This time last week I attended the Vibrant Leeds event organised by Grant Thornton. Bringing together over 300 people from private, public and third sectors, the event set out to encourage the sharing of ideas on how we can make Leeds a home in which all sectors can connect to create inclusive growth.
It was inspiring to be part of such a diverse and upbeat conversation, with the approach of exploring the opportunities, rather than the problems, through an ‘Appreciative Inquiry’, making quite a change to the usual type of meeting I attend.
It was also great to be part of such a wide sector debate. It’s all too easy for us to become entrenched in our own worlds, our own sector, resulting in us perhaps discussing the same viewpoints or singular issues. Instead, many opportunities were discussed and creatively presented (there was even a limerick) from diversity and inclusivity to creating a city-wide transport system, devolving powers and unlocking local talent. But the main point I took away was the need to become better connected - in more ways than one! The importance of the whole region working together is instrumental to our success.
Leeds has long been considered to be developer driven with pockets of well-designed (and welcomed additions) new development, for example The Arena, Trinity Shopping Centre, offices on Wellington Place and John Lewis. But what seems to be missing is an overall plan to integrate these into the area and use them as a catalyst for development in the vicinity. As a result, we have an assortment of standalone developments, rather than a collection of areas that have an established sense of place.
With a population of over 1 million people and a healthy (and growing) economy, Leeds has much to celebrate. Take the city centre for example, we are seeing an ever growing market for Grade A office, flats and retail, but are we missing a trick?
Does Leeds lack focus, both conceptually and in urban design terms? Like other cities there is a lot we can do to become more inclusive, diverse, sustainable, connected, harness local talents and skills, but time and therefore delivery is critical.
Could we use the cities successful growth to speed this up? I think development should be the way for us to unlock this potential (and quickly). If we started to plan and design new developments more strategically, we could integrate them more appropriately into the City. A string of themed quarters/centres, connected via quality urban spaces and appropriate opportunities for local people/communities could be the answer and create the sense of place we need. Next question is – who’s in?!
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