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Sustained Engagement

The Great Debate in partnership with the Living Laboratory, new economics foundation,
Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability, RCE North East, Newcastle University,
Northumbria University and Durham University present

Visions for the Future of the City
12:30 - 4:30pm, Saturday 22 October 2011
Devonshire Building
Newcastle University

Options     Videos     Outcome and discussion     Partners

Part of the Sustained Engagement project funded by Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Byker wall viewed from Byker Bridge

The first in a series of events using the Crowd Wise process designed by new economics foundation to seek a consensus: Beginning with an open question, participants (engineers and audience) are invited to work together to create and refine possible answers. This is a collaborative process, where answers can be merged, split or refined by anyone, in order to create the most interesting, wide ranging and appealing range of possibilities. Then, instead of voting for their favourite, each participant is asked to rank each answer from best to worst. Votes are then counted to establish which option has the broadest support.

How do we create a sustainable and resilient city in 2050?

The city of Newcastle upon Tyne has changed beyond all recognition over the last forty years and is still changing fast. In 2010 Forum for the Future ranked Newcastle as the most sustainable of the UK’s twenty largest cities for the second year running (see Sustainable Cities Index). Is this an accolade we should attempt to retain? What can we do to ensure that Newcastle is better in 2050 than it is today? How do we create a sustainable and resilient city for the future? A group of four engineers each presented their answers to these questions and then discussed and adapted their ideas with a public audience.

Caspar Hewett, The Great Debate
Claire Walsh, Newcastle University,
John Whitehead, Sentient Cities project,
Mark Wilkinson, Newcastle University
click here for videos of speakers' introductory remarks

Event facilitation: Perry Walker, Caspar Hewett and Stephanie Glendinning.

Special Guest: Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central.

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The initial vote in which options were ranked by the audience in order of priority, and the opening presentations, were framed around the above question. The options were:


Inspire at the city scale
People will only accept a future that they have played a part in creating. The Sentient Cities project starts this process off by asking what is the heart of your desire?


Invest in youth
20% of young people in the North East are not in employment, education or training. Unless we invest in young people now we risk their children and grandchildren also being unemployed in forty years’ time.


Create and manage green space/nature
Green spaces can be created and managed to provide multiple benefits including flood management, water quality and recreation. To achieve these benefits agencies and organisations need to work together.


Enhance infrastructure and networks
Transport, energy and water resources are critical to allowing cities to thrive.


Create wealth
In a region whose wealth was created by production in industries that have all but disappeared we have to invest in production for the future.

Click here for videos of the presentations

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Outcome and Discussion

The result of the initial ballot (held before the presentations and discussions) showed little preference for a particular option, with options A-D achieving very similar scores. Here the score for each option indicates the percentage of of its potential maximum achieved in the vote (100% if everyone who voted ranked that option first). There were 21 valid ballots. Options A (Inspire at the city scale) ranked highest, scoring 59% of its potential maximum, closely followed by options B (Invest in youth) and C (Create and manage green space/nature), both scoring 56% of their potential maxima and D (Enhance infrastructure and networks), scoring 55%. Option E (Create wealth) was ranked lowest, scoring 40% of its potential points.

A + E

Inspire at the city scale and create wealth
This option was ranked highest, scoring 69% of its potential points in the final vote.


Invest in youth
This option scored 51%, making it the lowest ranked option.

C + D

Enhance infrastructure and networks (incorporating the creation and management of green space/nature
This option scored 56%

In a brief discussion after the voting, participants discussed what this vote meant. Clearly all three remaining options are connected: someone pointed out in the discussion that A + E will affect youth, for example. Two suggestions were made for how the three options might relate:

  1. See it as a timeline, with A + E first, affecting hearts and minds, followed by the other two, which are more concrete.
  2. See A + E as overarching, because it provides the value base.

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Development of options

In the first round of discussions following the introductory presentations the five groups generated the following points related to the five options:

A Inspire at the city scale

  • Listen to anybody with ideas (not just experts) – true democracy

  • “Somebody has to make a decision”… possible area of disfunctionality

  • More democratic process of decision-making

  • Accountability (of experts)

  • Localised decision-making….?

  • Democracy isn’t fun (engaging?)

  • New forms (designs) of decision making

  • Create new stories (not continual growth paradigm)

  • Community building > combat with dominant decision makers

  • Definitions of progress?

  • Coherence from the bottom up

  • Value systems and ethics (a common system of values)

  • The question ‘what is the heart of your desire?’

  • Beyond your ‘ken’ (understanding)

  • Opportunities to think differently

  • To knock people sideways to think differently e.g. arts can do this

  • Review has it worked: an evaluating/evolving reflecting process, not solutions

B Invest in youth

  • Investment: shift pension fund investment from stock market to (for example) local municipal bonds, to encourage local provision of apprenticeship employment.

  • Sectors: tourism and services; making stuff
  • Demography: retain young people in locality, prevent out-migration, attract immigration
  • Careers advice: improve careers advise provision – investment, not free
  • Intergenerational justice contract: investment for the future, in pension funds etc. Productive employment for youth,

C Create and manage green space/nature

  • Agreed that expansion was unsustainable

  • Gardens and agricultural spaces becoming uninhabitable for wildlife and some brownfield sites now havens
  • Green spaces to facilitate food, recreation and wildlife
  • Enhance existing urban landscape with planting, rainwater collection, communal veg schemes
  • Save our forests, parks etc. Grey squirrel BBQs.

D Enhance infrastructure and networks

  • Decentralisation: food produced locally; electricity (microgeneration); water (rainfall harvest). People’s ownership; mores sustainable.

  • Road network: better use of what exists; priority for bikes and pedestrians instead of cars
  • Make people more aware of the infrastructures and dependencies of their cities
  • Need for better management/maintenance of infrastructures (not profit driven)

E Create wealth

  • Define wealth: basic needs (food, shelter); divorce from natural world/cycles is a problem; value; commonwealth; having good infrastructure/transport; consumerism?; Keynesian economics? (manufacture vs. service> local)

  • Jobs for a sustainable future: transport; food; energy; housing

In the final round of discussions the group discussing option B Invest in Youth wrote down the additional points:

  • Issue of investing in youth via municipal bonds fits with option A, of Sentient Cities and city scale investment

  • The whole pension fund investment issue fits with option E and wealth creation.
  • The wider issue of pension funds and state-level investment raises the issue of effective tax collection from multi-national corporations and the super-rich, who evade and avoid full payment by the use of tax havens, anonymous trusts and shell companies. The movement for country-by-country reporting and effective collection of tax payments/revenue is already being pushed by the TUC. Also the tax on stock market transactions.

  • Corporate social responsibility, employers should be good citizens
  • Increase representation of youth in decision-making (school councils, youth parliament, works councils, any form of representative dialogue) – related to influence school/college curricula etc. in training and education, supervisor/trainee relationships > increase motivation and ‘ownership’

  • Topic reflects how we can generate and implement investment of the future, with democratic and participatory structure or processes
  • How to raise these issues in centres of power – Chi Onwurah could take issues to colleagues on parliamentary committees. Trade unions are also an avenue of influence. Green Party? Lib-dem. Media such as The Guardian and The Independent can create fora to consider these issues. Many other groups like the Quakers also interested in social justice issues.

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Devonshire Building

Devonshire Building

Devonshire Building

Location Map - Devonshire Building, Devonshire Terrace
Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne
[See also Newcastle University Campus map]

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