Can MySpace drive urban regeneration?

I’m based in Nottingham, an English city which has not been without its problems in recent years. Its reputation has not been helped by a slew of sloppy journalism which has failed to make accurate comparison with the situation in cities of comparable size. I’m pleased to be able report though that the good folk of Nottingham are fighting back and trying to emphasise the positive things that go on in what is a culturally dynamic city. There’s been a tremendous amount of regeneration and rebuilding in recent years culminating in the city being named as one of six Science Cities in the UK. A lot of this work has taken the form of large-scale projects such as the creation of a bio-technology business centre (Bio-City) and the redevelopment of what’s called the Eastside.

But I’m a great believer in keeping an eye on the below-the-radar, small-scale stuff, especially when it involves clever use of new technologies. AreaFour Recording Industries is one such small regeneration project – a not-for-profit record company being driven by staff from the local area partnership that is bringing together un-signed music talent from across the inner city and helping to promote them to the outside world. They’ve just released a CD, called SoundCheck Nottingham, with eighteen bands, samples of which can be heard at their website.

I declare an interest here, since I have known Alan Carter-Davies, the project manager and producer, since we worked together on a technology transfer project in 2001. But I don’t plug people just because I know them. What interests me about the AreaFour project is how they’ve used Web 2.0, and in particular the MySpace social networking service. The project used MySpace to help find and bring together musicians and Alan told me “I set up my own MySpace account and started trolling for Nottingham-based guitar bands there. I found at least half the bands through MySpace and without it the job would have been a lot harder. All the bands have areas within MySpace and there is a lot of linking between them and other musicians”.

Cities are as much social constructs as they are physical ones where our social relations are as important as the buildings and streets. Urban renewal is surely as much about rebuilding the links between people and communities as it is about shiny new plate-glass buildings along the canals. Maybe there is a role here for social software like MySpace, acting as a reconnection tool, working as an adjunct to regeneration? MySpace is known for its young user group and, well, frankly its triviality. But maybe it could have a more important role in helping to build communities. Suzanne Moore writing in last week’s NewStatesman about the atomisation of our culture in recent decades called for us to a create society that insists on “OurSpace in a world of MySpace”. Perhaps it is already happening, and not in the way she imagines.

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One Response to “Can MySpace drive urban regeneration?”

  1. Alan Carter-Davies Says:

    Thanks for the write up – far be it for me to comment further due to the circumstanses. Oddly enough I have been asked recently to work on web 2.0 input into a well known quango’s ICT strategy. I shall endeavour to use the “Our Space” quote, which is a cute spin on what is essentially a return to the wild wild web days. Can’t wait for web 3.0!
    Alan

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