Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cardiff's sense of place.

I attended an interesting workshop put on by Cardiff and Co in the Norwegian Church this afternoon, given by tourism consultant Angharad Wynne, on the subject 'A sense of Place'. She explored with us questions about what makes any place unique and special for those who visit it. Those working and living in the place may need a little exercising to focus in on how others coming in from outside experience a place in a way that makes it different from all others. Identifying this is important in any marketing strategy, and also significant in this globlised commercial culture where shops and shopping centres look the same and have much the same content in many part fo the planet.

Everyone needs a degree of familiarity in order to feel secure when they're away from home, but in order to make journeys to other places worthwhile and memorable, there has to be some sense of what is distinctive. That's the bit you tell your friends and gives them the incentive to follow in your footsteps.

This was an exercise in relation to St John's, which I did quickly and easily in my head, for we we have the evidence of visitor book comments about the beauty and peace of the building with its lovely stained glass and peacefulness in the heart of the city. We also have the evidence of people from far and wide queuing to consume home made soups, cakes and sandwiches, and welcomed by the friendly Tea Room volunteer teams, often being sent by friends, or bringing their friends to enjoy the place. We also get positive comments about the 'rogues gallery' of a century's images of former clerics, photos and art works over 200 years depicting the church from different angles. Absolutely unique. A great tourism asset, and missionary tool.

Trying to look at Cardiff objectively wasn't quite so easy. Many recent buildings looking much like others, shops like you'll find everywhere. But, the Bay Barrage has created a unique waterfront, and a new civic centre of landmark buildings, matching the Edwardian civic centre, and some of the city's Victorian buildings. The same is true of the new library, now gleaming bronze and blue in the winter sun. Memorable. SD2 is still under wraps. But when you've been around in the open topped bus and videoed them for posterity what other experience will linger?

How about, the singing during a match at the Millennium Stadium? How about a stroll through the arcades, the Castle, Bute Park? What about the municipally undervalued city market? Ashton's Fish stall? The City Arms. The Vulcan? Just a handful of places serve really indigenous food, and I'm not talking about 'chip alley', Caroline Street. All these were mentioned in discussion of the Cardiff sense of place. St John's too. But interestingly, Cardiff accent and lingo were mentioned, and also the spontaneous way in which people converse with strangers at bus stops, and are warm, friendly and helpful. Cardiff character - and it knows no ethnic divisions among the older generations. The younger tend to be more tribal. Hopefully they'll grow out of it.

Yes, the city's got a lot to distinguish it from others, as well as more of the ubiquitous sameness of modern trade. Getting the balance right is the big challenge.

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