By Debbie-Weekes Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with more than 300 languages spoken every day. Yet the history of all Londoners is not equally expressed through its statues, plaques street names and other parts of its visual public realm.
The Mayor is committed to ensuring that the capital’s population and history are celebrated and commemorated. Following the unveiling of the statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square in 2018, the first statue of a woman in the Square, the Mayor and his senior team set about establishing the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm.
Up to 15 people will be recruited to lead a London-wide conversation on how to practically achieve greater diversity of representation across the public realm and heritage sites. Commission members will be announced in December 2020.
There is currently no pan-London approach to the visual public realm or to who is portrayed within it, be that through street signs and names, public art commissions, statues, memorials, street art or plaques.
The Mayor is therefore bringing this Commission together to develop a more joined up approach and create a shared understanding of the importance of diversity in London’s public realm.
The Commission will have a focus on increasing presence and visibility of underrepresented groups including Black, Asian and minority ethnic, women, LGTBQ+ and disabled groups and to include consideration of representation of socio-economic diversity.
The key principles for the Commission are:
Debate: Open a wide conversation across society including creating space for debate about contested heritage. This may include public panels, thought provocations, published texts and policy recommendations.
Listen: Ensure that a wide range of voices contribute to the Commission at all stages. This will include hosting speakers and representations from diverse groups to give evidence at Commission meetings, community conversations, workshops and public surveys.
Delivery: A tangible programme of work that signals change and protects London’s international reputation as a fair and equitable world city, which could include support for new public realm commissions and recommendations for approaches to existing works.
Best Practice: Establish best practice, case studies and standards, for example commissioning guidance about processes, decision making and fair pay. Engage with and share expertise and approaches with other global cities in partnership with the World Cities Culture Forum.
Leadership: Create opportunities for long term change in London’s public realm, building shared understanding and engagement. Advocate for changes in working practice, supported by the Partners Board and other key stakeholder groups.
London’s distinctiveness is a huge asset. The Commission’s ambition is to celebrate that in a more inclusive manner.