Here’s what the public think of “metro mayors”

We have run out of ways of illustration devolution stories, so here is a kitten. Image: Getty.

London just had its mayoral election (we may have mentioned this). And next May, a slew of other English city regions will hold their own, electing their first “metro mayors”.

That is, at any rate, the plan. How many of the nine of so devolution deals currently under discussion actually get delivered is a slightly different question.

But anyway, let’s accentuate the positive, and assume these deals are actually going to happen. If they do, what will the public think of them? 

The Centre for Cities just commissioned ComRes to find out. Here’s what it found.

1) Most people haven’t noticed.

This is not, admittedly, how the CfC present these findings: it argues, instead, that the numbers actually look pretty good this far out from the election.

But nonetheless, a majority of those surveyed hadn’t noticed the impending arrival of a metro mayor at all.

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There’s also quite a gap in awareness. The Liverpool city region is reasonably conscious of the new mayor (perhaps because there already is a mayor of Liverpool). But Sheffield is surprisingly ignorant, given how long plans there have been on the table. This might be because the Sheffield City Region will include quick big rural areas a relatively long way from Sheffield – then again, it might not.

2) Most people prefer mayors to council leaders

A more positive message, for devolution fans. Once people are aware of the mayor, they apparently think they should outrank existing council leaders.

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There’s also less regional variation.

3) A lot of people want mayors to do things they can’t do

The new mayors will not have power over schools. Outside Manchester, they won’t have power over the NHS, social care or the emergency services, either.

And yet:

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This is either an encouraging sign that people want their mayors to be more powerful – or a recipe for disillusionment and frustration.

4) People are surprisingly keen on planning

Here’s what people say when prompted for their views on bits of policy the new mayors actually will control.

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That people are in favour of affordable housing is no surprise (at least, to us). The enthusiasm for “creating a city-region strategic plan” is perhaps less expected. I mean, we’re pleased, but.... what?

Just as striking in some ways is the relative lack of excitement about transport. Are urbanites now so used to driving everywhere now so unused to having access to decent public transport that it never even occurs to them to ask for it? Or are we just – gulp – nerds?

Here, for your delectation, is a map of the regions getting metro mayors:

And here's our most recent podcast, where we discuss this stuff and the New Statesman's Stephen Bush sings a rousing chorus of “metro, metro mayor”.

ComRes surveyed 2,500 people in the five biggest city regions expected to introduce metro mayors.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


 

 
 
 
 

How US planners experimented with “the iron hand of power” over colonial Manila

Manila in ruins, 1945. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1904, Manila must have appeared to its new overlords a despairing prospect. Racked with poverty and disease, it was still recovering from years of war, epidemic and a fire that had left 8,000 homeless.

For architect Daniel Burnham, it was an opportunity to put to work the radical ideas he had dreamed of in America.

He was among those asking how America’s unprecedented wealth at the turn of the century could be reconciled with the lives of the country’s poorest. Like many, he admired the ideas of harmonised city-planning articulated in Edward Bellamy’s bestselling science-fiction Looking Backward (1888).

At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Burnham constructed the “White City”. Built across 686 acres of parkland, boulevards, gardens and neoclassical structures rendered a spray-painted plaster vision of the future – all laid out to one comprehensive plan.

It was impressive – but implementing grand designs where people actually lived meant laborious negotiations with citizens, businessmen and politicians.

Instead, opportunity lay in America’s new overseas territories. As Daniel Immerwahr describes in How to Hide an Empire: A Short History of the Greater United States, “They functioned as laboratories, spaces for bold experimentation where ideas could be tried with practically no resistance, oversight, or consequences.”

An architect’s dream

The US had gone to war with Spain in 1898, taking advantage of an empire-wide insurrection. It ended up controlling the entire Philippines, along with Guam and Puerto Rico.

As a “territory”, the Philippines existed outside the protections of the constitution. Congress could impose any law, proclaimed the attorney general in 1901, “without asking the consent of the inhabitants, even against their consent and against their protest, as it has frequently done.”

Which is how Burnham, upon invitation by the Philippine’s new rulers, came to wield what the Architectural Record called “the iron hand of power” over Manila.

 Burnham’s plan for Manila. Click to expand.

Where Burnham’s Chicago plan was complex, took years and entailed collaboration with hundreds of citizens, Burnham spent six months on the Manila plan, and just six weeks in the Philippines. And with no voters to persuade, there seemed little reason to register Filipino input in his designs.

In 1905 Burnham submitted his Report on Improvement of Manila. It described filling the toxic moat of the Spanish fortress Intramuros and developing a rectangular street system modelled on Washington D.C., with diagonal arteries which even Chicago lacked.


Central to his plan was the city’s beautification through monumental buildings, waterfront improvements, and parks – “wholesome resorts” to “give proper means of recreation to every quarter of the city”

Burnham charged William E. Parsons as the omnipotent “Consultant Architect” to interpret his plan, who relished its authority over all public building as an “architect’s dream”. When concerned with the extent of his purview, he also chose to standardise a number of public buildings.

“I doubt if this method would bear fruit in our own city improvement plans, in which everything depends on slow moving legislative bodies,” reported the Architectural Record’s correspondent.

Despite Burnham’s colonial sentiments his biographer concluded his plan was “remarkable in its simplicity and its cognizance of Philippine conditions and traditions.”

His plans did not shy from asserting the colonial government’s authority, however. The Luneta, a favourite park, was to become the nuclei of government. The city’s avenues would converge there, for “every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power.”

Unusual monumental possibilities

Burnham also worked on a summer palace for US administrators at Baguio, 150 miles north in the mountains. On land inhabited by Igorot people, Burnham saw an opening “to formulate my plans untrammelled by any but natural conditions”.

Baguio’s “unusual monumental possibilities” were facilitated by a road whose construction employed thousands, risking death from disease and falling off cliffs. Civic buildings would “dominate everything in sight” and a golf course would rival those of Scotland.

“Stingy towards the people and lavish towards itself,” griped La Vanguardia, the government “has no scruples nor remorse about wasting money which is not its own.”

As enthusiasm for US empire soured in the States, local power was relinquished to Filipinos. Parsons resigned in protest in 1914. He was replaced by Manila-born Juan Arellano, whose rebuke to imperialists was the mighty, neoclassical Legislative Building which hosted the elected Philippine Legislature. Arellano upheld Burnham’s plan, producing a beautified city bearing resemblance to Burnham’s White City.

But the Legislative Building, along with Burnham’s great edifices and almost everything else in Manila, was levelled as US troops recaptured it in 1945, this time ousting the Japanese in a brutal battle. “Block after bloody block was slowly mashed into an unrecognizable pulp”, recorded the 37th Infantry Division as they exercised their own “iron hand” over Manila.

American artillery had transformed Manila into ruins. “It was by far the most destructive event ever to take place on US soil,” writes Immerwahr, even if few soldiers realised they were liberating US nationals at the time. Burnham’s expansive vision was lost in the debris, and though some buildings were rebuilt a majority were replaced. Today, Manila’s pre-war architecture is remembered with fondness and nostalgia.