‘Place layering’ – What does it mean for our roots and identity?

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‘Place layering’ – What does it mean for our roots and identity?

At times we lose sight of the global perspective taken by investors and businesses when they are considering what is the relatively small island of the U.K. Whether we are being viewed from China or the U.S. our view of place distinctiveness built up over hundreds of years of history isn’t matched by a newer world view; Manchester and Liverpool are seen as one, in fact most of England is London.

‘Place layering’ is a term coined by Martin Reeves, CEO of the West Midlands Combined Authority and CEO of Coventry City Council and reflects the reality that we are all living and working in a multiplicity of places, some of which matter hugely to us and some which are government constructs often designed to create critical mass and the benefits of agglomeration. If you take my example I live near to the small town of Longridge where I shop, meet with friends and play darts badly!, it has been my home base for 40 years so it matters. My city is Preston which is new, growing and has huge potential. I’m a Lancastrian and incredibly proud of that. I’m also within the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership area and the Northern Powerhouse which matter economically but for most people mean nothing. The macro-economic areas of the Enterprise Partnership (which at least is a county) and the Northern Powerhouse are designed to create scale and meaning for investors and businesses within and outside these shores but their success comes from the success, identity and strength of the places within them; the whole can then be the sum of the parts.

Accepting this means taking a more mature approach to these large areas of economic geography and place relationships; we have to stop viewing our neighbours as threats and looking at how we complement their offer and assets as not surprisingly the competition is probably much further afield, potentially across stretches of water. As places the penny has begun to drop that ‘we’re stronger together’ combining assets, collaborating and ‘getting past’ petty, parochial politics; read into that what you wish re Brexit.

At MIPIM, the Midlands Pavillion was a fantastic recognition of this with a 4 million population covering a major part of England with diverse cities, towns and landscapes brought together for the investment and development audience as one place. Whilst this was a massive and important step in how we market our place potential it absolutely does not mean that individual place identity isn’t important. The wider entity of the Midlands in this example draws its strength and economic lifeblood from the DNA and acquired skills and knowledge of cities and towns created over hundreds of years because people and businesses exist in places not concepts. Incidentally, this is why the Industrial Strategy must be place led.

People have resonance with places for where they work, live, study and play. These places all have fantastic, often very special, often largely unknown and different assets from universities to development sites to visitor attractions that need to stop being pinpricks of light and be harnessed as the story of that place; its identity. If you know all the stories of the places that make up the Northern Powerhouse or Midlands Engine then you know what you have to offer, what complements each other, where the opportunities lie and you have created scale but it is a strength created from the individual identities of our cities and towns that people feel part of and are developing every day.

And that makes me happy that as a Lancastrian on the edge of London I can still lose at darts in Longridge!


John Till