Friday, May 31, 2013

The brainy city

Quite rightly Manchester is lauded for its sporting and cultural contribution to the world. But there is also vast tradition of new ideas born of the city’s bold intellectual curiosity. Free trade capitalism, female suffrage, communism, vegetarianism, even the founding principles of the Co-operative movement were rooted in proud traditions of thought and new ideas in Manchester.
All the major political parties seem to be struggling to connect with what they really stand for. Instead of riding the technological wave of change, they seem to be drowned by it. And too often debate is quickly polarised – free speech for idiots, slogans without substance – can someone explain the difference between One Nation Labour, Red Tory and Blue Labour?
Over the next few weeks we’ll be inviting Downtown members and anyone interested in thinking a bit harder to join with us on raising the level of debate and articulating a Northern perspective on the major issues of our day.
It was one of the characteristics that attracted me to Downtown last year, a readiness for a growing group of people in our cities to approach our events with an open mind. In fact the last two events I’ve hosted have seen Lord Adonis encourage an educational revolution that is refreshing and bold, while TechHub’s Doug Ward kicked off an event with reference to the principles of Boulder theory and how a thriving technology ecosystem can thrive, inspired by Boulder in Colorado, a thriving enterprising city in the Rocky Mountains.
I’ve just spent a couple of days at Hay Festival in mid-Wales. There wasn’t much talk about start-ups and finance, but there was a real energy around understanding how technology is influencing how we learn and how quickly the world is changing. Eric Schmidt from Google had been there earlier in the week tackling big global issues, and no doubt being mugged on where his company pays its taxes.
There were thousands of people at this “Woodstock of the mind”, talking about a vast range of subjects, history, environment, creativity and there was also a fascinating analysis of the forthcoming Ashes series by Michael Vaughan, but that’s another story.
But the point of me mentioning all of this is that I’m particularly excited by our forthcoming events. An EU debate in Manchester on June the 27th, the Northern Revolution conference on July the 4th at MediaCity in Salford Quays. We’ve assembled a really impressive cast list of men and women with a vital contribution to this process of the exploration of ideas for what kind of world we are creating for our children in the north of England.
My good pal Mike Emmerich coined the phrase Brainy City in a speech at MIPIM. Science is a massive part of our future, but there is so much more to go at besides. Let’s all of us raise our aspirations, let’s do more of this kind of thing in Manchester.
Apart from anything, Hay-on-Wye is a dog to get to.
(pic above from Finn Beales, Hay Festival)

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