Mayor needs to recognise role design can play in London

The City Brand Barometer by Saffron Brand Consultants couldn’t have been more timely (see www.designweek. 18 August). With all eyes on Beijing, we in design face an autumn of European city-gazing. The London Design Festival, the Venice Architecture Biennale and Amsterdam and Utrecht’s first Freedesigndom fest all kick off next month, with other Continental events in the offing.

London does well in Saffron’s rating, coming out on top with Paris. This gives London Mayor Boris Johnson a great platform from which to build the capital’s reputation in the run up to the 2012 London Olympic Games.

He needs to note, though, that reputation isn’t won on promotion alone. A city needs more tangible assets to maintain the respect of locals and visitors. The Saffron study warns, for example, that UK cities such as Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle, all in the top half of the charts, might have over-egged their marketing and could be overtaken by more modest cities with stronger attractions.

So how can design help Johnson improve London’s lot? We know London boasts outstanding creative talent and is highly regarded globally as a hub for design education and practice. But while this might attract inward investment – Nissan, Nokia and LG have all set up European design centres in London – it is unlikely to impress the average visitor to the capital.

We need better public transport, better place-making and wayfinding systems, and improved environments for pedestrians for starters, if London is to be an effective gateway to the UK.

Johnson knows this and has made some moves to these ends. But he has yet to show he shares the understanding of his predecessor Ken Livingstone that design has a vital part to play, not just in creating objects, but in shaping the services themselves.

We look to him to evolve and announce a coherent strategy on design and, ideally, to appoint a design csar for London. Saffron’s Wally Olins might be a strong contender.

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