but it is misguided to suggest that the growth of this ‘network society’ erases the meaning of place. On the contrary, it is my contention that, in a turbulent world of swirling information flows and concealed power relations, place-based social meaning, far from evaporating, becomes more significant and more sought after – and, in an ontological sense, more important. Social action to bring about progressive change can, of course, be creatively deployed across space. The Arab Spring, starting in 2010, is just one example of a current political struggle providing evidence to support the argument that citizens can use the Internet to assist people who may be very far away. And the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 provides another good example (Byrne 2012). But daily life – taking the kids to school, working on an allotment, attending a place of worship, getting to the local surgery and/or day centre and so on – is place-bound and, it should be said, place-strong. In other words, notwithstanding all the wonders of mobile phone technology and the like, much of life remains, and will always remain, stubbornly place-dependent. Thus, we can surmise that place, if nurtured, valued and connected to the power of other places, can become a source of resistance to the place-less ‘space of flows’.

In making this argument I am not attempting to appeal to a romantic notion of a stable time when we all lived in peaceful places fixed in space – and where everyone felt ‘at home’. This static conception of ‘community’ is a myth. There is no doubt that cities have always been places in flux – any given neighbourhood (p.82) or locality is a social construct that is evolving (Cresswell 2004; Massey 2005). The old idea of a fixed conceptualisation of a place is long past its sell-by date. But it is, in my view, misguided to then suggest that place no longer matters as a source of identity and social commitment. The evidence presented in this book – and particularly the various Innovation Stories – suggests that place still matters a great deal to people and, more than that, it can provide a sound building block for social action.

Urban scholars and writers on planning and urban design recognise this well enough. Indeed, as we shall see, urbanists, planning theorists and urban designers have contributed many valuable insights on how to shape urban places so that they foster inclusiveness and conviviality (Healey 2010; Jacobs 1961; Shaftoe 2008). The Danish architect and urban designer, Jan Gehl, deserves special mention in this context. His perceptive understanding of the interplay between place and civil society is remarkable, and his work as a professional urban designer, some of it with his colleague Lars Gemzøe, has had a significant impact on many cities – including, cities as far apart as Copenhagen, Melbourne and San Francisco (Gehl 2010; Gehl and Gemzøe 2000). We will refer again to Gehl’s work in Chapter 9.

A word of caution is needed. We should avoid over simplifying the argument about what place means. Place is a genuinely difficult concept to define, and Lineu Castello, a Brazilian urbanist, illustrates this point rather well in his extended analysis of the meaning of place (Castello 2010). I wish to draw two insights from his book. First, he makes it clear that it is not easy to define place: ‘… place is one of those concepts, like “passion”, whose definition is damaged when put into words’ (Castello 2010, xiv). It follows that we should be alert to the subtleties of how the word can be imbued with complex meaning. Second, and it is a closely related point, people lie at the heart of any sound conceptualisation of place: ‘It is, after all, people who make places, frequent them and use them. It is they who make a space into a place’ (Castello 2010, 231; author’s emphasis).

This people-centred approach recognises that citizens often care a great deal about their surroundings and the enjoyment they get from them. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that lively public debates usually accompany proposals for urban redevelopment projects and/or major modern buildings in cities. The impact of these buildings on a given place – whether for good or ill – can stir great controversy, and often attract a high level of media and public interest. In this context it can be claimed that urban design is becoming more newsworthy and this should be welcomed. For example, Sir Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Lloyd’s of London building, is now a famous public figure able to attract significant media attention when he contributes a public lecture on aspects of urban design (Rogers, Stirk and Harbours 2012).

For the purposes of this book I define place as: Somewhere somebody cares about. Following Tuan and Castello, I am suggesting that people imbue places with meaning, and places may often be associated with important feelings of identity. My definition is a broad one and it may be that it does not go very far in serving the needs of, for example, social geographers and environmental (p.83) psychologists. But this loose definition has attractions that are consistent with the analysis presented by Tuan. It allows us, firstly, to conceive of places existing at many geographical levels; secondly, to encompass people’s fleeting engagement with places as well as deep feelings of attachment and geographical rootedness; and thirdly, it recognises that people have multiple loyalties to many places. Most important, for the purposes of this book, it enables us to divide decision makers into two distinct categories: place-based leaders, who care about the place they are making decisions about, and place-less leaders who don’t.

In Chapter 1 I explained how the growth of multi-national companies and the centralisation of power in very big, remote institutions means that some of the most influential figures in the modern world are, what I call, place-less leaders. Place-less leaders are unconcerned with the impact of their decisions on particular places. In contrast to place-based leaders these decision-makers care little or, possibly, not at all, about whether particular places prosper or collapse.

Why bother about place?

In the discussion below I offer five sets of reasons why place should be given more attention in public policy. These arguments are intertwined but it is useful to separate them out for the purposes of exposition.

  • place-based identity

  • environment, local loyalty and the quality of life

  • enhancing governmental effectiveness

  • places as building blocks for democracy

  • the need to combat place-less power

These themes will be extended and developed in subsequent chapters. And the various Innovation Stories in this, and later, chapters provide solid evidence to fill out the picture.

Place-based identity

In their analysis of nine modern cities in four continents Bell and de-Shalit (2011) argue that each one has a distinctive ethos. The aim of their book, The Spirit of Cities, is to counter the claim that, in an age of globalisation, local social units no longer have any meaning – and that there is no local political will to oppose economic globalisation. They set out in rich detail why the identity of a city matters in a global age, suggest that urban pride is a seriously neglected topic, and put forward a word to help fill a gap in our vocabulary. Noting that patriotism, referring to national pride, serves nations states well enough, they advocate ‘civicism’ as a new word to convey how we feel about being a member of a city or a smaller community.

(p.84) In the past city politicians and their professional staff have often failed to appreciate the importance of both the feelings people have for their home area and the social significance of neighbourhood life. Hence many cities experienced misguided approaches to urban planning and rebuilding in the second half of the 20th Century. For example, in Britain and the USA whole neighbourhoods were swept away in the name of urban renewal. Mindy Thompson Fullilove (2004), in Root Shock, provides a detailed account of the impact of urban renewal on African American communities. She shows how, when neighbourhoods are destroyed, residents suffer a traumatic shock to their sense of wellbeing. In many, but not all, cities awareness of the social significance of places has increased – in progressive cities approaches to urban regeneration are more sensitive and sophisticated than they were in the past. Those teaching degrees in city planning, architecture, and community development can claim to have influenced professional practice for the better.

Successful city leaders recognise that our attachment to neighbourhoods is created by personal experience, including events that happen there – from local community celebrations to major street festivals. Nicola Bacon notes correctly that effective urban policy works with the grain of these feelings of community identity:

People’s sense of belonging, resilience and connectedness to others affects their wellbeing and quality of life, their capacity to act individually and collectively, and a community’s level of crime, health and educational achievement.

(Bacon 2013)

The Innovation Stories presented later in this book provide many examples of city and community leaders generating collaborative advantage by working with local people, rather than for them. Many start from the premise that place-based identity matters. I will say a little more about local loyalty and quality of life in a moment.

Here, however, the general point I wish to draw out is that, in line with other studies, like the ones by Tuan (1977) and Castello (2010) mentioned earlier, places have significant meanings for people. Many people have a sense of attachment to their city and/or their ‘home area’, in some cases a strong sense of attachment, and it often forms part of their identity. A sense of attachment is often given cultural expression through sports clubs, social activities, community events, and it can underpin commitment to civic engagement – of which more in a moment. The mental maps of such imagined places will vary considerably between individuals, and it should also be recognised that these perceived localities are not fixed and bounded entities.

Economic, social and political changes mean that urban neighbourhoods are constantly being reshaped as the urban economy shifts and develops. People move in, people move out, and areas take on new meanings for different social groups. It is also important to emphasise that, as mentioned earlier, feelings of (p.85) identity and attachment are not all geographically rooted. Social networks often cut across space and, in modern multicultural cities, many households have very strong economic and emotional links to friends and family in other countries and continents. Michel Laguerre (1999, 18), for example, explains how immigrants can, by maintaining ongoing relations with their homeland, create a transnational space:

The politics of location does not define exclusively the politics of identity. Some minorities are now experiencing the social spaces of two nations simultaneously: they live here but maintain their active participation in homeland affairs.

The expansion of Internet-based social networking in recent years gives this argument added force because it can strengthen feelings of attachment and identity that transcend place. To argue that place has significant meaning for many people is, then, not to argue that other forms of attachment are unimportant.

In this discussion we should also note that place-based identity is not an untrammelled good – it can have a downside. As the geographer Harm de Blij (2009) argues, the confines of place can impose limits on human thought and action, and can lock communities into an unequal position. Even in wealthy metropolitan cities we can find neighbourhoods that, for a variety of reasons, have been largely excluded from the general rise in prosperity. These communities may come to feel culturally or economically trapped in a locality. Barry Quirk, in commenting on this trend, notes that the economic restructuring of a city or city region may foster an undesirable, sense of identity in some communities – one that looks inwards and backwards. He notes that in the West this narrowing of vision, often coupled with a fear of others ‘… can be found in poor white communities as much as in poor ethnic minority communities’ (Quirk 2011, 108). This discussion will be familiar to those who work in community development. While the notion of ‘community’ has many plus points, it also has a dark side in that communities can be oppressive and exclusive (Taylor 2011).

In this context we should refer to ‘gated communities’. In essence, these are residential areas designed in a way that permits their residents to exclude other people. By their very nature they work against the idea of creating an inclusive city. We will return, later in this chapter, to examine the growth of urban gating, and to consider the way public space is being privatised in too many cities.

Environment, local loyalty and the quality of life

A second set of arguments for giving more attention to place in public policy is that places have a direct impact on the quality of our lives. For example, as I explained in Chapter 1, we are all advantaged or disadvantaged by where we live. Place has impacts on the quality of life at many different levels – from the neighbourhood to the global scale (Smith et al 2007; De Blij 2009). It is an inescapable fact that people live in specific places and experience their home (p.86) area ‘in the round’. It follows that the quality of the local environment matters a great deal. In practice the quality of this environment, including access to services, often varies remarkably between neighbourhoods in any given city. For example, access to shops, markets, fresh food, libraries, schools, open space, surgeries, banks and other local services can vary considerably. This accessibility is significant for all households, but it is even more important for people who are, for one reason or another, not that mobile – for example, families with young children, people who are infirm or disabled, or poor families.

We need to add in, here, the neglected ecological dimension. In Chapter 1 I suggested that the individual, society and nature are inextricably linked – see Figure 1.1 – and that our relationship with the natural environment should be embedded in public policy making. In Chapter 3 I extended this discussion and noted that new kinds of relationship are developing between the state and civil society – for example, services are now provided via co-governance, co-management and co-production. The areas of overlap between civil society and the state are replete with possibilities for creative collaborations. Following Hirschman (1970), I suggested that loyalty is a precious asset that is not always appreciated by urban decision-makers. I refer to these arguments at this point because it is at the local level – in the neighbourhood or home area – that many of these collaborations occur. In other words, they are place-based. There is little doubt that the quality of life in an area can be enhanced if the loyalty, feelings and energies of local people can be conjoined with the activities of public agencies.

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, grasps the significance of this argument when it comes to tackling climate change. In The Power of Just Doing Stuff, (2013, 41) he notes correctly that ‘most of us care deeply – not just about our families, but also about our community, the place we live, and the future our children will inherit. What we need are tools that help us to find a creative, active and empowering response’.

His book provides numerous examples of people taking local action to transform the places where they live and work. It is important to note that some of the most successful initiatives – for example, the Totnes and District Local Economic Blueprint – do not involve community activists ‘going it alone’. Rather, they involve creative collaboration between the elected local authorities and enthusiastic community leaders bringing new energies to the table of local policy making and practice. In other words they flourish in the area of overlap between the state and civil society.

The Transition Movement builds on previous traditions of local, place-based action. For example, urban designers and city planners have attempted, over the years, to develop policies and practices that create sustainable communities, and these all depend on place-based analysis and action. In the UK context, Sir John Egan has provided useful national guidance on the skills needed to create sustainable communities – but his ideas will resonate in cities across the world (Egan 2004).

More broadly we can note that planning, architecture and urban design are, in their nature, place-based. These professions have advanced both knowledge and (p.87) practice relating to the planning and design of urban neighbourhoods as well as cities as a whole. As a consequence, there is now a good deal of helpful advice on how to design not just for a post-carbon world, but also to promote healthy living by encouraging walking and cycling, and by providing ready access to open spaces, recreation facilities and parkland (Barton, Grant and Guise 2010; Boone and Modarres 2006; Condon 2010; Gehl 2010). In this context Mark Tewdwr-Jones (2011) is surely right to urge planners to pay much more attention to the meaning of place. In a far-sighted analysis of the future of architecture and the built environment in the UK, Sir Terry Farrell calls for a more united approach from the built environment professions (Farrell 2014). He argues that these professions should be guided by a common pursuit of place quality, and that ‘place reviews’ should be built into the ongoing public leadership of every locality.

Enhancing governmental effectiveness

The aims of bringing political power closer to the people, by strengthening local government, and of adjusting public policy more carefully to meet the needs of particular geographical areas within the local authority have had a longstanding appeal. In the introduction to this chapter I referred to the fact that higher levels of government are often plagued with problems of departmentalism. The tendency for national politicians to ‘see like a state’, rather than ‘see like a city’, creates serious obstacles to the process of designing and delivering effective public policy (Magnusson 2010).

Occasionally central governments appear to recognise that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and then embark on place-based initiatives of various kinds. The history of government-driven ‘area initiatives’ is a long one. In the USA, for example, the Model Cities Programme, launched in 1966, was an important American initiative targeted on needy areas (Marris and Rein 1972). The idea was to develop new antipoverty programmes by involving citizens and municipalities in place-based action in various selected cities. Many US area-based experiments were to follow, including President Clinton’s Empowerment Zones (launched in 1994), and President Obama’s Health and Human Services (HSS) efforts to assist rural hospitals, clinics and clinicians (launched in 2012).

Meanwhile, UK central government has tried out a plethora of area initiatives over the years, from the Total Approach of 1972 through to more recent efforts, such as Total Place (launched in 2010) and Community Budgets (launched in 2011). Andrew Tallon (2013) provides a useful overview of UK Area Based Initiatives (ABIs). As discussed in Chapter 1, these efforts are, on the whole, sound in intent. This is because place-based analysis of government policies and spending patterns can uncover duplication of effort and, if handled in an imaginative way, a ‘whole area’ approach to public services has great promise (HM Treasury 2010). Resources can be redirected, new connections with civic partners can be made, and experiments can be tried out. However, area-based initiatives of this kind will only have a lasting impact if they succeed in making the transition from being (p.88) seen as pioneering programmes – that is, as special arrangements of one kind or another – to being embedded in mainstream policy and practice. This means, in the UK context, shifting power and authority away from Whitehall to elected local authorities so that effective, holistic engagement with service users, families and communities can be advanced.

This takes us back to the important role that local government can play in modern societies. As discussed further in Chapter 7, elected local authorities are in a good position to develop effective place-based approaches to public policy and management. In Chapter 3 we saw how, in the UK, the creation of powerful, elected local authorities in the 19th Century enabled major advances to be made in tackling the social and economic challenges of the time. These place-based efforts not only resulted in major improvements in health and life chances for residents, they also fostered a high level of civic pride. In more recent times local authorities have continued to act as drivers of urban innovation. For example, in the 1970s, English local councils took the lead in developing place-based approaches to public involvement and problem solving.2 In a recent contribution to the debate about education policy, Kathryn Riley (2013) looks at the role of place in schools and in the lives of young people today. She provides vivid accounts of how schools in the USA, UK and South Africa are using place-based approaches to help young people establish ‘their place in the world’, giving particular attention to the challenges facing rapidly changing inner city schools.

In the last thirty years or so local authorities have, as mentioned in Chapter 2, established themselves as world leaders in relation to tackling urban problems – see, for example, the reports from United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG 2008; 2010; 2011; 2014). This discussion of local government leadership leads us to our fourth argument for paying more attention to place in public policy.

Place as a building block for democracy

Places provide spatial units for the exercise of local democracy. Indeed, it can be argued that healthy national democracies depend, for their existence, on the political underpinning provided by vibrant local democracies. The longstanding and fundamental arguments for local government are highly relevant in this context. John Gyford offers an insightful discussion, focussed on the UK experience, of the relationships between place and local democracy and I draw on his ideas here (Gyford 1991). Developed in similar ways in many different countries, over a period of more than 150 years, local governments provide democratic building blocks for nation states and, ultimately, for international democratic institutions.

Gerhard Banner (1996), an experienced German city manager, summarises three of the main arguments for local government rather well when he suggests that the purpose of local government is to organise the common good at the local level with regard to three critical matters: democracy, community and services. First, as already mentioned, local government underpins democracy – it supports political pluralism and contributes to political education, as it acts as a school in (p.89) which democratic habits are acquired and practised. Second, it can facilitate the growth of self-organising capacity in local communities. Local government can support and encourage a variety of forms of civic engagement, and experiments in co-governance are now on the rise. Third, it can improve the responsiveness of service providers to the diverse needs and requirements of different communities, an argument that gathers additional weight in complex multicultural cities.

A fourth important argument for local government is that it promotes social innovation. Having a diversity of geographical power centres in a country adds to the innovative capacity of that country’s governance. This is because different areas have the political legitimacy to try out different approaches and learn from experience.

The notion of place is embedded in all these arguments for local government. Place injects meaning into both representative democracy and participatory democracy. Take representative democracy first. It usually involves the election of politicians on a geographical basis. While electoral systems vary across countries, from ‘first-past-the-post’ systems to various systems of proportional representation, the idea that elected figures are held to account by citizens living in particular territories is widely accepted as a sensible way of organising representative democracy. This electoral accountability might be to the city as a whole as with, for example, a directly elected city mayor. Or it might involve accountability to a relative small area in the city. For example, in many countries local politicians are elected on a ward, or district, basis.

Second, place also provides a basis for numerous kinds of participatory democracy. Local authorities across the world have been inventive in developing new approaches to citizen involvement, and many of these efforts are, not surprisingly, place-based (Cornwall 2008; Fung 2004; Oliver and Pitt 2013; Smith 2009). We will examine these ventures further when we discuss democratic urban governance in Chapter 7.

The need to combat place-less power

Earlier I suggested that place-less decision makers have gained too much power in modern society. Here I provide a short account of what has happened to a chocolate factory in Keynsham, a small town near where I live in Bristol, to illustrate my argument. In 1824 John Cadbury, a Quaker, began selling drinking chocolate in Birmingham, England. Cadbury developed the chocolate business with his brother Benjamin and it was very successful. His son, George, is famous for building a model village, Bournville, near Birmingham, in the 1890s to provide factory workers with good housing and living conditions.

In the 20th Century Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Bar was particularly popular, and Cadbury became the most famous chocolate brand in the UK. The company expanded rapidly and merged with J.S. Fry and Sons, a Bristol based chocolate manufacturer famous for making the world’s first chocolate bar in 1847. To improve production a state of the art chocolate factory, called Somerdale, was (p.90) built on the edge of Keynsham, in the 1930s. In its heyday, the factory workforce was over 5,000. Consistent with Quaker values the factory included good social facilities and extensive sports grounds.

In September 2009 Kraft Foods, a major American company, made a £10.2 billion takeover bid for Cadbury which was rejected. However, Kraft Foods were not to be deflected. Importantly, in their continuing negotiations to buy Cadbury, Kraft Foods stated clearly that they would retain the Somerdale Factory. In 2007 Cadbury had indicated that it planned to close the factory and move production to Poland and a campaign to stop this happening was in full swing. Workers at the factory, and the residents of Keynsham, welcomed the pledge from Kraft Foods. In February 2010 Kraft Foods purchased Cadbury for £11.5 billion.

The Chairman of Cadbury, Roger Carr, and the Chief Executive, Todd Stitzer, having arranged for truly enormous personal financial gains (£12 million in the case of Mr Stitzer), via share sales arising from the sell-off to Kraft Foods, resigned. Within days of acquiring Cadbury, Kraft Foods announced, on 9 February 2010, that they intended, after all, to close the Somerdale Factory, with the loss of 400 jobs. Amoree Radford, who campaigned to keep Somerdale open, said to the BBC (14 January 2011) that she had no reason to believe Kraft Foods would go back on its commitment: ‘I believed them and the employees believed them. The plant is very productive. It is very profitable. Kraft said they wanted to expand it and wanted to be environmentally friendly. So, of course, we believed them – who wouldn’t?’

Here then is a classic example of the exercise of place-less power. Irene Rosenfeld, Chairman of Kraft, and her senior executives in Kraft Foods, renamed in 2012 as Mondelez International, work in offices in Northfield, a suburb to the north of Chicago. From their vantage point in Illinois they decided to close a productive factory and do untold damage to a small town in another country 5,000 miles away. They did this, not because the factory was failing, but because the lower labour costs in Poland would enable them, they believed, to make even more money than they were already making. Unite, the union representing the factory workers, were able to show that, during this period, the profit margins of Cadburys UK were over 12%. From a place-based perspective, from the point of view of the people depending on the factory for a living, this decision makes no sense at all.

But it is worse than that. Subsequent increases in raw material costs, disproportionate growth in the pay of Polish workers, plus rapidly increasing fuel costs – 16 to 18 LGV (Large Goods Vehicle) lorry loads of chocolate per day are now shipped back to the UK from Poland – mean that the move of production to Poland was not only ecologically thoughtless but, also, of doubtful wisdom, even in a narrow economic sense. Sad to say, the experience of the workers in the Somerdale Factory is not that unusual. The capitalist economy, with its ceaseless pursuit of maximum profits, regardless of other values, is bound to lead to what David Ranney calls, in his perspicacious analysis of industrial closures in Chicago, ‘global decisions’ resulting in ‘local collisions’ (Ranney 2003).

(p.91) The critique of place-less power I am offering here is consistent with the argument put forward by Sandel (2012). He suggests that the obsession with market driven models of decision-making crowds out other important values. Place-less decision makers in, for example, multi-national companies, decide whether or not to invest in particular places, and/or to withdraw investment from particular places, on the basis of narrow calculations of potential profit and loss. Such an approach pays no attention to local history, identity, solidarity, or the feelings of local communities. Even more startling, distant decision makers often fail to make sound economic decisions as measured by their own narrow metrics.3 This is because their knowledge and understanding of the local economy is often poor or non-existent.

Having summarised the main reasons why place matters we now turn to consider the ways in which place is being incorporated into public policy.

Place in public policy

It would be wrong to imply that place has not featured in public policy making in the past. Indeed, a key theme of this book is to highlight the remarkable success of place-based approaches in a variety of countries, and to draw attention to the important leadership lessons that can be drawn from these positive experiences. There are, perhaps, three main ways in which place arises in current public policy discourse: place making, place marketing and place shaping. These phrases may seem unfamiliar to some readers – they certainly have more currency in some countries than in others. My purpose here is not to create a typology of different approaches to place-based leadership, still less claim the existence of watertight categories. Rather my aim is to offer a short introduction to three main themes relating to place in modern public policy. Two of them display wisdom; one is questionable.

Place making

First, the art of place making is clearly well established. Indeed, it has been central to the practice of city planning and urban design for centuries, and it is possible to argue that the art of place making is as old as cities themselves (Duany et al 2003; Hall 1988; Girouard 1985; Sepe 2013). Place making refers, then, to the planning, design and construction of places – it lies at the heart of most professional courses in city planning, architecture and urban design. We have already referred to the ongoing, and lively, debates within urban theory relating to what constitutes a sense of place, and we have touched upon the theme of urban quality. There are several strands to place making and four influential approaches should be mentioned.

Our starting point is the classical view of urban place making which emphasises physicality – the design of public space, gateways, vistas, landmarks, squares, elevations and so on (Cullen 1961). The focus here is on the three dimensional design of the urban form. A second approach, pioneered by Lynch (1960, 1981), (p.92) emphasises the ‘imageability’, or legibility, of the city. Lynch and others highlight the importance of city planning in helping to create mental maps, which people can use to guide their movements around the city.

Third, Jane Jacobs, in her classic book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, stressed that urban places depend for their success on public activity (Jacobs 1961). Jacobs, and the many urban designers she has inspired, emphasises street life, a rich juxtaposition of land uses, permeability of the urban form, a mixture of building types and intense use of public space. An important off shoot of this approach is urban time planning and the encouragement of the evening, or 24 hour, economy (Montgomery 2007). A fourth approach, one that draws on all the others, can be described as sustainable urban design. I use this phrase here as a banner for all those, qualified professionals or not, who pay attention to the role of nature in the urban setting, to the implications of climate change for place making and who are committed to the creation of child-friendly, healthy urban places (Academy of Urbanism 2011; Barton et al 2010; Girardet 2008; Gehl and Gemzøe 2000; Sepe 2013; Shaftoe 2008; Williams et al 2000).

In Chapters 8 and 9 we will return to discuss the role of planning and urban design in modern place making, and we will provide examples of place-based leadership that have led to high quality urban places – in, for example, Freiburg, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Place marketing

We now turn to a second strand in the debate about place and public policy – place marketing. This approach emerged in a significant way in the late 19th Century, in parallel with the emergence of product marketing in the expanding industrial economies. The idea of selling a place was very much an American invention. The early development of Los Angeles provides a classic example of place marketing – one that generated massive profits for the owners of real estate in what was to become a city. In his forensic analysis of ‘real estate capitalism’ Davis (1990) shows how the ‘place’ of Los Angeles was invented, marketed and sold to pioneers. Hollywood and California remain as world leaders in the business of selling dreams.

Stated simply, place marketing involves generating an image or proposition – sometimes described by those involved in city branding as a ‘Unique Selling Point’ (USP) – about a place, and then striving to project this image through the media, promotional campaigns and a variety of publicity materials, as in the marketing of a product or business. In Chapter 2 I discussed the global pressures that are spurring cities to compete with each other. A consequence is that urban investment in place marketing has spiralled in recent years. Indeed, there is now a major international industry devoted to place marketing, or city branding, as some prefer to call it (Anholt 2010; Dinnie 2011; Zavattaro 2013).4 Shortly I will explore whether we may be able to make a distinction between place ‘marketing’ and place ‘branding’. For a moment, however, let’s treat them as a single perspective (p.93) on urban politics and city leadership. Place marketing, or branding, stems from the world of commerce, often draws on techniques developed in the tourism industry, and is used not just to market the attractions of particular cities, but also to promote particular quarters or areas within a given city.

A problem with place marketing, as with product marketing, is that the advertising can become misleading. The urge to sell can result in a distortion of the truth. For example, Allan Cochrane (Cochrane, 2007, 112) notes that, ‘The emphasis of place marketing is increasingly on redefining – or reimagining – each individual city in ways that fit with dominant perceptions of success’.

The key phrase here is ‘dominant perceptions’. What are these dominant perceptions? Where do they come from? Whose interests are served by allowing them to influence public spending? And who is paying for all this? Claire Colomb, in a thoughtful analysis of the politics of place marketing in Berlin, shows how the city branding firms, in the period since 1994, have created a series of discourses that legitimise pro-business, political and economic choices (Colomb 2012). Like place marketing in many other cities, the search for competitive economic advantage by Berlin’s city leaders has involved numerous attempts to appropriate local cultures. This, not surprisingly, has met resistance as local communities, artists and activists reject the imposition of simplistic messages – like Berlin’s ‘Poor, but sexy’ slogan – on the places where they live and work. Opposition parties in Berlin have noted that, in the context of a city with a significant debt, these efforts at image making are an unnecessary waste of money. And, of course, radicals have subverted the various messages. Nevertheless the commodification of the city continues and this is troubling.

In Chapter 1, following Sandel (2012), I argued that the current obsession with market values is crowding out more important values. The city branding industry provides abundant evidence to support Sandel’s argument that, without a serious debate about the role and reach of markets, we are drifting from having a market economy to being a market society. Cochrane (2007), for example, shows that place branding is not limited to selling the city to outsiders. The infatuation with selling now means that city branding messages are often played back to the residents of the cities themselves. These superficial efforts to promote city pride usually involve a dumbing down of place-based meanings and community identities.

The growth of this idea that places can be ‘sold’ is, in my view, disturbing and I wish to raise a few doubts about it. Civic leaders who strive to create an inclusive city would be wise to consider four critical questions relating to place marketing. A first question: Is this a good use of our limited resources? Any expenditure on promoting the city represents expenditure that could be spent on other objectives. It follows that city leaders need to ask the question: Why, exactly, are we doing this? The marketers need to present a convincing intellectual case setting out, with precision, why treating the city as a commodity is a great idea for all those who live in the city and, as part of this, they need to specify who, within the city, they expect to benefit. Annual monitoring of whether said benefits actually accrue to those identified beneficiaries would add rigour.

(p.94) Second, and I recognise this is a more subjective dimension, I want to ask: Does it feel right to market the place we live in as if it were a commodity? This speaks to the argument, developed at length by Sandel (2012), who suggests that some goods in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities. It follows that asking: ‘Do we really want to sell or market our place?’ is a legitimate question that needs to be answered. The literature on place marketing and city branding is largely silent on this fundamental philosophical point. Two American sociologists provide an interesting chapter on ‘Places as commodities’ and note that ‘Places have a certain preciousness for their users that is not part of the conventional concept of a commodity’ (Logan and Molotch 1987, 17, authors’ emphasis). This sentiment cannot and should not be bought and sold.

Third, the propagation of a favourable image necessitates, in many instances at least, a process that, in itself, drives social exclusion. This is because the audiences for place marketing are, on the whole, relatively wealthy. For example, attracting the international tourist is usually seen as requiring spending on city centre amenities, not neighbourhoods in need. But it is even more troubling than that. The city branding firms are busy trying to appropriate and sanitise social histories. A colourful past can, it seems, be marketed to visitors in a way that disregards alternative interpretations of urban history. Not surprisingly, this can cause offence to the communities portrayed in sanitised, tourism-oriented social histories.

Fourth, and I draw here on a conversation with the mayor of a global city who does not want to be identified. In an interview about place marketing the mayor in question, who was clearly not in favour of city branding at all, asked me: ‘Do you buy a book because it has been marketed well, or do you buy a book because it is good literature?’ This mayor believes that word-of-mouth stories about what the city is really like are what matters. He is very proud of his city, indeed his passion for the city is boundless, but he wants understanding about it to be communicated through direct experience and authentic stories – not by marketing or branding. Nonetheless, even this powerful mayor felt it was difficult to opt out of place marketing altogether.

Here, then, are some challenges for those involved in place marketing and city branding. Some cities are well aware of these issues and are developing approaches that attempt go ‘beyond branding’. For example, the City of Tacoma, Washington is working with residents to articulate a vision for the city that is rooted in the history and assets of the city. On the upside it is just possible that that innovative approaches to city branding, those that give visibility to the multiple strands of place-based identity, could have a constructive role in creating the inclusive city. However, against the grain of conventional wisdom, I am suggesting that current approaches to place marketing and city branding need to be questioned.

Place shaping and city development strategies

Having sounded some warning notes about place marketing I now turn to an important topic for civic leaders: place shaping and city development strategies. (p.95) In contrast to place marketing this is an area where investing effort really pays off, and several of the Innovation Stories presented later in the book provide compelling evidence to support this claim – from Copenhagen, Denmark to Curitiba, Brazil. There is, perhaps, a degree of confusion over what place shaping means and what city development strategies involve. I now seek to clarify these terms, while recognising that usage in different countries and contexts varies.

The idea of place-shaping, a concept that is much broader than place making, gained currency in the UK context when Sir Michael Lyons, at the request of the Labour Government, prepared a far reaching report on the future role, function and funding of local government (Lyons Inquiry 2007). In his report, which was titled Place-shaping: A Shared Ambition for the Future of Local Government, Sir Michael suggested place-shaping should be seen as the key role for elected local authorities. ‘Throughout my work, I have promoted a wider, strategic role for local government, which I have termed ‘place shaping’ – the creative use of powers and influence to promote the general well-being of a community and its citizens’ (Lyons Inquiry 2007, 3).

In practice Sir Michael was trying to combat the extreme centralisation of the British state that I referred to in Chapter 1. He was striving to enlarge the political role of UK local authorities and, in particular, to shift power from the central state to the localities across the country. Despite the soundness of his analysis the then-Labour Government was deaf to his arguments. His recommended shift in power did not take place. But, on the plus side, the report did stimulate fresh thinking about the wider purposes of elected local government. In this book I am using place shaping in the way Sir Michael intended. My definition of place shaping is: Elected local authorities adopting a strategic role to shape the places they govern in order to promote the well-being of all the people who live there. Hopefully this notion resonates internationally.

I highlight two points about this definition of place shaping. First, it is very different from traditional definitions of local government. The traditional view of local authorities is that they are seen as organisations that can play an important role in the ‘administration’ of a range of local public services. Place shaping envisages a far more outgoing and proactive role for local government. Local civic leaders do not ‘administer’ public services, they set agendas and strive to improve the local quality of life. Second, place shaping is concerned with much more than the planning and design of the built form and its relationships with nature. As the discussion of place making set out above makes clear, these are vital components of successful civic leadership. But place shaping is more strategic and broader than place making. It includes many activities that do not impact the physical environment at all, and it is concerned with the overall efforts of place-based leaders to shape the quality of life in their locality.

How do city development strategies fit into this discussion? Well-prepared strategies for urban development are invaluable in assisting local political leaders enhance their place shaping performance. At this point, it may be helpful to step back and say a few words about the changing nature of city and regional planning. (p.96) This is a big subject, and it is also clear that experience varies internationally. However, we can, perhaps, make a helpful generalisation. City and regional planning, or urban planning if you prefer, is a political and a technical process concerned with the use of land and the creation of sustainable cities. But it has changed its stripes.5

Over a period of thirty to forty years, urban planning has shifted from a focus on ‘land use planning’ to a concern for ‘spatial planning’. Non-specialists can be forgiven for thinking that these phrases mean one and the same thing. But, in the world of planning practice, they signal rather different concepts. In simple terms the ethos of planning, in many countries at least, has shifted from the preparation of plans designed to control the pattern of urban development, to a more proactive process in which planners seek to bring about particular kinds of development (Morphet 2010).

Traditional land use planning centres on the preparation of a visual, or diagrammatic, presentation of future developments. Sometimes described as master plans, at others development plans, the intention is to map the location of future infrastructure and, as often as not, to designate zones for particular kinds of activity. Attention centres on the regulation of urban development. Who might propose and implement the developments is neglected in this approach. Rather the role of planning is seen as controlling what developers do, whether they are private or public, to achieve public purpose.

Spatial planning is rather different. It focuses on the process of coordinating and integrating the actions of different agencies and actors in a locality in order to achieve political objectives. As Yvonne Rydin argues: ‘Spatial planning not only emphasises stakeholder engagement but also is based on the idea of integrating policies across different tiers of government and different policy sectors through such engagement’ (Rydin 2011, 25). There are, of course, many ways of approaching spatial planning. Some focus sharply on the promotion of economic growth, while others seek prosperity without economic growth (Jackson 2009; Rydin 2013). Yet others focus on advancing the cause of equity in the modern city (Krumholz and Forester 1990).

City development strategies involve application of the spatial planning approach I have just described. Viewed internationally we can see that cities are becoming increasingly active in preparing robust city development strategies. The international network of cities and local governments (UCLG) has promoted a creative process of city-to-city learning in relation to urban strategic planning that has been very productive. In a policy paper, that presents a helpful analysis of 21st Century city development strategies, UCLG provides a global overview of experience:

City Development Strategies (CDS) have evolved in the last decade as a tool to address new challenges and to provide a space for innovative policies which actively involve all stakeholders. Besides socio-economic (p.97) and spatial development, it is increasingly relevant to address poverty reduction and climate change.

(UCLG 2010, 10)

This UCLG study provides a useful definition of urban strategic planning, identifies the challenges facing urban leaders, offers an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches to urban strategic planning, and identifies a number of sensible recommendations. The study includes extensive analysis of practice in different continents, and it is a valuable resource for all those wishing to strengthen the role of planning in supporting place-based, civic leadership.

The power of place-based action

In this book I present a selection of inspiring Innovation Stories designed to illustrate the effectiveness of place-based leadership in action. I have chosen the High Line, New York City – a public park ‘in the sky’ – as the first Innovation Story because it helps to set the political tone for the arguments about place-based leadership that will follow. First, the High Line is a remarkable story of fine civic leadership that advances our understanding of how to create an inclusive city – of how to expand public space in the city, even against the odds. Second, and this may be surprising, it is not a story about top civic leaders, powerful figures with all the right connections, setting the agenda and making things happen in a city. On the contrary the most senior politician in New York City – then Mayor, Rudy Giuliani – thought the idea was a loser and rejected it. This, then, is a story about grassroots civic leadership, about two young men who, with no background in city planning or urban design, saw the exciting potential of a disused, elevated railway line – a structure that the powerful in the city wanted to see demolished.

In Chapter 1 I explained what an Innovation Story is. Here, I offer a brief recap. An Innovation Story, as I define it, is a short, factual account of an example of bold, place-based leadership. All the Innovation Stories in this book follow a structured format:

  • aims and objectives

  • outline of the Innovation Story

  • leadership lessons

  • further sources

A key feature is that each story attempts to identify leadership lessons. I invite you to read Innovation Story 1 as it provides an inspiring example of what place-based leadership can achieve. It shows that local activists possessed not only superior place-based knowledge, but also passionate feelings about what the future should be for ‘their’ place in the city. As we shall see powerful figures in City Hall were able to learn from the activists and, to their credit, change their approach. (p.98) Formal city leaders became active partners in a remarkable success story. So this first Innovation Story, as well as demonstrating the power of grassroots initiative, provides an excellent example of politicians and professionals learning how to see things a different way.

(p.99) (p.100) (p.101) (p.102) Gated communities and the city of fear

The High Line provides a good example of a successful effort to expand public space in the city. Unfortunately, for those who are striving to build inclusive cities, there are some strong counter currents. Powerful economic forces are working to reduce public space in the city. One of the most troubling trends in modern urban development is the growth of gated communities. The literature on the ‘gating’ of the modern city is expanding rapidly (Atkinson and Blandy 2006; Davis 1990; Glasze et al 2006; Low 2003). Ed Blakely (2007, 475), who has studied gated communities for more than twenty years, provides a discerning definition, and we will use this as our starting point. In his view gated communities are ‘residential areas with restricted access, such that spaces normally considered public have been privatised. Physical barriers – walled or fenced perimeters – and gated or guarded entrances control access’.

Note the key elements – privatisation of public space, restrictions on who can enter, and physical barriers to prevent unauthorised access. It follows that gated communities are, by definition, exclusionary. They are designed to exclude unwanted people. As we shall see, in the discussion of privatising the city that follows, these three building blocks of the gating of the city – privatisation, new controls on people and physical design to enforce exclusion – arise in commercial as well residential urban development. First we consider residential areas.

Gated housing areas

Mike Davis was one of the first writers to recognise the threat that gated communities pose for the inclusive city. His prize-winning book on Los Angeles, City of Quartz, includes a chapter on ‘Fortress LA’ in which he records the insidious growth of walled off communities. Never short of a vivid turn of phrase, he describes a ‘frenzied… residential arms race as ordinary suburbanites demand the kind of social insulation once enjoyed only by the rich’ (Davis 1990, 246). In his prescient analysis he draws attention not just to the privatisation of public space in and around the city, but also to the growth of private security firms and state-of-the-art electronic surveillance. Evan McKenzie (1994) was also ahead of his time in highlighting the growth of ‘private government’.6

(p.103) As predicted by Davis, more recent years have seen the emergence of, what Stephen Graham (2010) describes as, the new military urbanism. From this militaristic perspective ‘mixed up’ cities, bringing together a rich diversity of people, are seen as bad news. They are perceived as:

… problematic spaces, beyond the rural or exurban heartlands of authentic national communities… The construction of sectarian enclaves modelled on Israeli practice by US forces in Baghdad from 2003, for example, was widely described by US security personnel as the development of US-style “gated communities” in the country

(Graham 2011, 124).

Military urban designers strive, therefore, to construct enclaves, or colonised zones, that can be defended against external threat. This approach may well be required in a war torn country. The problem, as Graham explains, is that insidious militarism is permeating the fabric of cities and urban life across the world, including in cities where it makes no sense at all. Thus, the number of gated communities in cities worldwide is growing at a formidable rate (Glasze et al 2006; Bagaeen and Uduku 2010). Designers of gated communities may assert that they are aiming to create place-based identity for their residents, but this flimsy claim attempts to mask the fact that they are actively destroying the inclusive city.

The reasons why people choose to live in fortified enclaves of this kind are complex, but a recent, international comparative study suggests that the main driver is a perceived need for security (Bagaeen and Uduku 2010). Many residents of gated communities appear to believe that, by living behind a barrier that separates them from ‘others’, they will make their lives safer. Fear is not the only motive. For example, some people purchase, or rent, houses in gated communities out of a desire for social exclusivity. Joining a wealthy club, accessed only by the affluent, is seen as a status symbol, rather like owning a very expensive watch. But the accumulating international evidence suggests that it is fear that has resulted in the rapid growth of gated communities in the period since the 1980s.

Let’s examine this argument. The idea of people banding together and creating a fort in order to defend themselves in a hostile world has a tradition going back thousands of years. Historic fortress settlements, relics of a lawless era when the state could not provide security for citizens, can be found in societies across the world. In the past, creating walled towns and villages made a great deal of sense. Building a high wall around a community, and constructing a restricted number of strong gates in the wall, provided a defence against external aggression. At a basic level this urban form could protect residents from large wild animals as well as from armed enemies.

How relevant is this argument today? Fortunately, in most countries, residents are no longer threatened by attacks from wild animals. Moreover, the expansion of civilisation, democracy and the rule of law have, in large parts of the world, made fortress living as redundant as the need for cannons on the battlements. However, (p.104) in a strange and unsettling way, the obsession with security lives on, even in cities with low crime rates. Bauman (2006) analyses this dysfunctional feature of modern life and takes the view that we have created a fantastical ‘derivative fear.’ This can be thought of as a way of thinking that generates a feeling of insecurity, which comes to guide behaviour whether or not a menace is actually present. Those that stand to gain from exploiting these groundless fears – the designers, financiers and builders of gated communities, security firms and the like – have not been slow to fan anxieties about crime because an increase in fear will generate more profits for their fear-dependent companies.

A helpful parallel can, perhaps, be drawn with the gun control lobby in the USA. The National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to defend the right of all Americans to bear arms. In earlier, lawless times the idea of individuals carrying guns for personal defence had legitimacy. Now it is clear that, when comparisons are made with other countries, high levels of gun ownership can be shown, and this is incontrovertible, to diminish public safety on American streets and, worse than that, in American schools. The growth of gated communities is contributing to widening social segregation in the city, and this trend, like the growth in gun ownership, is actually decreasing public safety.7

Setha Low (2003), in her detailed study of life ‘behind the gates’, adds to our understanding. She presents evidence to show that gated communities in the USA are no safer than other suburbs. Indeed, in a further twist to the argument, she notes that residents of these enclaves may actually be paying out to be less safe, in that,‘Gates, in fact, may contribute to placing residents at increased risk by marking the community as a wealthy enclave where burglary is lucrative and by creating a social environment characterised by lack of social integration’ (Low 2003, 131).

Local authorities in some countries, for example, in the UK and the USA, are able to require developers to provide a specified number of social housing units for less well off tenants. Conditions of this kind are intended to promote a social mix in housing developments and to provide low paid workers with housing opportunities. However, developers of upmarket housing projects in central London and New York City are designing schemes, and getting them built, that introduce explicit social segregation. In these projects poorer residents are forced to use separate entrances, dubbed ‘poor doors’, and even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being segregated (Osborne 2014). It is troubling to note, then, that in some cities we now find that gated housing projects are deliberately designing in separate gates for the rich and the poor. It is a practice that resembles the British Victorian upstairs/downstairs distinction, with a grand entrance for the rich and a servant door round the back of the house.

The theft of public space

So much for gated residential areas. What about the privatisation of public space more generally? In many countries business interests have come to play a dominant (p.105) role in urban place making and, in a growing number of cases, this has resulted in a massive erosion of the public realm. This shift in power relating to the spaces we live in, a shift from public to private control, first became visible in the USA with the upsurge in the building of suburban shopping malls in the 1950s and 1960s. The shopping mall, the privatised alternative to the marketplace or town square, has become an extremely popular model for retail development in the last fifty years, and not just in the USA.

Margaret Kohn provides an incisive analysis of American experience with this growth in private government, and she shows how the privatisation of public space undermines the opportunities for free speech. She opens her book with the story of the arrest, in 2003, of a lawyer in the Crossgate Mall in Guilderland, New York, for wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Give Peace a Chance’ (Kohn 2004). The lawyer believed, wrongly as it happened, that his right to political expression in a shopping mall was protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. His mistake was in not realising that this right is not protected in a privately owned place. The security guards, and the police officers that handcuffed him and removed him from the mall, were on solid legal ground.8

The business takeover of public space is not just an American phenomenon. In a telling analysis of the erosion of the public realm in modern Britain, Anna Minton shows how models of urban development designed to suit private sector interests are transforming UK cities:

As the twenty-first-century corporate estates take over large parts of the city, the last decade has seen a huge shift in landownership, away from streets, public places and buildings in public ownership and towards the creation of new private estates, primarily given over to shopping and office complexes… At the same time, control of the streets is being handed back to the estates, reversing the democratic achievements of the Victorians… Today, there has been no public debate about the selling of the streets…

(Minton 2009, 20–1)

Minton’s study is meticulous and thought provoking. In particular, her work contributes to our understanding of fear in the city. She notes that the private sector controlled developments, which are now emerging in many cities across the world, aim to create environments which make a profit and which feel safe. However, these developments, while they may make vast profits for private interests, are not enhancing safety in the city.

On the contrary, they are making the city a far more fearful place. This is because the process involves us handing over our collective and personal responsibility for our safety to private companies. A consequence is that we are drifting towards a more authoritarian and less democratic city. In more recent research, co-authored with Jody Aked, Minton extends this argument by showing that well-intentioned efforts, such as the UK government-backed Secured by Design policy, is creating high security environments that appear threatening. This study (p.106) examines the militarisation of poor neighbourhoods and the roll-out of CCTV in schools and reaches a worrying conclusion: ‘Our research suggests that the physical environment we are creating is contributing to declining levels of trust and growing levels of fear’ (Minton and Aked 2012, 17).

In addition Minton is rightly scathing about the quality of the environments the market is creating:

These places are everywhere but feel like they’re nowhere in particular, devoid of local culture and history and the distinctiveness that brings. Instead they try very hard to import their own culture and vitality, but it doesn’t work, creating fake, themed environments where everything is controlled and far from unplanned and spontaneous.

(Minton 2009, 186)

While these changes in urban development are alarming, my message for the future is not a gloomy one. This is because many city leaders reject this notion of the privatised city – they have developed urban strategies to expand the public realm. Indeed, as various Innovation Stories presented later in the book will show, some of the most successful cities in the world are demonstrating that it is perfectly possible to resist efforts to privatise the public realm and create an increasingly permeable urban fabric. Innovation Stories 12 and 13, on Copenhagen and Melbourne, illustrate not just how to challenge narrow, market-dominated thinking but also how to expand public space. Interestingly, many of the private interests in these cities have realised that extending the public realm is actually good news for businesses. These progressive cities are also enhancing public safety. This is because they recognise that the safest places are well populated. In well-designed cities residents, workers, users and casual passers-by all provide ‘eyes on the street’ to informally police the public realm (Jacobs 1961; Shaftoe 2008). Place-based leadership, described in more detail in the next chapter, is the key reason why some cities are not becoming ‘could be anywhere’ sites for the commercial exploitation of people.


Over fifty years ago, Jane Jacobs, a radical thinker and reformer, wrote an incisive critique of top-down, modernist planning and urban government in the USA. Her analysis is still highly relevant for those concerned with urban leadership and city management in cities across the world today. She argued that politicians, planners, urban administrators and the like were far too ready to impose idealised, ready-made, one-size-fits-all forms of development on the city. In her view this whole approach was misguided because it disregarded the inherent complexity and singularity of urban life. For her the daily experiences of living in particular streets and neighbourhoods, with all their idiosyncratic qualities, is what mattered – the particular places in the city and the way they functioned needed to be (p.107) understood. Her book is full of sound advice, nowhere more so than in relation to local place shaping:

Planning for vitality must promote continuous networks of local street neighbourhoods, whose users and informal proprietors can count to the utmost in keeping the public spaces of the city safe, in handling strangers so that they are an asset rather than a menace, in keeping tabs on children in places that are public.

(Jacobs 1961, 421)

In this chapter I have provided an introduction to the meaning of place and set out the main reasons why place should be given much more attention in public policy. The discussion has considered three main ways in which place features in urban policy-making – place making, place marketing, and place shaping. In an effort to clarify thinking I have defined these various terms. By drawing insights from the practice of a number of innovative cities, and on my own experience of working with policy-makers in a number of cities across the world, I have suggested that place making can and should play a vital role in urban leadership. In contrast to this view, I have questioned the relevance and usefulness of current approaches to place marketing. Finally, I have discussed place shaping and the role of city development strategies. I concluded that these are key elements, indeed essential components, of effective place-based leadership.

A vital question that runs through this chapter is: Whose place are we talking about? I have suggested that defending and expanding the public realm should be the focus of attention for all civic leaders today. I have noted that holding onto public space and, indeed, holding onto public purpose, is now increasingly difficult because of the unhealthy growth in place-less power. The public, or civic, realm is under attack from economic forces that see the city as a profit-making machine. Particularly troubling is the fact that these forces are also helping to create unsafe, fearful cities, and that an increasing number of people seem to think they will be safer if they live in fortified compounds. This is not a good sign.

Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of place-based leaders in cities who are actively mapping out a different future for cities – one that expands, rather than diminishes, the public realm. In this chapter I have presented the first Innovation Story of the book – the story of the High Line in New York City. It shows how community-based activists can, if they have imagination, energy and tenacity, make a significant impact on the quality of life in a city. Here local activism has created a beautiful ‘park in the sky’ that is open to all. In the next chapter we will turn to examine the nature of place-based leadership in more detail, and more inspirational Innovation Stories will follow.


(1) We should note that some feminists have offered a critique of the notion that ‘home’ is, necessarily, a secure and peaceful place. In simple terms the argument they present is that, for women, the home may be a place of work, a place of conflict and even an arrangement for women’s oppression. For a discussion of space, place and gender see Massey (1994).

(2) I offer just one example, drawn from my own experience. While working for the Chief Executive of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council in the 1970s I was honoured to be involved in setting up a comprehensive system of area management in the borough. Stockport was the first English authority to devolve powers to place-based area committees of councillors, a system that is now embedded in the political structure of the borough. To handle decision-making the bureaucracy developed a form of matrix management with some officers having dual accountability – to departmental and area-based sources of authority. An examination of the creation of the scheme is provided in Hambleton (1978).

(3) There is some evidence to suggest that business thinkers are beginning to recognise that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, even when viewed from a narrow profit seeking point of view. This is because all business is local (Quelch and Jocz 2012). Many global companies now strive to present themselves as locally oriented and eco-friendly. For example, IBM claims it creates ‘Solutions for a Small Planet’ and HSBC marketing literature claims that it is ‘The world’s local bank’. Assertions of this kind may, of course, be just spray-on coatings designed to mask a global machine that remains unresponsive to the needs of particular places. Much depends on whether decision-making power in such companies is devolved in a massive way to managers working in particular localities.

(4) The Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘brand’ is: a) a particular make of goods, or b) an identifying trademark, label etc. Either way it is a commercial concept. Inevitably, therefore, the use of the word brand in the context of cities or places involves a commodification of these places. A particular trademark has to be defined and communicated. Much city branding and place marketing activity therefore involves the manipulation of information and imagery about a given place in order to present a desired message (Anholt 2010; Dinnie 2011; Go and Govers 2013; Zavattaro 2013).

(5) The discussion here simplifies a complex set of debates relating to the changing nature of city and regional planning. For more extended treatments please see: Adams and Tiesdell 2013; Haughton et al 2010; Morphet 2010; and Rydin 2011.

(6) Evan McKenzie, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, maintains an insightful blog on the growth of private government in the USA: http://privatopia.blogspot.co.uk

(p.338) (7) The tragic killing of a black teenager in a gated community in the USA in 2012 illustrates, in an alarming way, Bauman’s argument about the effects of a pervasive culture of fear. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed, African American student, walked into a gated community in Sanford, Florida on 26 February 2012. George Zimmerman, a local resident, shot him dead. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder, but was acquitted because the prosecution were unable to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. When Zimmerman was acquitted in July 2013, there was a national outcry.

(8) In the USA the legal arguments around what is a public space and what is not continue to this day. Kohn (2004) explains that, in the landmark decision Lloyd v. Tanner (1972), the Supreme Court found that the right to free speech only extends to activity on public not private property. However, in a subsequent decision, Pruneyard v. Robbins (1980), the Supreme Court indicated that a shopping mall, unlike a home or a private club, issues an invitation to the general public and therefore opens itself up to certain kinds of regulations. This means that free speech in privately owned places, although not protected by the US Constitution, can, potentially at least, enjoy protection by state legislation, if the place is publicly accessible. Plenty of work for lawyers here, you might say.