Do you feel like you belong in this city?
Do you feel like this city belongs to you?
I ask these questions because the last week has seen such a slew of announcements and consultations about all manner of significant changes and interventions that I really wonder how anyone is supposed to keep up – let alone feel like they have any degree of influence over what happens.
Just to recap some of what’s gone on in the last seven days:
- proposals for major redevelopments of the Council’s housing estates at Ekin Road and Fanshawe Road
- presentation by the owners of the Beehive Centre who want to redevelop it as a science park
- reporting on the next phase of the programme to map out the future of the Market Square
- release of the summary of responses to the consultation on the First Proposals of the next Greater Cambridge Local Plan
- discussion of the GCP’s plans to redesign the city’s road hierarchy (access restrictions) and remove car parking
- reporting on the multiple safety failings of the Guided Busway and recommended mitigations including permanently halving the speed limit on the southern section
- planning applications which reveal competing uses of our public open spaces and development pressures affecting local nature reserves
- debate over the sale of property on Council developments to overseas buyers
- insight into the government’s current thinking about the development of the ‘OxCam Arc’
It’s been positive to see the coverage of the majority of those stories in local media but this has to be set against the falling readership over the last two decades; the Cambridge News is selling around 4k copies a day in 2021 compared to 21k copies in 2011. And the increasing transience of the Cambridge population makes it even harder for people to ‘engage’.
Yes, there are now many online channels, with greater or lesser degrees of formality, but that actually makes it harder to discern any overarching narrative of the current state and future direction of the city.
Why does any of this matter?
And what can be done to change it?
It matters for all the reasons laid out in this article by Antony Carpen. If people don’t feel a sense of belonging, it’s bad for them and bad for the community they live in.
For example, I’m very disappointed (though not surprised) to hear that not enough volunteers have come forward to make it possible to run Cherry Hinton Festival this year. It’s a big loss and, unless we can find ways to nurture volunteering capacity, more events are likely to follow the same fate, especially given the impact of the cost of living crisis on people’s ability to contribute time and/or money towards making them happen.
As to what can be done to change things, I firmly believe the answer lives in our neighbourhoods, and in connecting people with place and with each other. In my opinion, Monday’s South Area Committee (comprising Queen Edith’s, Cherry Hinton and Trumpington councillors) worked better than usual in terms of scrutinising the GCP officer presenting about the impact of the plans on our roads; but I fear only a handful of people were watching, and only one member of the public asked a question.
Instead, I’d like us to move to a model of more frequent and ward-specific meetings, with officers from across a range of City and County Council teams on hand to answer residents’ questions and explain their approach.
Yes, it will take officer time and I understand all the reasons why that’s in short supply right now. But if we care about a joined-up approach to the lives of current and future residents in our city, then this is an investment that we need to make. Otherwise we run the risk that people detach still further, and the vision of ‘Our Cambridge’ transformation programme, with its reliance on greater partnership working, will be dead in the water from the start.