Time for Welsh towns
December 5, 2017
By Gina Wilson, Carnegie UK Trust
Our sense of a place affects how we view it. Does it seem vibrant or tired? Has it got a reputation? Places we haven’t visited for years (if ever) can cast a long shadow.
If we live there, that sense of our place affects our wellbeing.
Is that sense based on consistent, rigorous and comparable data? I’ll bet not.
Data alone can’t ever tell the whole story of a place, and we wouldn’t want it to. Narratives of place, the things that only communities can tell you about living in their neighbourhood, bring a place to life.
However, we do need to better understand our towns. We need to collate and analyse objective data, to present a useful overall picture and ensure towns can build a bright future based on evidence.
Carnegie UK and Welsh Government have agreed to co-fund the creation of an ‘Understanding Welsh Places’ data platform – a mobile, interactive tool that anyone can use to draw data-driven insights about towns in Wales and how they compare with each other. It won’t be a league table, and we are more interested in an asset-based approach than reinforcing terms like ‘post-industrial’. The tool will be loosely based on the highly successful ‘Understanding Scottish Places’ (USP) platform. It’s worth looking at North Ayrshire Council’s recent award winning use of Town Centre Audits through USP for a flavour of what could be achieved.
The tool will collate existing data (and potentially create new data) in order to better understand towns in Wales. The aim is to make a significant contribution to building understanding and consensus on the sorts of actions that can increase the prosperity of Welsh towns and the wellbeing of the people who live in them.
The tool will be visual, useful to people who are not data experts. Exploration not solution. Conversation not diktat. It will provide the data that can underpin new ideas.
The Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) will convene a Consortium of organisations to develop the tool, to ensure it meets the needs of communities and practitioners in Wales. We welcome any organisations interested in being part of this development to get in touch; we hope to begin in early 2018 and build on the work we began earlier this year.
We’ve heard some key messages already. All organisations working across Welsh towns need to ensure that they put local places and local people at the centre of what they do, recognising the uniqueness of place and developing policies and programmes accordingly. Local people should recognise and relate to their town’s identity, and feel empowered to have a role in shaping its future.
It’s time for towns. For better shared understanding of their needs and a positive view to their future.