Open City

13th – 14th September, 2013

Open City was a two-day programme of talks and debates by urban professionals and artists. It also included ‘hands-on’ workshops, which examined the current condition of Preston City Centre and the various plans and aspirations for its future. The event employed Preston as a case study for exploring the contemporary role of ‘mid-sized’  cities in the UK, and presented creative responses to urban development.

Friday 13th September: Walking tours and presentations in the city

The event included a walking tour, curated by artist  Katja van Driel, which took delegates to various vacant properties in Preston City Centre, some of which were used for presentations by the visiting speakers. During the tour, actress Abigail Ramsdale read a series of conversations between van Driel and the owners and gatekeepers of selected properties to which she attempted to gain access.  These were presented inside or in front of the buildings depending on whether access could be achieved, and provided an insight into the barriers which prevent the productive use of such spaces. The day included four presentations, which took place at University of Central Lancashire, Fishergate Baptist Church, the Harris Institute and Guild House.

The second day of the event involved mapping, creating and testing workshops lead by artists Professor Charles Quick and Gisele Bone, architect Ann Vanner and human geographer Dr. Hannah Neate. Delegates undertook mapping exercises, which revealed different perspectives of Preston. This encouraged people to view the city through the eyes of other people, uncovered aspects which are not always visible and generated new ideas for its future. These ideas were then tested through interventions and conversations in the city centre streets.

The main outcomes of the event included:

– A move away from the ‘masterplan’ method of urban planning, towards a more flexible approach, which is built on consensus, partnerships and dialogue. This includes identifying different approaches, which can be tailored for different buildings and areas.

– An emphasis on encouraging KIBS (Knowledge Intensive Business Services) to take over empty buildings, and the importance of partnerships with UCLan and Preston College as representatives of the knowledge sector.

– An interest in vacant buildings in the city, and positive discussions about their future use as important social resources.

– The bringing together of different approaches to urban development and perspectives of the city from across a range of professional backgrounds and interests.

– A common agreement about the importance of removing some of the obstacles which prevent local communities and entrepreneurs from accessing vacant buildings.

– A sharing of knowledge about the city, which led to a common understanding of how the city is/ could be used.

– A demonstration of the benefits of artist/architect partnerships.

Open City was supported by Preston City Council, Lancashire County Council, North Lancashire Society of Architects and RIBA North West.