Just under a month away from the first of a series of kneeling breaks that City Corporation bosses hope will kill once and for all the Square Mile’s presumptuous “nine-five” reputation.
The inaugural event on Saturday 15 October promises “an extensive program of theater, games and shows” with more than 100 artists, a mass treasure hunt, 16 doors into a “labyrinth” of adventures, three carnival-inspired fairs and theater of the road .
It is part of a bold new strategy by Corporation President of Politics Chris Hayward – in effect the City’s “council leader” – to attract tens of thousands of pleasure visitors to a part of London that has been hit hardest by the most of the new models of hybrid work.
The vision – codenamed ‘Destination City’ – is supported by a £ 2.5m budget and high profile recruitment, including former festival organizer Latitude Tania Harrison and New West End Marketing Manager Company Luciana Magliocco.
It’s a bold reinvention of a central London neighborhood that perhaps more than any other is seen as a place to work rather than a place to visit, with few tourist highlights noticeable beyond St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London.
Hayward believes that by attracting people who wouldn’t normally see a city trip as an attractive proposition, the Square Mile can revitalize itself.
Of the launch event he said: “We are looking to engage tens of thousands of people, it will be very interactive and will serve as a great boost to the hospitality industry, as we hope it extends into the evening. There will be two more major global events. three times a year.
“They are the most visible parts of Destination City, but there will be many more times to reinvent the City as a vibrant destination seven days a week. We want to make it much more than just a business city, so that people see it as a historical place, like a Roman city – no one has ever really explained it to them. There are a myriad of tourist attractions beyond St Paul’s and Tower Bridge, there are also the livery halls, the historic walks, the Roman road, many things that are not talked about by people who think simply as a series of tall buildings “.
Foot traffic in the city has only returned to around 65% of pre-pandemic levels, jeopardizing the future of many of the smaller businesses – from sandwich shops to tailors – serving global banks, law firms and financial institutions that have made the city arguably the most important international financial center in the world.
But he argues that the city’s new “fun” profile shouldn’t stand in the way of its primary purpose.
He said: “One of the reasons the city has thrived over 1000 years is that it has adapted. It will always remain a business city, but it is about how it will adapt after the pandemic. We are not trying to destabilize the base of the City, we are trying to strengthen it. We will never have the number of theaters they have in the West End, but we have one of the UK’s largest cultural hubs here in the Barbican and we have been able to build retail stores, at One New Change, Leadenhall and Royal Exchange. ”
One stakeholder group that Hayward has perhaps not quite won over is his small but active community of around 7,000 residents, many of whom live in the Barbican. Some dismiss Destination City as a gimmick and say the Corporation should focus more on the planning issues that they believe are ruining their lives.
Hayward admitted that there is work to be done: “We need to restore the relationship with the residents, we want to work collaboratively and consult with perhaps more successfully than in the past.” He points out that the city attracts more than 500,000 daily commuters compared to just 7,000 residents, but he says he is “intent on building a more positive and proactive relationship” with them.