Following on from my last blog, SURE student Jonny Emery and I have been doing a lot of thinking about the Business Improvement District as a sustainable model of urban open space management. One of the themes we are interested in can be considered as a set of questions:
• Who makes decisions about BIDs and BID activities in a place?
• Who is affected by these decisions?
• Are these the same people?
As the neighbourhoods that BIDs cover become increasingly mixed-use, residents will have neighbours who are not residents. And the sorts of activities that happen in mixed-use BID areas are around consumption – often well into the night! Are residents on the BID Boards? Are their views represented and heard?
This made me think about some research I was involved in a few years ago. Colleagues up in Edinburgh talked to residents in the city’s Grassmarket area. Grassmarket is an important open space in the city which was regenerated in 2007-8. It is a simple paved area with trees and benches, surrounded by a lively mixture of uses, including housing, shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels. The aims of the regeneration were to improve the physical environment; attract more visitors to benefit local businesses; and make the space more attractive for public use.
‘Place-keeping’ was considered at the design stage of the Grassmarket improvements and a ‘Grassmarket Forum’ was set up to advise about ongoing management issues. This was a consultative group of diverse local interests, including residents and traders, chaired by a local councillor, working with Council officers to oversee maintenance issues.
Marilyn Higgins and colleagues at Heriot-Watt University interviewed traders, local councillors, public officials as well as the scheme designer who all agreed that it was an improvement and that the goals have been substantially realised.
However, some residents strongly disagreed, feeling that economic drivers, including tourism and the night-time economy, were given a higher priority over them. Although most interviewees viewed the Grassmarket Forum as a successful initiative improving dialogue, a number of residents resented the fact it had no decision-making powers and see it as rubber-stamping Council initiatives. A new Grassmarket Residents’ Association (GRASS) was borne out of this process and they also wrote their own report about this.
While it look as if the Grassmarket Forum has disappeared, I don't think GRASS has. And a new BID - Greater Grassmarket - has been created. I wonder if things have improved for residents since the BID was created in 2013 and will be in place until at least 2016? I might need to catch a train to Edinburgh soon to find out for myself…