The transcript of Christine Murray’s opening address at the inaugural Festival of Place on 9 July, 2019 with photography by John Sturrock
On July 9, 2019 at Tobacco Dock in East London, 450 delegates from developers, local authorities, cities, investors, architects, landscape designers, charities, community outreach workers, activists, artists and makers of place came together for the inaugural Festival of Place to consider how to make cities that thrive in the context of large-scale, urban redevelopment in the UK. This is the transcript from Christine Murray’s opening speech, where she sets out her inspiration and vision for this new annual gathering.
Welcome to the Festival of Place. My name is Christine Murray I’m the Editor-in-chief of The Developer and Creative Director of the Festival of Place.
It’s amazing to be here, at an event that was just an idea a few months ago. I want to thank you all for coming.
Thanks in particular to the Design Council, our headline partners for the event, who straight away saw the need for a collaborative creative cross-disciplinary conversation and were willing to back it.
Thanks to Vestre, who in addition to supporting the Festival also helped make Tobacco Dock into a place with their street furniture. Thanks also to Places for People, another early supporter recognising the value of this conversation.
“I have to confess that I’m feeling pretty nervous right now, because I don’t really know if this is going to work”
Thanks, also, to our City sponsors, Nottingham, Portsmouth, City of London, Coventry and Warwickshire and Cardiff; our supporters with their market stalls: Quintain, Scott Brownrigg, Elizabeth Marsh Floral Design, Partnership for Biodiversity in Planning, Savills Urban Design Studio; and Ocean Media for supporting a little idea that I had called The Developer and the Festival of Place, and making this happen.
Now, I have to confess that I’m feeling pretty nervous right now, because I don’t really know if this is going to work. We’ve never done anything like it before.
But when I was researching the Festival of Place, you told me that you are tired of going to panel discussions where people aren’t frank and honest on stage.
So what I wanted to create here is an innovative environment where we can admit failure, question success, take risks, not know the answer or not be sure. Can we be open minded, disclose our mistakes and failures and the insights we’ve learned? Can we listen? Can we, as an industry, be humble?
And can the Festival of Place be a safe space for this conversation? I don’t know. But it’s something that I would like you think about it when you participate today, and as you tweet and share on social media, too. How can we foster this as an experimental space.
Can we foster a rare atmosphere of psychological safety? Because humility in our approach is needed. Collaboration in our approach is needed. And innovation is needed.
We have some really big challenges we’re facing, from the climate emergency to investment, labour, communities, equity and culture.
“What I wanted to create here is an innovative environment where we can admit failure, question success, take risks, not know the answer or not be sure”
For a creative industry – because placemaking and placeshaping is creative – that works so closely together around the table in project team meetings to realise major urban developments, we don’t spend a lot of time brainstorming with people we don’t work with.
We also don’t tap into the wealth of knowledge in the scientific and academic communities – the anthropologists, neuroscientists and social scientists researching urban space – many of whom are here today.
I’ve also invited community groups, charities, students, collectives, activists and outreach organisations to attend the Festival on discounted or free tickets, to ensure that this conversation is broad, diverse and unexpected.
The day is dynamic with simultaneous sessions and stages, because I wanted it to be a bit like Glastonbury, where you might watch fifteen minutes of one act before going to see another.
We have the live judging of The Pineapples awards for place happening all day, alongside interactive Placehack workshops and talks.
You have the freedom to shape your day, but that does means people are going to leave partway through talks, so we create a culture where that feels OK and not rude. Perhaps sit near the back if you are not entirely committed, near the front if you are, and speakers, you mustn’t be offended.
Whatever happens today, I would ask for your help, forgiveness and feedback to make it better. The Festival of Place is your space to share, network, learn and inspire. Help me shape it.