Tuesday 20 September 2011

How does Norwich face "the economic equivalent of war"?

Business Secretary Vince Cable said yesterday in a speech at the Liberal Democrat Conference that "we now face a crisis that is the economic equivalent of war". This kind of harsh analogy does not come as a surprise to me or, I would bet, to many of you. We have known for years that we cannot go back to "business as usual" and are aware that the financial crisis "never went away", but has only been hidden by bureaucrats and statisticians.

But in Norwich, business has gone on as usual over the past few months and years. The problem, as those who met at the last Economics and Livelihoods meeting established, is that business as usual for Norwich includes higher than average unemployment, underdeveloped regions of the city, and loss of many of our industries to faraway countries, or, at best, other UK cities, as well as fragmented communities. Such a business as usual cannot continue. It is not sustainable!

Over the past few months, I have been doing some research into what sorts of action might be possible in Norwich to change this trend - how we can simultaneously stimulate the local economy, create jobs, and develop Norwich's built environment in a sustainable way. With inspiration from the Transition Network Conference and the success of projects in other parts of the country, an idea for the development of this programme is beginning to form in my mind.

In the spirit of collaborative community, we, as responsible citizens, must step in and drive forward our interests, rather than rely on the initiative of others to act on our behalf. In the current spirit of government cuts, such initiative will not be taken. The inspiration for this project instead comes from Eldonian Group, of Liverpool and Sustaining Dunbar, both of which I heard about at the Transition Conference. Both are social enterprises which strive to develop towards a more sustainable future and this includes ensuring that any projects that come out of it are financially sustainable too, bringing in a return for their local community.

It is essential, in my view, that any development, as well as being economically sustainable in itself, should raise the value of the community in general (in terms of well-being, as well as economically), and should pay its contributors fairly for any work done to achieve this.

Step one of this development process to improve our city is visioning. We need to construct a shared vision of what personality and feel we want an area to have, and then can start looking at the specific actions that might bring this vision about.

Although several areas of the city have been identified as in need of development, the first that I intend to target with this project is the region of St Augustines Street, just North of the centre, where the new "gyratory" (one-way system) has paved the way (quite literally in this case!) for further development.

8/10/11: Details of a visioning session are here on the Transition Norwich news website.

Images: Vince Cable speaking at the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011 by Liberal Democrats; St Augustines Street during construction of the gyratory, by Evelyn Simak.

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