The next two days will see almost 200 delegates from across the world and the UK assemble in Edinburgh for the inaugural World Towns Leadership Summit. Stemming from an initial idea from the International Downtown Association, picked up by the Association of Town and City Management and BIDS Scotland, and turned into reality by Scotland’s Towns Partnership (it needs to be recorded that I am Chair of STP, but the hard work on the Summit has been done by others), this Summit seeks to showcase and help Scotland in its town and urban area renaissance and to bring together place managers with interesting ideas and practices to learn from each other and to agree if possible a concordant (The World Towns Agreement).
The programme is available here and after the event there will be summaries, learnings and reflections hosted in a variety of locations and websites. No doubt there will be my own reflections on this blog in due course. In one sense the outcome may not be immediately recognisable (though see below) as a key aim of the Summit is to get people together to set opportunities and projects in motion. That will take time and is about setting the directions for the future. Intangibles are often hard to pin down!
So, why has the world come to Scotland to talk towns?
Over the last four or so years, Scotland has stolen a march over other places in that we have carried out a comprehensive national review of towns, created active policy via the town centre action plan and established a small group/body (Scotland’s Towns Partnership) as a driver of change and a knowledge hub. We have developed evidence, tools and a range of approaches to help shape ideas locally and encourage local leadership and action, many of which have had discussion on this blog before. Full details of all of these can be found at Scotland’s Towns Partnership and many of the elements have been discussed on this blog.
In all this, Scotland has recognised the very complex issues faced by towns but also the fact that towns are critical to the country’s economic and social success. The need to deliver a more competitive and socially just economy means that towns are pivotal in our future.
This is not to underplay the challenges. We have neglected our towns for decades and allowed them to become displaced, unconnected and often unloved. The changes of decentralisation, not only in retailing, dysfunctional housing and property markets, the ongoing fall out from the global crisis are all huge challenges to places and towns. But there are also significant opportunities in a shift to low carbon, increase relocalisation, redesign of towns to meet shifting demographics, desires and needs, including greenspace, health, enterprise, digital connectivity and social justice.
The World Towns Agreement which is being shaped over the next few days can help drive positive change – towns being recognised as unique places underpinned by economic and environmental outcomes delivered through sharing leadership from new and existing collaborations.
The world has come to Scotland to talk towns because we are recognised as trying to join up this agenda and make ourselves proud of our towns and urban places. We have a long way to go, and much to learn about how best to do this, both from our own local actions but also our international partners and guests. It should be fascinating and could be ground-breaking.
If you are on Twitter then join in or follow the Summit via @WTLS_16 and #WTLS16