You may have noticed, there’s a lot of big stuff happening in Leeds right now or at least there’s a lot of chatter and a lot of words being written about big stuff happening in Leeds. The future for Leeds, it seems, is bright.
For the 2023 Bid, however, this is bad news, and bearing in mind the City has only recently submitted its bid to the judges it is most certainly bad timing. Every mention of another few hundred million being allocated to this, that or another is one more nail in the coffin and the City’s chances. Historically the European City of Culture is not awarded to Cities that are doing really well and Leeds right now is at the top of its game and arguably in a better position than most, or at least that’s what we are wanting everyone to hear. City of Culture is awarded to places that have the prospect of doing well but need the investment that this award brings to realise this potential. The effects in places like Glasgow, Liverpool and most recently Hull have been unquestionably game-changing but all of those places had one thing in common: they needed the help and they made sure people knew about it.
For years we have struggled as a City to tell our story, to shout about the place positively. It’s one of the reasons I started Leeds Living to begin with. Now here’s the irony, right now, at the only time we don’t really want that to happen, we appear to have galvanised our efforts to shout collectively from the rooftops about exactly how marvellous everything is, or will be, in our great City.
Look at our competitors. Look at how many of them are talking to the press about £100’s of millions being invested in their Cities. Dundee, for example, has got a £1Billion waterfront regeneration project underway yet you don’t hear much about it. Search in Belfast, Derry or Nottingham and again you’ll be hard pushed to find any stories of inward investment. Why would they? People help those in need; it’s human nature and I’m sure the judges are as human as the rest of us.
Surely we could have kept a lid on this misguided sense of achievement for a few more weeks until we had been shortlisted at the very least. I now dare to say shortlisting isn’t a sure thing and many of us at the beginning thought that failure in the first round would be the greatest embarrassment of all. Sadly you only have to look at Dublin to see the potential for this to happen and that is not what Leeds needs, not at a time when we strive to raise our profile internationally.
We can only hope that the judges don’t read much but bid submissions for the next few weeks, or if they do they don’t interpret this new wave of positivity as anything more than the faux fur and no knickers it really is. If they can see beyond the fiction and focus on the facts they will hopefully see that Leeds can benefit greatly from this award, that the lives of many (the majority) of its people can improve if these new found riches are bestowed upon us and of course spent appropriately. This City has every bit as much potential as those we are up against and that, good people of the press, is exactly what you should be writing about now. The last thing we want them reading about are the shiny glass train stations, towering office blocks and parks made of pavements. Well maybe the parks; they might give us some money to build a new fountain!
We can only hope that they look beyond the City Centre and see the real Leeds, that they see the similarities to previous winners. Then and only then will Leeds be in with a chance.
NOTE: This article was written prior to the recent decision made by the European Commission preventing UK Cities from hosting a European Capital of Culture in 2023.