Cultural cities and eco tourism - Part 1 report


The re-vitalised Burrell Collection, exterior space - CGI courtesy Glasgow Life




Future Cities Forum held its 'Cultural Cities' event this week with discussions on the value of the arts to re-invigorate the high street, the growth of eco-tourism and the importance of high quality public realm to attract visitors and workers back to the city centre.


Chief Executive of Wigan Council, Alison McKenzie-Folan spoke of the funding that the council has received from the UK government and via Historic England, to restore the quality of the streetscape and the historic fabric of King Street:


'That historic environment is beautiful and important in our place making for communities. King Street is known as a late night drinking place and the streets around it haven't been looked after. We are improving the public realm working with artists and the creative sector so it can be celebrated 24/7. The plans also include creating apartment living, space for business, and late night entertainment. The centre piece is the Grade Two listed theatre and there will be an array of cultural activity curated around it. By 2024 it will be a go-to place for residents and tourists linking to cultural activities across the borough. The 'Fire Within' is our cultural manifesto and we are grateful for the investment we have received from Arts Council England. The Galleries is an unoccupied shopping centre in the town and the council has brought in artists who took over spaces and put on exhibitions - 50,000 visitors came to see them and so we have made the shopping place once again a destination people want to come to. There is rehearsal space behind the scenes for musicians and we are keen to explore how artists can bring cultural life to Wigan.'


Historic England's Regional Director (Midlands), Louise Brennan joined the conversation, commenting:


'It is important to say that it isn't just money that helps revive places like Wigan. It comes down to leadership and community engagement which we have in the town. All our research from the HAZ (High Streets Action Zone) programme talks about the value of culture to wellbeing. Our survey in August last year showed that 49% pf people were not yet satisfied with culture on the high street, but 51% felt more connected with their high street during the pandemic. Wigan has just such a clear vision and momentum there to keep going. Ian McKellen who played at the Royal Court Theatre Wigan in his early career, thinks it's great too.


'High street is heritage for everyone, as there is no pay barrier. People talked about all the stories they have of where they live and their emotional connections. They probably do not look at the old buildings and think of it as heritage, but love it for all sorts of reasons. When the shopping malls were built in the 1970s, they were ten a penny and shared a similar approach to architecture. People tend to prefer the independent shops which give them a sense of pride and they are important to the economy.'


The discussion turned to cities which have their cultural attractions outside the centre with developing and sustainable transport and net zero ambitions. Glasgow Life's Deputy Chief Executive, Susan Deighan, who leads on tourism and visitor strategy to 2023, talked about improving transport to the internationally famous art collection, The Burrell, outside the city in Pollok Park and due to open to the public again after extensive renovation:


'The Burrell is set in a large and green space off the motorway and hosting the world's biggest conference COP 26 in Glasgow, we have been working on sustainability for some years in preparation. Glasgow has been on the world global destination sustainability index since 2016 - and we are now 4th in the world. The city has a net zero target by 2030, so sustainability and low carbon design was all part of project for the re-invention of The Burrell. We have received just over £68 million in investment, so naturally some of that money has gone into thinking about how you get to The Burrell which stands in a large park. We have had over million visitors a year to the park and it is connected by really good public transport with signage at train stations. We are now working on sustainable transport when inside the park We have had to close the park to cars since during the pandemic everyone was driving into it and now creating good way finding, electric vehicle charging points, ways to separate out pedestrians and cyclists from cars and allowing electric bikes in to the space along with wider woodland management.'


The pandemic has increased people's understanding of the value of spending time in outdoor spaces and Neil MacOmish, Board Director at Scott Brownrigg spoke of the wider interest in eco-tourism and the development in Ayrshire of The Barony.


'It is built in a disenfranchised part of Scotland and our client asked us to consider using a Maori influence to help 'make a place that makes a story'. We have turned an ex coal mine into a new place but had to ask questions around what generates the sense of a new place. Part of the site had been overgrown but we noticed a raft of silver birch trees and thought why not push people into the tree canopy where people can then stay and holiday. There are other facilities there - productive landscapes like our market garden which adds and demonstrates the value to the circular economy and makes the experience of the visitor that much richer. Unless we visit and have a tactile sense of where we are, places can fail. There is a big educational side to the project with arts trails and exhibitions of projected ecologies, where mapped out ecologies of the site show significance beyond the UK. There are different types of accommodation with affordable points of entry around our market garden block. There is a mining museum, and also education and wellbeing programmes linked with several universities and trusts. It is about a creating a proper wealth system for the site.'


Watch out for Part 2 of our 'Cultural cities and eco-tourism' discussions in next week's newsletter.

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