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What makes a city an investment destination?

A company called the Communication Group is inviting councillors to come along, at a cost of £675, to a conference in March on the subject Cities:The Secret of a Winning Destination. I understand they are thinking not just, of even primarily, of a city in terms of a holiday destination but more as a place to invest, for instance, a shopping centre or a sports club.

Aside from the cost (to you) of attending, regular readers will know I am a sceptic as to what these conferences achieve. At least with this one the subject is valid enough. However those wanting guidance on how to make our cities more attractive to investors but who would rather not pay £675 to go to this conference will find there are umpteen think tanks that have produced reports on the subject available to download for free. Often they seem to suggest looking at Vancouver. There is Success and the City from Policy Exchange (not the one that was rude about Liverpool.) It mentioning, for example, the low crime rate in Vancouver. It adds that:"Much like Manhattan, Amsterdam or central Paris, Vancouver almost forces you to walk."

But we don't need to go to Vancouver to know that reducing crime and encouraging walking are good ideas. A lot of this material offers plenty of concepts and examples but is weak when it comes to tangible action that could usefully be undertaken as a result.

The Communications Group themselves have already issued a report The Power of Destinations which included the interesting thought that investors were finding it harder to choose location on the "hard factors" (staff costs, regulation, etc), as there was little to choose, and so the "soft factors" (such as architecture and culture) have become relatively more important. I do think it's time planners had more regard for the design of buildings. Approving hideous modernist, brutalist, soulless structures has a cumulative effect of making a city an undesirable place to live. This is not a path to wealth creation in the long term. Seeking regeneration schemes that remove some of the worst 1960s eyesores and replacing them with something the Prince of Wales would approve offers a better prospect.

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