A Super City to be feared or cherished?

So just what do those 2050 folks mean when they say they want a Super City?  Does it mean joining up Gloucester City and Cheltenham Town with new housing to create a Super City – simply called so because of its size?  I sincerely hope not and believe that’s not what’s being proposed.  If that’s all we deliver then we will have failed.  Yes, when you add up the population of what the Super City could be – taking together Cheltenham, Gloucester and parts of Tewkesbury Borough – it will be large, but does that mean we shouldn’t even consider it?  How else might we understand the “super” in Super City?

The Oxford English Dictionary (and yes I still use one) defines “super” as “exceptional, splendid”, “to a great or extreme degree”, “extra good or large of its kind” or even “of a higher kind”.  So, you can take your pick but I’m going to focus on the “of a higher kind” meaning.

Ok, I hear you ask, just what does that mean?  To me it means radically changing the way we do our planning and the delivery of major transformational projects including housing and the associated infrastructure.  It means ending the competition between Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Gloucester, and working together in designing and delivering a Super City that is “citizen led”.  And most of all it means us all taking off our respective hats, be that as councillors, protestors, special interest groups or even developers, and remembering that, after all, we have one thing in common, and that is we are all people who want to live somewhere nice and want to help shape the future!

We should be coming together in true partnership to deliver a Super City that is not to be greeted with gloom and despair, but one founded on excitement, realism and pride.  Built by seeking out and providing the solutions to our health, education, employment and day-to-day living that presents us with enough challenges today, let alone tomorrow.

Now is the time to throw off the shackles of old ways of thinking and acting, and form a development partnership, a “joint venture” if you like, between local government, commerce, business, and most of all the people.  Why not get that up and running now so it can provide leadership at the time it is needed, and it is not just left to developers and councils to spend years in endless meetings too-ing and fro-ing over who said what, who agreed what and who pays for what?  That doesn’t mean the end to our local councils but means we work together to respect our diversity, play to our strengths and complement not compete with each other.

Let’s start the debate now and get people asking questions.  What will our young people of tomorrow want?  More of the same that is currently denying them the opportunity to own or even rent a house with any security of tenure? What can we provide for our older people in terms of choices of housing so that they can downsize and stay independent in their own homes? Do our health providers want a larger say in where we build so that we can have dementia friendly housing, housing that reduces social isolation, loneliness and improves mental health for all age groups?  Let’s put care homes next to schools next to green areas.  Do our homes need to be capable of adapting for three generations to live in?  Will a Super City be all electric?

And let’s be radical about car ownership and the dreaded P word, “Parking” because things will change.  My VW is six years old and it can park itself so stop thinking that driverless cars will always be a thing of the future – how can we embrace the opportunities they bring rather than challenge the idea in some utopian preference for the status quo?  Does public transport of the future mean driverless coaches running around the Super City giving regular and reliable access to all?  No, you’ll never get me in something driverless, many people might say – yet how many of us get on the Docklands Light Railway in London, without a thought that there is no-one at the front in control? And over a hundred million passengers a year still do!  Can we have less car usage and so, instead of miles of tarmac, give us more green spaces for leisure and food production?

A Super City where profit is allowed, because it’s not always a dirty word, but also where some of that profit is ploughed back into the community that lives there – true Garden City principals of Community Governance and Land Value Capture.  Let’s be radical, let’s be bold and let’s not just have the status quo – let’s start planning a Super City where we all have an equal say.

When this Super City is finally realised many of the inhabitants haven’t even been born yet.  We have time on our side.  Do we start the conversation now or do we leave it until later when that time will have slipped through our fingers and we will have to do things in a hurry and generally fail the children of tomorrow?  No – let’s join in now and lay down, even literally, the foundation stones.

What is the point of building new first-class hospitals, universities and employment facilities if the quality of life measured outside those outstanding projects is even more poor than today?  Where, in order to get to those very facilities, we have to drive through congested roads, surrounded by more “same old, same old” urban fringe development and soulless developments.

So, let’s not be constrained by the problems of the past.   Instead, let’s seize the opportunity we have and give a thought about what our grandchildren might want out of a Super City and aim high from the start – let’s make sure we do truly have a vision, a Super City, of something that is indeed “of a higher kind”.

Rob Garnham
Rob Garnham – giving entirely his own views from experience as a local Councillor, a director of Mediation in Planning Ltd and a family man committed to the future of Gloucestershire



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