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Willie Miller's Blog

This is Willie Miller's Blog.

Some brief notes on European cities and public sector investment

September 14th, 2009

Having just returned from four days in Bordeaux with the Academy of Urbanism and also having visited Leipzig, Dresden, Dessau and Marseilles in the last few months,  being back in Glasgow is somewhat depressing.  Yes it's nice to be home but really the quality and scale of investment in the urban fabric of these European cities by the public sector is breathtaking.  We are constantly told that we can't do this or that in Scottish cities while other European cities are prospering through public sector investment.

In the case of Bordeaux, over one billion Euros have been spent on a tram system that has completely transformed the development of the city, structuring placemaking initiatives within the urban fabric and determining the direction  and form of extensions to the urban area.  This is for a city of 250,000 population serving a metropolitan area of 1.5 million people - that puts Bordeaux somewhere between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The point is that this is not just a public transport initiative or a measure aimed at reducing car usage - it is actually a key strategic component of the city's development into the 21st century linking employment areas, public realm initiatives, placemaking, education and housing and wrapping them into a comprehensive development framework for the city.  No PFI, no PPP, no deals with the private sector - just straightforward public investment in city infrastructure.  Can you imagine trying to do this in Scotland?

The scale of cultural comparison is enormous - it is as though we were inexorably linked to a collection of useless constructs including:

  • a ridiculous over-respect for the value of private sector investment
  • a desire to embrace absurd standards in health and safety
  • a morbid fear of contemporary design
  • a complete arse-over-tit attitude to the provision of infrastructure.

There's more of course but this will do for now.

Those involved in strategic planning issues around urbanism and how we live in the 21st century have much to think about, much to do and much to learn from European cities.  Perhaps we should offer up a prayer for them which starts - "please save us from ourselves".

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