Report on Sheffield City Centre, September 2015

Associated Categories Construction, Property and Cities Tags: , ,
Sheffield Crucible Theatre

This report suggests how technology and a fresh, libertarian approach to the future of Britain’s cities could go one better than the samey, grey spatial determinism that passes for urban policy these days

This report represents recommends courses of action very different from those which usually dominate urban policy today. Written to assist the city of Sheffield, it opens with an attack on “spatial determinism”, as well as on the dogmas of smart, resilient and low-carbon cities.

The report reviews Sheffield’s transport systems, its urban fabric, and the opportunities the city has for economic development. There are chapters on housing, retailing, energy, IT and events. The emphasis is never technical, but certainly technological.

Download the full PDF of this report click on this Sheffield City Centre link. Read the introduction to the report below:

Introduction: the specificity of Sheffield

How can cities make people happy to be in them? What bold steps could city leaders take to harness technology and social planning to re-create urban space for the now? If we could remake Sheffield – not by knocking it down, but by reusing or repurposing its buildings and street patterns – what needs to happen?

For years now cities have suffered at the hands of consultants, so it is with some diffidence that the author presents this report. But cities have also suffered at the hands of ubiquitous performance league tables – around issues such as liveability, cost of living, and the availability, price and performance of commercial and residential property. Familiar formulae have too frequently been applied universally; in particular, the idea of industrial ‘clusters’, pioneered by Michael Porter in 1990 (1), has made the leadership of far too many cities try to turn parts of their environs into yet another Silicon Valley.

More recently, cultural clusters have multiplied. No doubt Sheffield’s developing cultural quarter has its merits. Still, please note that China, for instance, is has at least 200. Also: it currently builds about 400 museums a year. (2)

The dangers of a commoditised approach to urban regeneration ought to be apparent. For many of China’s cluster projects in the cultural domain, ‘the bottom line’, Michael Keane has written, ‘is real estate speculation’. (3) Yet there is plenty more to the uniformity of urban policy today.

We refuse to join the mainstream consensus about British cities. So some of our proposals will be controversial, perhaps even outlandish, and some may look costly. However, all progress depends on ‘unreasonable’ people, as George Bernard Shaw intimated; and discontent, as Oscar Wilde said, is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation. So please, read this report with an open mind. It will not persuade everyone – indeed, it questions both the agenda of happiness and that of refurbishment. But it may provoke thought, as well as creative counter-proposals.

To avoid the mainstream, our point of departure is what is peculiar to Sheffield. The city is uniquely laid out by a steep hills, so that what strikes the visitor coming to Sheffield is the verticality of it. After all, the Peak District is inside city limits; the city is host to the Awesome Wall Climbing Centre and the Climbing Works, and there are even plans, currently thwarted by asbestos, to turn the Grosvenor Hotel into a climbing wall.

The single idea that should now motivate all new plans for the city centre is that of taking the high ground – not just physically, in terms of making ascents easier, but also intellectually, in terms of arguments, education, culture and value-added in wealth production. Sheffield should be recognised as the city that eschews ‘dumbing down’ to the lowest common denominator, and instead takes people UP, to new heights of achievement and enjoyment.

We return to this theme again and again in this report.

References and footnotes

1. Michael Porter, The competitive advantage of nations, Macmillan, 1990.
2. New Cities Foundation, ‘Cultural districts as engines of urban transformation’, 28 November 2014, on
3 Michael Keane, China’s new creative clusters: governance, human capital and investment, Routledge, 2014.

Share Button


Comments are closed.