What is a vibrant city? How do you create one? And is being a vibrant destination the key to successfully attracting inward investment?

These questions were central to discussions at our latest event for commercial partners.

Held at The Studio, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, a diverse panel of place-making experts from across the region shared their experiences on why vibrant cities matter.

Chaired by Monique Sutherland, Partner at DLA Piper, the debate opened with thoughts on what makes a vibrant city.

For Isobel Woods, Head of Skills at the City of Wolverhampton Council, said:

“It’s all about the people being the heart and soul, and bringing a real sense of purpose to a place.”

Laura McMillan, Director of Operations and Legacy for Coventry City of Culture Trust agreed:

“For us at the City of Culture Trust it is the people. It is how cities are created to encourage people to spend their time and their money in them and bring all their relatives to come and stay.”

Jon Harris, Integrated Transport, Accessibility & Development Manager at West Midlands Trains, highlighted the role connectivity plays in supporting the personal experience of visitors:

“It’s vital we get the transport infrastructure right, and a lot of that is around increasing multi-modal access. But it also comes down to the individual customer experience, of rail and other transport modes, and whether that hangs together enough for someone to enjoy the place. If any of those ingredients are missing it can really impact around someone’s personal choice of mobility and also someone’s personal freedom.”

A place to call home

But can a city’s people alone make it a lively place to be?

James Spencer, Director at Glenn Howells Architects, said:

“A vibrant city is made up of lots of parts, but from an architectural point of view it’s about making sure places are well-designed, that we create opportunities and, importantly, get that critical mass of people into spaces.

“If you look at what Argent are doing at the Paradise development in Birmingham, it’s really important for changing the footfall and the way people move around the city, but also creating fantastic buildings that act as a backdrop to our daily lives.”

Working together

If the vibrancy of a city is founded on a combination of its people and places, what can the private and public sectors do to help them thrive?

Dr Rick Robinson, Digital Property and Cities Leader at Arup, said that aligning ambitions between the two sectors is fundamental:

“The public sector has the mandate to express what a community wants from a place, but the majority of investment comes from the private sector. For me finding ways to square that circle is the key to it. So, when we have investment in regeneration, and investment in infrastructure, how do we ensure the private sector gets the financial return on investment, while the public sector and the community gets the output that they believe are important.”

On the role of local authorities, Isobel Woods commented:

“We have a real responsibility around the community and the people of our city. We also have a responsibility about our place.

“In Wolverhampton, we have to be leading that vision piece, making sure we create a sense of purpose, a new sense of identity and making sure that developments coming forward are sympathetic, sustainable and that they all connect. We need to be learning, creating, working and living in our cities, which the public sector steps in to help enable.”

A vibrant future

Monique Sutherland concluded:

“Vibrancy is a multi-layered cake in terms of the challenges to cities and how we might make change.”

What is clear is that there is huge potential to build on the West Midlands’ sense of vibrancy over the next decade.

Legacies from the Coventry City of Culture 2021 and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will define a new era for the region and continue to shape perceptions from visitors, investors and residents alike.

Focusing on how these events will empower residents to feel proud of where they belong, Laura McMillan said:

“We’re not saying the City of Culture or the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games are going to come in and fix everything, but what we can do is make the region feel more vibrant and safe. In turn residents will come in and spend more time and more money – it just breeds and breeds.”

Join the debate

Do you want to help make the West Midlands a more vibrant destination? Contact a member of our team to learn about opportunities to support the region and work with the West Midlands Growth Company.