Jun 202014

innovation-151833_1280By Bob Smith.

Faar his imagination gin
We hid it as a loon or quine
The ability to see things differently
As on fantasy oor myns wid dine

The winner in a young een’s face
Fin they listened ti a tale
As adults we’re far less creative
Oor myns hiv aa gin stale

Lie back an close yer een
An lit yer myn gyang free
Syne conjure up some images
O placies ye’d like ti be

Imagination can tak ye onywye
Ti Africa or maybe the Orient
Or aroon the Scottish Highlands
An ti Paris syne on ti Ghent

We need ti free oorsels o 
The shite oor myns are fed
By the TV an ither media
As oor imagination it is bled

Lit loose yer imagination
Gie yer myn’s ee its release
Try an let it float awa
Ti a placie o distant peace

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
Image: http://pixabay.com/en/innovation-invention-boy-idea-151833/
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Jan 122012

Controversy has raged over the fate of Union Terrace Gardens for the last three years. A major subtext to this has been the role of culture in Aberdeen life, particularly in view of the way the proposed Peacock Visual Arts centre for contemporary arts was gazumped by Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal in 2008, writes Mike Shepherd.

The £13.5m building was to contain a gallery, TV studio, print studio, restaurant and offices for Peacock Staff and provide a base for Aberdeen City Council’s Arts Development and Arts Education teams as well as extra space for the City Moves dance agency.

It was to be called the Northern Lights Contemporary Arts Centre.

When the Civic Square was first mooted, the emphasis was on the Square itself. Sir Ian Wood had described it as:

 “a cross between the Grand Italian Piazza and a mini Central Park”.

An underground concourse was also proposed and at this stage, the main uses were identified in a Press & Journal report:

“The new square could have three underground levels, the first of them offering the potential for Peacock Visual Arts’ planned new centre, as well as restaurants, a heritage museum and visitor attractions linked to north-east attributes such as granite, paper, fishing, whisky and golf.”

However, Peacock Visual Arts were understandably reluctant to be included within the Civic Square plans. In any case, an underground concourse would not be a suitable venue for an arts centre. A building receiving natural light would have been much more appropriate.

Sir Ian, perhaps frustrated at the reluctance of Peacock to get involved, told the Herald Scotland

“There is quite rightly a strong feeling about the arts in Aberdeen,” he says. “It is not for everyone but some people do feel intensely about it. I understand the emotional concern.

“What I find hard is that, frankly, this is about jobs and economic prosperity, for the wider interests of people in Aberdeen who don’t care about the arts. Eighty per cent of the people who spend time in the square will have no interest in the arts. You have to develop things for the good of everyone.”

Peacock’s arts centre was effectively killed off by the Aberdeen Council vote in May 2010 to progress instead Sir Ian Wood’s Civic Square proposal. This was later rebranded the City Garden Project.

Following the demise of Peacock, ACSEF started to develop an increasing interest in local culture. ACSEF are the non-elected body charged by both Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils with promoting the economic development of the region. They have been involved in promoting the City Square, describing it as one of their flagship projects.

The ACSEF minutes for the 4th October 2011 noted comments by Professor Paul Harris, the recently appointed head of Robert Gordon University‘s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen :

“Paul Harris advised that he is a member of the Scottish Enterprise Tayside Regional Advisory Board.   At a national level he had been closely involved in taking forward the V&A project which illustrates how a collective vision could be translated into strategy and raise a city’s profile in an international context.

“Creative industries have an important role not only in their own right but also in terms of being key drivers of an area’s wider economic success in part through creating vibrant and attractive communities in which to live, work and visit and in fostering innovation, a key driver of economic success.

“Professor Harris concluded that the vibrant and valuable creative industries sector in Aberdeen City and Shire requires greater cohesion and visibility and suggested that a creative industries strategy be devised to address this and realise the sector’s potential for future growth.  In addition projects such as the City Garden offer opportunities for the city to achieve an international cultural venue. He suggested that a collective approach amongst partners could be achieved at no cost while a strategic voice supports funding bids.”

Some in the city might feel alarmed about the business–dominated board of ACSEF defining a top-down strategy for the “creative industries” in the Aberdeen area.

The link to the City Garden Project is of note. Paul Harris is mentioned in the news section for the City Garden Website – “City Garden Project Can Make Aberdeen Cool, Contemporary and Cultural”.

“Professor Harris is leading a City Garden Project sub-group representing culture, the arts and the creative sector to consider the potential content for the scheme which has a new centre for culture and the arts at its heart.

He added: “The V&A in Dundee is a perfect example of culture being a catalyst for wider regeneration. There we had an idea and had to develop the infrastructure. In Aberdeen we have the potential infrastructure and a unique opportunity to fill it creatively.

The sub-group is proposing a new model to enhance the performance and reputation of the region’s arts and culture locally, nationally and internationally based around the new infrastructure the City Garden Project can deliver above and below ground.

The vision is to create an internationally known facility that is a focal point for exchanging and showcasing excellence in cultural activities between countries, regions and cities located around the North Sea.

The so-called “Northern Arc” would form partnerships with key cultural organisations to present displays and exhibitions, diverse performances and events covering, history, science & technology, visual arts, design, film, music, dance and literature.

“The Northern Arc” will include a number of flexible spaces, centred in the City Garden, with on-going programmes of events and activities with a variety of local, regional and international organisations”

The use of the name “Northern Arc” is unfortunate given that the City Garden Project had killed off the Peacock Visual Arts plan to build the “Northern Light” contemporary arts centre. The sub-group mentioned is believed to include most of the city’s existing arts organisations, which are largely publicly funded.  If the underground concourse is built, could it be that existing facilities such as the Belmont Cinema and the Lemon Tree will be relocated to the building?

The Press and Journal reported last October that Aberdeen Council is interested in making a bid for Aberdeen to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.

Council bosses are applying for a £92 million loan from the Scottish Government to fund five regeneration schemes, including the controversial City Garden Project. Approval of the ambitious plans could trigger a campaign for the prestigious title, officials confirmed yesterday.

The bid to become city of culture could prove a hard sell to the people of Aberdeen. It was actively discussed with much scepticism on the Aberdeen Facebook page. Here are some of the comments:

–          Aberdeen has plenty of culture. What it doesn’t have is a council that knows what culture looks like. Culture is one of the indicators of true prosperity but you can’t make money off it directly. The council’s thinking process seems to be: Step 1 – culture, Step 2 – ???, Step 3 – Money!

–          I will say that there are signs of some joined up thinking re culture. A sign though… It’s not for the council to lead and make it happen though. It should come from the ground up to the point where the council starts listening to those that are doing and asking what is needed rather shoving another box ticking lecturing strategy in our faces. Far more people working across the arts know what is needed than there are people sitting at desks re writing old words. The city would need to give a decent amount of funding to Arts organisation and to arts within education instead of cutting funding almost to the point of extinction.

–          So much negativity in this thread, Aberdeen should be ambitious & go for this city of culture in 2017, Aberdeen despite is geography has lots of people doing innovative things in the arts. It did Liverpool no harm & only positives came out of it…

A group called AB+ is organising a cultural conference in the Arts Centre on 26 January.  Two of the speakers are Professor Paul Harris and Valerie Watts, Chief Executive of Aberdeen City Council.

Valerie will be describing her experiences in Northern Ireland with Londonderry’s bid to become European Capital of Culture and the impact this had on the arts there, whilst Paul will talk about bringing the V&A to Dundee.”

The conference is an opportunity to discuss cultural activities in Aberdeen and as such is to be welcomed. It is likely that some of the issues raised here will be touched upon by the speakers in the Arts Centre.

The City Garden Project will be launching its referendum campaign and will also soon be announcing the final chosen design. It is almost certain that the campaign for the City Garden Project will tie together local cultural activity, economics and Aberdeen City Council’s bid to become UK City of Culture for 2017.

It’s an explosive mix.

Nov 122011

Aberdeen Sports Village, a partnership between the University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council and sportscotland, has been short-listed in the category of “Newcomer of the Year” at this year’s prestigious National Fitness Awards.  With thanks to Dave Macdermid and The Big Partnership.

The Awards were launched last year to honour operators from across the UK in the health and fitness industry.  The category of Newcomer of the Year is aimed at facilities who have been operating for less than 2 years (as of March 2011), and who have made their mark within the industry in terms of facilities, services and innovation.

The Sports Village has been nominated in this very closely contested category, against new sports facilities, health clubs and gyms from across the whole of the UK.  They impressed the judges, not only with the impressive facilities on site, but also with the numerous high quality activities and services available to everyone in the community.

Jan Griffiths, Sports Development Manager at Aberdeen Sports Village, said:

“The Sports Village strives to be at the cutting edge regarding all aspects of sport, fitness and health, and we are passionate about everything we do.  The local community have really embraced the ethos of the Village, and we are privileged to be able to support and educate our customers in such a welcoming environment.”

The winners in each category at the National Fitness Awards will be announced on Friday 25 November at their Awards Dinner at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.

Oct 222010

By Alex Mitchell.

Q: How do we get to be smart?

A: By hanging out with smart people!

The Centre For Cities recently reported that Aberdeen is the third-top city in Britain in terms of the proportion of its labour force – 40%  – in possession of degree-level qualifications.   Only Cambridge and Edinburgh, both at 44%, come higher.

The physical proximity of significant numbers of talented, highly-educated people has a powerful effect on innovation and economic growth.   It has in fact been argued that this clustering of talent is the main determinant or ‘driver’ of economic growth, especially in a post-industrial economy dependent on creativity, intellectual property and high-tech innovation.

Those places that succeed in bringing together a diversity of talents accelerate the local rate of economic evolution and progress.   When large numbers of entrepreneurs, financiers, engineers, designers and other smart, creative people are constantly bumping into each other, inside and outside their places of work, business-related and other ideas and concepts are more quickly formed, sharpened up, executed and, if successful, expanded.   The more smart people there are around and the denser the connections between them, the faster it all progresses.

As individuals, we become smart mainly by associating, consorting and interacting with other smart people, ideally from a very early age.   This is why progress has historically been associated with cities, not villages, with university towns in particular, and with seaports – communities open to and interacting with the wider world, not little places buried in the back of beyond.   Nowadays, road connections and access to hub airports may be as or more important.   And the Internet certainly has the potential to make us smarter, by linking us up to and facilitating our interaction with other smart people.

The advent of globalisation, of a single world market for goods and services, has created new opportunities for certain key cities such as can perform the role of a local ‘ideopolis’ or ‘knowledge capital’.   The concept of the ideopolis goes back to the city-states of Renaissance  Europe and not least to the Royal Burghs of Scotland, themselves semi-autonomous city-states, of which Aberdeen itself was an outstanding example, having closer trade and other links with the North European and Baltic seaports of the Hanseatic League, Danzig in particular, than did either Edinburgh or Glasgow .

A place full of chain stores, chain restaurants, chain pubs and nightclubs has little appeal; people can experience the self-same thing almost anywhere.

The modern ‘urban ideopolis’ is characterised by clusters of high-tech manufacturing, knowledge services or soft technology, operating in close association with local universities.   The ideopolis is a regional centre for economic, technological and knowledge-based expertise and development.   Such cities become catalysts for improved productivity in their surrounding hinterland and in the country as a whole.

Key characteristics of the urban ideopolis are:

– A critical mass of higher education resources, particularly of universities and specialist institutions of research and training, e.g., research hospitals, with strong links to business and commercial partners, supported by a high-quality infrastructure of schools and colleges.   Universities attract talented individuals who will often stay around after they graduate; are themselves a major source of income and employment, and help create a progressive, open and tolerant environment and local culture.

– A major international hub airport and a good supporting transport infrastructure – road, rail and light rail, e.g., urban tramways.

– A flourishing tertiary or service sector.   Strong economic clusters in new and emerging activities such as high-tech manufacturing and knowledge services such as health and biosciences, financial services, cultural and sports-based sectors, the media and retailing.

– A good track record of technological innovation and transfer into new areas of activity.

– An entrepreneurial culture; a local tradition of successful entrepreneurship, a vibrant small-firms sector, successful local entrepreneurs and business personalities, a high birth-rate of new businesses and an informed and sympathetic local banking and financial sector.

It would be a better use of resources to invest in those lifestyle amenities which people really want and actually use

– A large and diverse workforce, possessed of a diversity of skills.   A large proportion of educated professionals and high-skill front-line service staff.   But such people are sought-after, and are highly mobile from one place to another.   If they don’t like it where they are, they will move somewhere else.

– An impressive architectural heritage, comprising historic buildings and well-established neighbourhoods coupled with iconic new physical development; a willingness to invest in high-quality urban design and architecture and in vibrant and attractive public spaces.   Conversely, an avoidance of the more characterless forms of modern urban development, e.g., the monotonous sameness of down-town shopping malls, deserted pedestrian precincts and identikit edge-of-town retail complexes.   A place full of chain stores, chain restaurants, chain pubs and nightclubs has little appeal; people can experience the self-same thing almost anywhere.

– That elusive concept, quality of life.   Big-city buzz.   A distinctive but internationalised city culture.   Cultural and recreational amenities, often small-scale, grass-roots and at street-level, that talented people really want and will use often, rather than the grandiose and invariably loss-making civic facilities so often provided at huge cost to taxpayers, such as exhibition centres, concert halls and football stadiums.

– Thriving artistic, intellectual, creative and bohemian communities of international repute, open and accessible to the wider population and enjoying a high level of local participation – not just there for the tourists.   A diverse population, a diversity of lifestyles, an ethos of tolerance and inclusiveness, reflected in a correspondingly diverse pattern of economic activity, e.g., shops and restaurants.

– Bold city leadership possessed of a high degree of policy autonomy and a reputation for successful regeneration initiatives, as in New York and London.

In the USA, cities like Seattle, Boston, Austin, Atlanta, Denver and Minneapolis are identified as having ideopolis characteristics.   European cities like Helsinki and Barcelona can also be so described.   Such cities are energised by knowledge, by world-class universities and by industries and business sectors which take their lead from them.

These are ‘connected’ cities, with good inter-city and intra-city communications, which people can travel to, from and within with relative ease.   Such cities are keyed into and energised by the forces of globalisation, picking up knowledge-related opportunities and access to specialist venture capital via their hub airports and excellent telecommunications infrastructures.

The rules of economic development have changed.   The local quality of human capital is crucial.   It used to be assumed that people migrated to where the industries and jobs were.   It is now apparent that the new industries and jobs tend to emerge in those places where there are concentrations of people with the relevant talents, aptitudes and expertise.   The most important ingredients for future economic development are the ideas and creativity of clusters or communities of talented individuals, who are thereby enabled to strike sparks off each other, to energise and inspire each other – the benefits of propinquity and contiguity, as David Hume might put it.

It follows that the cities, regions and nations which will thrive in the 21st century are those most able to attract, motivate and retain such talented, creative and enterprising individuals.   Such places benefit from a virtuous circle, or upward spiral, whereby their existing concentrations of talented individuals render them attractive to many more such talented individuals.   Conversely, those places which fail to attract, motivate and retain such people will go into an inexorable decline.

Many cities continue to pour taxpayers’ money into subsidising call centres, big-box retailers, down-town shopping malls and sports stadiums.   It would be a better use of resources to invest in those lifestyle amenities which people really want and actually use, such as urban parks, bike lanes and off-road trails for walking, cycling and running.   Similarly, our cities are inevitably  undermined by building on out-of-town green-field sites, which leads to an outflow of population.   We should be developing in-town brown-field sites.

Policy for attracting talented and enterprising people, and retaining those already here, needs to focus on who we need to attract, how they can be attracted and what it will take to keep them here.

Research suggests that the most attractive and successful places tend to be characterised by diversity of population and lifestyles, tolerance and inclusivity.   This is not obviously good news for much of Scotland which, relative to the UK as a whole, is characterised by a striking absence of private-sector activity, low rates of economic growth, low business start-up rates, a high level of business failures and, critically, a declining and ageing population.   Scotland tends to lose more people through emigration than it gains from immigration, and, as always, those who leave tend to be the best qualified, the most talented, the most enterprising and the most dynamic.

Joblessness and urban deprivation remain major problems in Scotland’s towns and cities.   Poor health, education, housing and transport go hand-in-hand with unemployment, crime and dereliction and the associated sub-culture of educational under-achievement, alcohol & drug-dependency and a kind of learned or inherited helplessness.   Large swathes of Aberdeen can certainly be so described.

But it can be argued that Aberdeen has the potential to become the Seattle of the UK.   We have the two established universities, other educational and research institutions including the major hospital complex of Foresterhill, the nascent University of the Highlands & Islands, a growing regional population, modern high-speed telecommunications, cheaper and more regular air transport than formerly and a uniquely appealing landscape and natural environment.   These are significant points favouring Aberdeen’s prospects as an urban ideopolis.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.