Of the City: Community & Culture

Of the City is a salon-style, open event, where members direct the conversation as best suits them. Some thoughts and propositions from ‘Of the City: Community & Culture’.


‘Since living in greener spaces or surroundings make for more connected, healthier, happier people and planners/architects are incorporating greener interiors and exteriors in their designs; To what extent will future city communities be more psychologically inclined to want to deal with issues of poverty and climate change collectively?’

A meaty question posed by one of the gathering members served as the catalyst for discussion. Throughout the session, we discussed mental health, city planning, rural environments and how communities shape culture.

Mental Health

  • There are studies conducting demonstrating the relationship between the architecture of new-build homes and the decline in mental health for those in urban settings (smaller windows, more confined spaces, etc). A systematic relationship between the built environment, climate change, wealth and class.

  • Apps like ‘Thrive’ help to detect, prevent and manage common mental health conditions.

  • Systems change/activism - burn out, challenges with mental health, exhaustion

Urban vs. Rural

  • The group wonder if there are details of mental health differences in rural and urban environments?

  • How do people respond to their idea of ‘place’?

  • How are communities kept apart? Is this to further establish the gap between poverty and wealth?

  • What are the public perceptions of green space? Are we really wanting green spaces or a hyper-sanitised version? Who is responsible for maintaining this?

  • The importance of understanding nuances between rural and urban communities - sweeping generalisations = incorrect assumptions - how do we understand the soil of each place to better understand those communities and their needs?

City Planning & the Built Environment

  • How do we see our role as creatives, contributing to Birmingham development, instead of a repeatedly top-down approach?

  • How can we function with public spaces? What would it look like for citizens to have the ‘rights to the city’?

  • Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design - Charles Montgomery explores the relationship between urban design and the scientific study of ‘happiness’

  • Jane Jacobs - an activist and urbanist who championed a community-based approach to city building. Notorious for preventing Robert Moses’ plans to overhaul her Greenwich Village neighbourhood, Jacob’s work and writings (including ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’) became ‘planning blueprints’ for future architects, planners and others involved in urban design. Raises the question - how do people get in the position to bring these things to life for our local communities? What are the steps? How do you protect yourself?

  • ACORN - a community-based union tackling injustice across the country, bringing people together to support each other to improve their lives and their communities. As a democratic organisation, they have had success in housing - preventing evictions, winning repairs in dangerous properties, stopping banks from discriminating against tenants on housing benefit - but work to solve whatever issues members decide.

Closing Thoughts

  •   Is there an expectation that the community should make the changes they want to see/does the community have a greater impact?

  • What are the mechanisms to support a community’s collective engagement?

  • Solutions to challenges should be crowdsourced and led by people who are actively affected by what happens in those spaces - but what do these organising structures look like?

  • Artists can’t be expected to solve all the solutions - maybe artists (or their produced artefacts) are catalysts for opening further discussion/deeper interrogation/new intersections.

Of the City continues with The Future of the Creative Industries, Wed 26 Sept, 1pm at Impact Hub Birmingham.