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Bristol fashions culture-capital design bid

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Bristol has kicked off the battle to beat other cities vying for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2008 by basing its bid on architecture.

Here, Bristol 2008 director Andrew Kelly pleas for 'no more off-the-peg cities' and the chance for Bristol to take the lead Architecture and urban design play a key role in Bristol's plans for European Capital of Culture in 2008, because we want to see more quality architecture here and elsewhere. We want to see a new and distinctive city built on local and regional strengths, traditions and history, not on imported solutions from outside.

The city we create in 2008 should be a model for all other cities.

Bristol has pioneered new approaches to urban design in recent years. But not everything is right. Bristol has some bad architecture, and there are unresolved planning issues for major, controversial schemes. But few would deny that @tBristol, together with the new centre and the renewal of Queen Square, provide quality spaces and buildings, giving Bristol an advantage over other cities.

After many decades, the city has a heart, even a recognisable centre.

And Bristol Legible City - our comprehensive movement and information system - is the envy of many cities seeking to find solutions to the intractable problems of managing transport and attracting visitors, at the same time as creating a greater sense of place. Through innovative design - and thinking about how people use cities and the information they need - new signage, maps and interpretive artworks mean that Bristol is attractive to residents and visitors alike, and easier to use.

We need to stop the increasing monoculturalism of our cities. We must reject the seemingly inexorable rush to sameness.

Cheap in the short term, off-the-peg solutions are costly in the long term. Like quality, uniqueness is ultimately free, because the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Our focus in 2008 is culture, not simply the arts, heritage and media, though these are important. We are especially concerned with urban design and the built environment, as it is the culture that everyone engages with daily. We want to see more quality buildings. Bristol's schools programme should follow the better public buildings agenda, for example.

To do this needs education, training and debate. We also need new civic leadership - leaders in all sectors prepared to promote debate and argue for the importance of architecture and urban design. Local media should help create an informed citizenry, instead of merely reacting, in knee-jerk fashion, to planning problems when they arise. Local councils should use Best Value to promote greater consultation on urban design now, as Bristol is doing, rather than wait two or three years for the official introduction of the regime.

Architecture centres are valuable, but barely scratch the surface of what needs to be done. Much more could be done by our local libraries.

This is a great opportunity.We will create new cultural buildings in Bristol for 2008 but, more importantly, we want to create a new cultural city. This means a city welcoming to all; safe and animated squares and spaces; creative lighting; city-centre activities attractive to different groups; details of city history on plaques, signs and in artworks. A city where quality modern buildings exist alongside the historic and where the whole city is renewed, not just city centres. We need places for fun, but also places simply to stand and stare.We need a city, above all, that is legible and liveable.

The 2008 competition throws down the challenge. Culture is at the heart of our city; the city is a major part of our plans. Our rivals should do the same so that we can continue the debate launched in Lord Rogers' report and help build the new city. Being capital of culture provides the perfect excuse - and the necessary timetable - to do this.

Andrew Kelly is director of Bristol 2008

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