What happens when urban development corporations inexplicably decide to make terrible pop music?

"You've never been shopping as it should be/Until you've been to Central Milton Keynes!" Image: Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman

Development corporations have been, for good or ill, a big part of the growth and regeneration of UK urban areas and new towns in the late 20th century (and beyond): many areas had their fortunes turned around, if not necessarily for the original inhabitants, and they’ve given us some bizarre non-places like Canary Wharf and Milton Keynes.

But we also have to development corporations to thank for some absolutely brilliant (not absolutely brilliant) pop music!

Energy In Northampton

Back in 1980, someone at Northampton Development Corporation’s marketing department was struggling to work out how to they could get the message out the world that Northampton was now The Place To Be. Presumably this person then sustained some sort of head injury and decided to recruit the lady who sang on Video Killed The Radio Star to record a song about aliens.

The result, Energy In Northampton, tells the beautiful story of a lost starship fleeing a 'neutron war', its crew seeking somewhere to start a new life: luckily their scanners light up and direct them towards… NORTHAMPTON, a town of energy, a town where they could be free! Indeed.

"Calling planet earth! Calling planet earth! Stop beaming this song into space!"

The host of the promotional video that accompanied the song theorises that the aliens were mainly attracted by the lager produced by the local Carlsberg brewery, just another absolutely brilliant thing brough to you by the Northampton Development Corporation.

"A love affair with Northampton is a journey into space." Is it? Is it, indeed. Image: This Is Of Interest.

Is the idea of lager-swilling aliens off-putting? Don’t worry, there’s a more down-to-earth track on the B-side, which economically uses exactly the same tune with different lyrics. It tells a love story for the ages, about how all the singer’s fantasies have come true since she met a guy from Northampton, which is only 60 miles by road or rail!

"I just can't wait to be in Northampton!"

But Northampton was not the only development corporation to release some plop pop.

We Are Teesside

In 1995 the Teesside Development Corporation made the questionable decision to celebrate its achievements by releasing “We Are Teesside”, a recording by New Ground, a group which apparently included members of Middlesbrough FC (the name presumably referencing their then brand new Riverside Stadium, built on Development Corporation land.)

The football team were relegated the following year, presumably as karmic punishment for their involvement.

“Teesside - we’re the future, we’re the pride!” boast the saccharine lyrics, before explaining that “the gift we leave behind is the promise of tomorrow for our children”. Also this bucket of vomit. The Teesside Development Corporation was disbanded three years later; a local MP later condemned it for “often inappropriate and threadbare development”, presumably referring to this musical tragedy.

You've Never Seen Anything Like It, Central Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes, the archetypal new town, had to get on the crap urban pop train as well. The opening of the town’s shopping centre, developed by Milton Keynes Development Corporation, was celebrated with a promotional silver flexi-disc. The song largely consists of ambiguously ambitious claims all the lines of: “You’ve never been anywhere like it, Central Milton Keynes!”

This was, inexplicably, written by the drummer from The Troggs.

“Sunny CMK! Wouldn’t mind staying all day!” sings a man who has presumably never been.


Come on modern day development corporations, raise your awful song game. Hey, London Legacy Development Corporation - we'll give you "If you need a lark/Head to the Olympic Park!" for free.

 
 
 
 

How can we stop city breaks killing our cities?

This couple may look happy, but they’re destroying Barcelona. Image: Getty.

Can’t wait to pack your bags and head off on holiday again? It used to be that people would look forward to a long break in summer – but now tourists have got used to regular short breaks through the year. We love to jet off to the world’s glittering cities, even if only for a day or two. The trouble is, binge travelling may be killing the places we visit.

You may even have seen some “tourists go home” graffiti on your last trip, and it’s not hard to see why. Barcelona is a good example of how a city can groan under the weight of its popularity. It now has the busiest cruise port, and the second fastest growing airport in Europe. Walking through the Barcelona streets at peak season (which now never seems to end) flings you into a relentless stream of tourists. They fill the city’s hot spots in search of “authentic” tapas and sangria, and a bit of culture under the sun. The mayor has echoed residents’ concerns over the impact of tourism; a strategic plan has been put in place.

It is true though, that cities tend to start managing the impact of tourism only when it is already too late. It creeps up on them. Unlike visitors to purpose-built beach destinations and national parks, city-break tourists use the same infrastructure as the locals: existing systems start slowly to stretch at the seams. Business travellers, stag parties and museum visitors will all use existing leisure facilities.

‘Meet the friendly locals’, they said. Image: Sterling Ely/Flickrcreative commons.

Barcelona may only be the 59th largest city in the world, but it is the 12th most popular with international visitors. Compared to London or Paris, it is small, and tourism has spiked sharply since the 1992 Olympics rather than grown steadily as in other European favourites like Rome.

Growth is relentless. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) even speaks about tourism as a right for all citizens, and citizens are increasingly exercising that right: from 1bn international travellers today, we will grow to 1.8bn by 2030, according to UNWTO forecasts.

Faced with this gathering storm, just who is tourism supposed to benefit? Travellers, cities, residents or the tourism industry?

Market forces

Managing the impact of tourism starts by changing the way destinations market themselves: once the tourists arrive, it’s too late. Tourism authorities need to understand that they are accountable to the city, not to the tourism industry. When the city of Barcelona commissioned the University of Surrey to look into how it might best promote sustainable development, we found a series of techniques which have been incorporated, at least in part, into the city’s 2020 Tourism Strategy.

In the simplest terms, the trick is to cajole tourists into city breaks which are far less of a burden on the urban infrastructure. In other words, normalising the consumption of sustainable tourism products and services. In Copenhagen, 70 per cent of the hotels are certified as sustainable and the municipal authority demands sustainability from its suppliers.

Higher than the sun. A primal scream from the world’s cities? Image: Josep Tomàs/Flickr/creative commons.

Destinations must also be accountable for the transport impact of their visitors. The marketing department might prefer a Japanese tourist to Barcelona because on average they will spend €40 more than a French tourist – according to unpublished data from the Barcelona Tourist Board – but the carbon footprint we collectively pay for is not taken into account.

Crucially, for the kind of city breaks we might enjoy in Barcelona, most of the carbon footprint from your holiday is from your transport. Short breaks therefore pollute more per night, and so destinations ought to be fighting tooth and nail to get you to stay longer. It seems like a win for tourists too: a few extra days in the Spanish sun, a more relaxing break, and all accompanied by the warm glow of self-satisfaction and a gold star for sustainability.


Destinations can also target customers that behave the most like locals. Japanese first-time visitors to Barcelona will crowd the Sagrada Familia cathedral, while most French tourists are repeat visitors that will spread out to lesser-known parts of the city. Reducing seasonality by emphasising activities that can be done in winter or at less crowded times, and geographically spreading tourism by improving less popular areas and communicating their particular charms can also help reduce pressure on hot spots, much like Amsterdam is doing.

Turnover is vanity, and profit margins are sanity. No city should smugly crow about the sheer volume of visitors through its gates. If tourism is here to stay, then the least cities can do is to sell products that will have the greatest benefit for society. Whether it’s Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna or Bognor, there should be a focus on locally and ethically produced products and services which residents are proud to sell. Tourist boards should work with small businesses that offer creative and original things to do and places to stay, adding breadth to the city’s offering.

The ConversationWhether Barcelona will introduce these ideas will depend on the bravery of politicians and buy-in from the powerful businesses which are happily making short-term profits at the expense of residents and the planet. It is possible to do things differently, and for everyone to benefit more. It may be that the tipping point lies in the age-old mechanics of supply and demand: bear that in mind next time you’re booking a quick city break that looks like it’s only adding to the problem.

Xavier Font is professor of marketing at the University of Surrey.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.