It’s an exciting time to be living in Bristol. I just spent two hours in a room packed full at the RIBA event “Can Bristol Build the Best Homes in the UK?” and it was a genuine delight to hear - beyond the usual impotent waffle about quality of design that consultants like me work ourselves up about - many people start talking seriously about how good design actually gets delivered. Well done to RIBA for getting a good mix of speakers that had interesting developers sat alongside a grass roots self-builder and representative of the Bristol Community Land Trust. Well done to the audience for asking such insightful questions. Conversations ran over much of the same ground that the Bristol Green Capital event last year touched on, but then went beyond to really get at the roots of the issue: landownership, long-term governance structures, procurement, public-private partnerships, the importance of community and alternative forms of delivery like the custom-build movement, on which so many hopes now seem to rest having all but given up on the volume builders. (A notable omission from the conversation was housing associations, despite their long-term revenue models, suggesting the jury’s out on their capacity to deliver.) Bristol has a reputation for poor quality education, but it feels to me like there has been a gradual, informal and collective up-skilling going on here. People with relatively little power or influence, but with inquisitive minds and a prodigious supply of passion, determination and patience, have been asking time and again over many years how their City can be improved, and tonight it felt as if the good people of Bristol were clustering, if not around, then at least near the solution. It helps that, after years of stagnant frustration, we now have, and for precious few years in development terms, a self-described “bloody-minded” Mayor, who has not only experience, but also that same passion and determination to drive the change in our City in every way that he can. More power to him and his trousers, I say. Only one of the panellists was brave enough to say that he thought it unlikely Bristol could build the best homes in the UK, which I silently applauded, but with this kind of sea change I can see possibility through the low cloud of my innate pessimism. And when you consider just how depressingly awful the vast majority of our urban environments are in this country, you wonder: why stop at the UK? Bristol needs to be setting the global standard for quality of place, and right now is the only time it’s ever going to happen. Get involved.
4 slides illustrating impotence of consultants, relative to landowner control, alongside typical inverse levels of eco-literacy