Can investments in better connected Cities make us happier?

December 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Happiness and well-being are often used interchangeably. However, happiness is associated with the pleasant feeling accompanying certain events which then contributes to the general state of our well-being. Subsequently, unhappy experiences reduce our state of well-being and the reduction of those experiences should be at the heart of policy decisions.

The Human Development Index often serves as an indicator for countries’ well-being and well developed countries tend to be the home of happier people. Thus, as Stevenson and Wolfers argue, “there appears to be a very strong relationship between subjective well-being and income”. However, Layard points out as soon as a country reaches an income of USD 15,000 pear head, the correlation between happiness and income is insignificant. Moreover, a report by Gallup and Healthways which places Panama and Costa Rica ahead of well developed countries such as Denmark and Austria in terms of their degree of happiness. A similar argument can be made at the city level. In London, for example, the economic status of individual boroughs does not necessarily correlate with the degree of happiness of their population. Read more

‘Devo met’: an idea whose time has come

December 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

This article was originally published by Policy Network

With a series of significant new pledges since his ‘northern powerhouse’ speech in June, George Osborne seems determined to own the city growth agenda. How can Labour get back on the front foot?

Cities are at the heart of a new bidding war between the main political parties. The autumn statement and the Manchester devolution deal, underline the chancellor’s determination to own the city growth agenda. So far we have had major infrastructure, new public service powers, a ‘metro mayor’ and an advanced science institute for the north, all following George Osborne’s ‘northern powerhouse’ speech in June.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg’s ‘northern futures’ project has been seeking to drive city innovation and Vince Cable has been claiming credit for delivering the new science funding for Manchester. For Labour it looks like an early lead lost, with the Adonis Growth Review and the party’s policy commission, led by Jon Cruddas, both staking out city devolution territory – in the form of a proposed £30bn of devolved funding to combined authorities – that was not subsequently built on. Read more

World Cities day – from Devo Met to Bogota

November 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Last week Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos toured European capitals seeking to drum up support for the peace negotiations he is presiding over in Havana, between his Government and the main Columbian guerilla group FARC.

The week before I was in his capital city at the UN Habitat World Cities Conference.  The event was scheduled to coincide with the first ever UN designated World Cities Day. And I was the guest of the Economic Secretariat of Bogota.

Flushed with the success of our RSA City Growth Commission Report, I set off to Columbia somewhat apprehensive that my experience in looking at the potential of devolution for metropolitan areas in Britain may not seem quite so relevant to conference participants largely drawn from the urban policy community in Latin America.  But to my pleasant surprise I found that there were a number of areas of common interest – which was a relief as I had already sent my Prezi off to be loaded on the AV system before I left the UK! Read more

Did the Power to Create bring down the Berlin Wall?

November 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

9 November 1989: My parents were in a rush to get me and my brothers to our grandparents. It was a spontaneous rather than planned trip and I was too young to understand why my parents were suddenly in a hurry, yet I was old enough to understand that ‘something big’ was unfolding on that particular day.

Just a few hours later, my parents were crossing the border into East Germany, heading to Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Wall. Although I was unable to grasp the historical importance of that day in the autumn of 1989, this day is one of my earliest childhood memories.

The breakdown of the physical barrier dividing Germany and indeed Europe led also to the breakdown of a barrier that severely limited the power, indeed the freedom, to create. Whilst the fall of the Wall was an interplay of several several factors and individuals, (The Hoff claims he was one of them) the desire of East Germans to be free and to take their lives into their own hands – to gain the power to create their own lives – was probably the most decisive factor. Read more

Cities: Our Beacons of Hope

October 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Over the last twelve months, the RSA’s City Growth Commission has assessed how cities can be empowered to drive the UK’s economy. Chaired by renowned economist Jim O’Neill, who coined the acronym BRIC, the Commission underlined that our UK enquiry had to be seen in the global context.

Large scale infrastructure programmes, ranging from high rise office buildings to improved transport links are testament to the increasing importance of cities all over the world. Whilst London and New York remain the two biggest global players for now, cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dubai have joined the stage and are now followed by Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Mumbai, Nairobi and many more. Read more

Drugs Legislation: Read the evidence, engage on the debate, communicate your views.

October 30, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Hearing Caroline Lucas state “We need not be afraid” in reference to a change in drugs policy was reassuring. It is time to step up and discuss this matter much more fully.

According to Norman Baker MP the recent report from the Home Office has been held back from publishing due to “inconvenient facts” for the government. The report looks at approaches to drug policy from 11 countries across the world. It has been particularly influenced by the 13 year policy focus on health in Portugal. Far from being incomparable to the situation in the UK, as suggested by the Tory minister Michael Ellis, the report states that it is “grounded in an understanding of the drugs situation in the UK” and further that it focused on themes that were “relevant to the UK situation”.

Read more

Creating Creative Cities – how the City Growth Commission report can unlock innovation and entrepreneurialism across the UK

October 24, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Rohan Silva, City Growth Commissioner, (@Rohan__Silva)

It’s a fascinating 21st century paradox that technology is obliterating distance, enabling us to easily communicate and collaborate with people on the other side of the planet, and yet physical proximity and clustering in cities is more crucial for innovation than ever before.

As the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser has written, cities “are our greatest invention” – places where entrepreneurs, academics and inventors can collide with diverse viewpoints and industries. This type of serendipitous collision is vital for modern innovation, which so often arises from inter-disciplinary thinking, and the cross-fertilisation of ideas and approaches. Read more

Three baby steps to direct democracy

October 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Social Economy, Uncategorized 

In his blog last week, Adam Lent talked about a crisis of representative democracy, referencing a YouGov survey in which 72% agreed with the statement: ‘politics is dominated by self-seeking politicians protecting the interests of the already rich and powerful in our society’. He eloquently made the case for political parties to  “shift away from the current highly representative approach to democracy based on strong party discipline, to one with a larger element of direct democracy”.

While I agree with the sentiment – indeed it is my team’s raison d’être to support a “shift in power to people and communities so that they can better meet their economic and social needs and aspirations” – I think there are a number of steps between where we are now and “direct democracy”. So rather than take on the problem as a whole, perhaps we should look at it in smaller chunks – baby steps, like the following:


1. Put down the PR tools

Think back to last month’s party conferences: the speakers were all careful to show their empathy for the common man, liberally referencing real people and situations, but by trying to curb support for Ukip with carefully crafted speeches about people’s lives, it reinforced the disconnect between their lives and those of their subjects. Read more

Unleashing Metro Growth—What the U.K.’s City Growth Commission Can Teach the U.S.

October 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Economy 

Guest blog by  Bruce Katz, City Growth Commissioner.

As the United States suffers through the final weeks of a particularly bitter midterm election, something remarkable is happening in the United Kingdom. All three major parties in Britain have concluded that devolving power away from central government and toward metropolitan areas will improve economic growth and government performance. Tory, Lib-Dem, and Labour alike find themselves competing over who can articulate a more complete vision of devolution. It’s enough to make you believe in representative democracy again.

The Royal Society of the Arts’ City Growth Commission has released a well-timed report that explains the need for devolution in the U.K. and creates a blueprint for how to get it done. “The drumbeat of devolution has grown ever louder,” writes Jim O’Neill, chairman of the commission. “Over recent months, the importance of cities in driving growth and prosperity has been increasingly recognized, rising up the political agenda to the highest levels.” Read more

Those who want greater equality should not stand in the way of devolution

October 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Adam Lent, Social Economy 

One of the perennial objections to greater devolution of power away from the central state and down to cities and regions is the claim that it will damage equality. A classic of the genre was recently penned by The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who wrote:

The logic of localism risks leading in the end to less national identity and less fair distribution of wealth. Good politics will revive if strong ideas hold the imagination, keeping enough people together with common goals.

This is a version of what I described in a recent post as “big equality”. This is the notion, which gained a firm grip in the twentieth century, that the best route to equality was for a powerful state to equalise incomes by redistributing the proceeds of the wealth and assets owned by the better off.  It is fundamentally a remedial and conservative approach to achieving a more equal society. It takes as a given that current inequalities of wealth and economic power are very difficult or impossible to change and so the only route is to take some money from the well-off and hand it on to the less well-off. Read more

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    Social Economy: A blog from the RSA's Connected Communities and Citizen Power teams covering topics such as community development and empowerment; civic and democratic renewal; social networks and neighbourliness.
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    Steve Broome, Director of Research, oversees our Connected Communities, recovery from substance misuse, and criminal justice work. He also works to develop our research and evaluation capability, particularly through approaches that reflect our interests in co-production, networks, and systems. Follow @smbroome

    Gaia Marcus, Senior Researcher, works with Connected Communities, is the RSA's social network analysis champion, and leads the Social Mirror project. With a background in youth participation and human rights, prior to joining the RSA Gaia worked as Research Associate for the Space Makers Agency. Follow @la_gaia

    Lucinda Thelwell works for our partner the Knowle West Media Centre as Volunteer Coordinator for Social Mirror, a social prescription project for the Knowle West area of Bristol. Her role includes recruiting, training and supervising the volunteers for Social Mirror, as well as doing outreach work for the project. Lucinda is a Qualified Social Worker with a background in mental health, homelessness and sensory support, and over the last few years she has been working in the voluntary sector developing various social and environmental volunteer projects in the UK and abroad.

    Matthew Parsfield is the Connected Communities Project Developer, and works with Fellows and partners to translate the ARC team’s research into practical, funded programmes on the ground. He has a Master’s degree in social anthropology, and previously worked as a public engagement officer with a professional football club. Follow @MParsfield

    Jonathan works to explore how the built environment affects social and economic productivity. He’s currently researching how future retail models can better serve society. With a background in urban planning and community development work, Jonathan previously worked for nef undertaking social and economic impact evaluation. Follow @JSchifferes

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