The relationship between people and places is more important than ever and this relationship can easily be lost in the aspiration for economic regeneration of a city.
Those responsible for regeneration will want to tell the world a story about their city as a place that is open to new businesses and new people. But for me as a faith leader and lawyer, it is also important that a city is not just open for businesses but is economically and socially integrated, inclusive and welcoming to all its inhabitants, irrespective of their financial and social backgrounds.
Telling a story about Leeds to potential investors in Beijing or Bangalore will not be as powerful if it does not sound real to people in Leeds. So to talk about a city as “open” we need to build that first at home, an inclusive city identity that belongs to everyone who lives there, and that takes work at community level.
Building new housing and refurbishing others helped build sustainable communities and improved people’s quality of life, which reinforced social cohesion
Regeneration can sometimes reinforce existing divisions but many regeneration initiatives in Leeds have sought to ensure that diverse communities’ interests and social cohesion remain at the heart of economic regeneration, making Leeds a city that is open, inter-connected, inclusive and welcoming, with an economy that is both prosperous and sustainable.
Qari Asim: A city can’t declare itself ‘open for business’ until it’s open to all inhabitants
The continued revitalisation of the city’s South Bank and Hunslet Riverside areas have transformed some ‘no-go areas’ and wastelands into economically vibrant centres, appealing accommodation and vocational educational campuses. These regeneration projects, when completed, will not only bring the much-desired entrepreneurial vibe. More importantly they will bring – geographically, socially and financially – thousands of people in deprived communities who have previously felt disconnected from the main economy of Leeds much closer to the city centre.
DLA Piper, the firm in which I am a senior lawyer, advised on the Little London, Beeston Hill and Holbeck housing regeneration scheme. I was able to see how this scheme of building new housing and refurbishing others, helped build sustainable communities and improved people’s quality of life, which reinforced social cohesion in the city.
In these regeneration projects, a community development approach, which is necessary to help foster supportive networks and relationships of trust, must be facilitated. There are already over 3,000 community projects and charities that are the blood life of Leeds’ economy, reaching places and people that others cannot.
Inside the kitchen of All Hallows Church, for instance, Muslim and Christian volunteers work side by side every week to prepare food for Syrian and other refugees. The café receives halal chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain, spices from university students, and groceries, vegetables and other items from local supermarkets. It is truly a community café, inspired by the faiths and values of the volunteers. These relations offer rich experiences to those involved and seek to ensure that despite much economic regeneration, Leeds can still be considered as home by those who chose to reside in Leeds.
Along with the stunning countryside, stimulating economic vibrancy of the city and magnanimous Yorkshire spirit of the people, Leeds is a city I feel proud to call home. It is vital that Leeds continues to offer equal opportunities to all communities for it to have a successful regeneration legacy that we can all be proud of.
Qari Asim, property lawyer, DLA Piper; head imam, Makkah mosque, Leeds
Qari Asim: A city can't declare itself 'open for business' until it's open to all inhabitants