Knitting the threads together

To drive a city forward there need to be a few powerful ideas around which disparate communities of interest can gather and coalesce. These should capture the imagination by tapping into deeply felt desires and widely acknowledged assets, or even problems, but only if solutions are also proffered. They need to be simply, but not simplistically, expressed in order to communicate well.

The results need to be communicated not as a clutter of facts, but as visible achievements that can be seen and felt in the way the city goes about its business and in its urban landscape. That is why we need to integrate attitudinal change with activities, programmes and initiatives as well as physical manifestations such as in urban design and infrastructure. Together these have a psychological impact. To do this well requires whole of government approaches and not scatter-gun initiatives.

Resources to achieve transformation will not magic themselves out of nowhere. They will be harnessed by doing things better largely within the same resource base. Much of this does not cost money, or at least very little. But this can happen only by rethinking through what capital, collaboration, connections and communications are available. An under-explored form of capital is confidence. When we tap this energy, motivation and will follow. If we focus only on one without attention to the others, the city is managing itself badly. Leading a city is about managing all its forms of capital together.

Additional resources come from collaboration because, if people and organizations follow jointly agreed ends, more value can be created and greater impact achieved without wasting time and resources by contradicting each other. This is why the need to think through new governance arrangements for the city and to see it as an interconnected asset is highlighted.

Connections, linkages and networks are a key resource. They are the software system of the city, society and economy. Getting people and sectors to talk together and finding ways to broker that talking does not cost much and can have great impact in terms of understanding, strategic decision-making, the generation of projects and, ultimately, wealth creation. Yet nobody takes this on as their role. Connections are not valued because the focus is on tangible deliverables. But they are the invisible assets that make the networking-driven economy work. And this should be the joint responsibility of both business and various levels of government. There should be two foci for connections, both internally and to the outside world. This is what we have called 'capturing territory'.

Communicating with strategic intent and sophistication through iconic triggers generates resources because, when done well, it engenders response, energy and will.

While every city needs to be imaginative, some need to be doubly so. They must self-create through inventiveness, but to begin the process they must overcome the culture of constraint. This means a subtle shift in mindset, which is the order within which people structure their worlds and how they make choices, both practical and idealistic, based on values, philosophy, traditions and aspirations. Mindset is our accustomed, convenient way of thinking and our guide to decision-making. Mindset is the settled summary of our prejudices and priorities and the rationalizations we give them.

A changed mindset is a rerationalization of a person's behaviour, because people like their behaviour to be coherent, at least to themselves. The crucial issue is how people at every level can change their approach systematically, not piece by piece.

The challenge is to find a story or narrative and linked structure that forces a change in perception. The notion of the metropolis as an interconnected asset and the idea of 'learning to be a city' and revaluing hidden assets could do the trick.

Strong ideas or themes have a significant impact on how things are conceived, the role of discipline, and collaboration and implementation. For example, conceiving a place as a metropolis, or shifting the policy on education to centre around the child rather than the professional, or changing the name of risk policy.

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