Summit head-to-head

A fascinating head-to-head discussion took place between winner of the World's Best Mayor title and one of the UK's leading thinkers on urban futures.

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Bart Somers, Mayor of Belgian city Mechelen told delegates "we were a city of despair and now we are a benchmark city - we built a city of citizens not communities" and gave an insight into how Mechelen had been transformed to create a green, clean, safe and inclusive place of which they could be proud.

He said "People want to have an experience - the city has to be the experience. The city of the future is not a museum, but a combined place for living, working and visiting."

In the last ten years, the number of people living in the centre has risen from 20,000 to 30,000 and lots of energy has been put in to making it family friendly. "Look at what is unique in your town/ city and rethink it" he urged.

Yolande Barnes, Chair of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute and Professor of Real Estate at UCL, told delegates "You cannot separate people from place. We need to understand people and their behaviour and what they want to bring them back to our streets. People love watching people, that's why they come together."

Both speakers were clear that the vibrancy of a centre was not just reliant on its retail offer but on its unique cultural offer, places to meet, and its activities. The pair spoke about the importance of curation of a town or city centre, saying that what gives it life is the stewardship of place - "small measures can make a big difference but it takes estate management".