This week we will reconvene to review the first ConnectingBrighton event and talk about what happens next. To help form a view of the future, I thought it would be useful (for me) to look back at how it emerged.
Midway through 2014, the local council launched a publicity campaign spelling out the upcoming challenges of population change and massively shrinking council budgets. It seemed to me that there was no master plan to address it and so I wondered what could be done.
That September, I pitched the idea to a group of local businesses and investors of an event to talk about these issues and connect different sectors and communities. The reaction was good so I started looking at potential venues and asked around for help.
In October, I met Prof Zef Hemel at a “Future Cities” event in London and heard him talking about city identities and community involvement in planning. I was really pleased that Zef agreed to come over and speak at our event.
Towards the end of January, I met with Jenni and we started talking about connecting different sectors, “Happy Cities” and new ways of community working.
In February, I met with Brighton Digital Festival Manager, Jesse Black Mooney. We talked about Amsterdam’s interpretation of a “smart city” and how something similar might work in Brighton.
Soon after Jenni joined Ethos VO, in March, I floated the idea on our internal network of holding an event at the Brighton Digital Festival. Jenni suggested doing one about what it means to be a smart city and what a smart Brighton could be. We came up with a “statement of purpose” and got to work.
Looking back, I wonder whether presenting the event as part of the Digital Festival and linking it to the “smart cities” debate was helpful or confusing (maybe it was both!). My sense is that our intention was always to look beyond digital technology and reclaim the notion of a “smart city” as one that is first and foremost human.
So what next?
In my view, ConnectingBrighton is essentially a story that can help to bring people and organisations together, to improve life in Brighton & Hove. It could happen in many different ways: at a big event, in a small group, one-to-one, online, through art.. For me, ConnectingBrighton could be the story that gives those connections meaning. I think there is a need for a narrative, and dreams, that are bigger than politics, religion, business, technology, and so on. One that allows people to see beyond sector boundaries and helps to bind the community. I think that technology can play a significant role to amplify the story and strengthen connections but we need to focus above all on the quality of our relationships.
There are countless ways to build the story but I agree with Jenni that there needs to be more support for it to grow. Perhaps one way is to join up with the next city bid project, for example, the current Urban Living call.
Paradoxically, I also feel that it needs to be owned by both everyone and no one. It needs leaders to help support and facilitate the conversations and story building but I don’t think it can be associated too strongly with one or other person or organisation. Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming another segment. It needs to be really easy for anyone and everyone to jump in and take it to the next level.