The economics of Uniqueness

Walkley Carnegie Library

Walkley Carnegie Library

Two years ago I and a few friends felt it would be a good idea to map out Sheffield’s heritage.  I also started listing all the heritage groups and organisations which are at a rough estimate  around 120.  It became obvious that there needed to be a central point for heritage events. It turned out to be a big job as there is over two thousand a year.

People come to me grateful because their area and history has been highlighted.  Whether newly moved to the area or there for generations, the history and the heritage buildings in their neighbourhood give the place where they live its unique identity.

It turns out that the unique identity is recognised as important not

Cornish Works

Cornish Works

only by heritage organisations but by the World Bank, and the EU. They are not looking at it from purely a resident community point of view but from a green sustainable economy aspect.   It is about the economic value of uniqueness. What makes your city different from another similar city? What can you offer that no other city can offer?

People like to feel they are living and working in a unique historic environment. If you are running a cafe or other Indy business, an old building gives your business a unique image What is surprising is that high tech businesses and upmarket retailers like it too. It gives their business gravitas.

If heritage is a saleable asset  why are old buildings being knocked down? Why are places like the Devonshire Quarter losing their identity?  Why are we continually “fire fighting” to protect our heritage? Simple answer is that Sheffield Council don’t recognize heritage’s importance in the regeneration of the city. Nor have they considered the green aspect of not knocking down but adapting existing building stock.

Albyn Works

Albyn Works

A major problem is that designers live in London and the manufacturers are here.  We don’t have the loft apartments for young professionals that cities like Manchester has. There is still a tendency to see the city centre as a place to shop and work, but not to live in, except if you are a student.  If we are to keep our designers (many fine ones graduated in Sheffield) and bring in investment we need to make Sheffield an attractive place to live and work.

Our heritage is a big plus point in so many ways, the ancient woodlands, the Victorian parks and the wide range of old factories, houses and shops that can be adapted. There are already some great conversions. The same type of buildings converted to student accommodation could also be adapted to private apartments.

Also within the old buildings are opportunities for community run enterprises or community owned enterprises such as

Castle House

Castle House

Portland Works and Summit studios. The council owns a number of heritage buildings in the parks could be used for this, which would not only reduce the council’s costs it would also provide work and upgrade many of the tired listed buildings we have in the city.

Cities with a sustainable economy plan such as Bristol have several hundred local organisations working together in collaboration and cutting costs for the council by doing so. These councils have access to a huge range of experts at no cost. People feel they have a stake in the city and will be listened to. The old councils who remain distant and disconnected or isolate groups into different categories are noticeable when you look at economic activity. They do badly.

The Rockefeller Foundationin its list of desirable achievements for a resilient economy is to

“Ensure everybody is well informed, capable, and involved in their city. This includes access to information and education, communication between the government and public, knowledge transfer, and timely and appropriate monitoring.” So why isn’t Sheffield doing this?

RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)   summarizes how heritage is so important.

Old Town Hall Waingate

Old Town Hall Waingate

  • Participating in heritage can contribute to people’s personal development, and there is emerging evidence of a positive relationship between heritage participation, wellbeing and health.
  • The historic environment is seen as making a positive contribution to community life by boosting social capital, increasing mutual understanding and cohesion and encouraging a stronger place – but further research is needed to understand these effects in full.
  • Heritage makes a contribution to UK GDP, particularly as a driver of overseas tourism but also in making a place attractive to those looking to work, study or undertake business; recent research has found that cultural and historical sites are the most important asset in making a country attractive.
  • Economists have developed methods to monetise the overall value 358of particular heritage sites. People typically gain more value from a site than it costs them to visit, and the total value generated by a site can be considerably greater than the cost of its upkeep.
  • The historic environment has a potentially powerful role to play in shaping distinctive, vibrant, prosperous places; further research on the role of heritage in everyday life and the relationship between heritage and identity will help to realise the potential.

Individual impacts such as pleasure and fulfilment, meaning and identity, challenge and learning and the relationships between heritage participation and health and wellbeing.

  • Community impacts including social capital, community cohesion and citizenship.
  • Economic impacts such as job creation and tourism
  • Bishops House Museum

    Bishops House Museum

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