Urban buzz in the Midlands
Urban Buzz in the Midlands investigated the generation of urban buzz in Leicester. In particular it examined the ways in which buzz is deployed within the city’s local economic plan and vision for the public realm in the city centre, and how it is practiced and performed by stakeholders ranging from policy makers to everyday consumers. It asked the following questions:
- What is ‘buzz’? And what are the geographies of urban buzz (outside ‘global cities’)?
- How do key stakeholders in Leicester imagine buzz can be mobilized to the benefit of the local economy?
- How can geographers critically and creatively represent urban buzz?
In recent years, Leicester’s Mayor has articulated a comprehensive vision for redeveloping the city centre under the concept of Connecting Leicester. At the heart of this strategy was a plan for the city to capitalise on its existing retail, cultural, and heritage assets by redesigning the public realm to reconnect areas of interest and make it easier for people to move between different places. Physically, this plan envisioned creating new, high quality public spaces in the city centre and better connecting them by reprioritising key routes as pedestrian-friendly promenades.
Keywords used to describe this vision relate to making the city centre ‘exciting’ and ‘vibrant’ for visitors and locals alike. Assembling into ‘buzzy districts’, buzz is said to emerge from the concentration of socially and culturally significant sites, such as music venues, restaurants and bars, cultural quarters, and indeed marketplaces. Such buzzy sites are key urban amenities that are believed to attract ‘talent’, make cities ‘liveable’, and are thus imagined to be vital to the economic competitiveness of ‘global’ cities.
Because it is ephemeral, however, the ways in which it materialises through and within particular places and its role in their reproduction is under-theorized. Social media and the establishment of geographic information observatories allows for capturing of part of such ephemeral buzz through novel, mixed qualitative-quantitative studies. This project thus investigated how buzz materialise and is mobilised by cities lower down the urban hierarchy.