Towns, especially in the North, need to feel hopeful places. How can we make this happen?
Urban regeneration has become something odd in recent years, so currently it is absolutely about residential property, land values, and buy-to-rent or buy-to-leave capital investments.
And the so-called Industrial Towns have been hit hardest, now too often post-industrial towns, declining High Streets, closing libraries, public services under constant strain, the public realm a mash of litter, pot-holes, and make-do patches, buses once every two hours, nothing much after 7pm, and costing almost as much as a taxi.
The ideas coming out of the USA to counter austerity *and* climate breakdown focus on a Green New Deal. In the UK there is interest in this approach from some backbench Labour MPs and in the Green party.
The north of England has got in name a Northern Powerhouse, but without funds and without legal powers. An obvious early project would be railway electrification. Jobs and climate breakdown. Just stand at Victoria station in Manchester or New Street in Birmingham and try and breathe – this is how ridiculous we have become.
But even with top-down funding and powers, there is essential work that must be done bottom-up, with communities, and in places where international capital isn’t “investing” or sucking the money out.
For example, every town should have an art cafe. Probably next door to its youth centre. And a theatre space, probably flexibly designed for functions and civic events. In short, a “scene” which doesn’t see every likely 18-year old heading off to the nearest city for anything exciting or rewarding.
Funds will be needed, but we also need ideas and ambition to build hopeful towns.