Bristol and Bath - two cities that share more than a cycle path

Jamie Eastman
Director of Arts | University of Bath
18th October 2017

As the pace of urbanisation intensifies around the globe, the future of cities is becoming an increasingly hot topic.

It follows that amid the growing spectre of urban sprawl, to hold this year’s Festival of the Future City across two cities that less resemble concrete jungles than they do urban oases might seem somewhat incongruous.

Moreover, to hold such a Festival across two cities, who are connected, both physically and symbolically, by a thoroughfare that provides bucolic recompense to one of the most quotidian aspects of urban life: the daily commute.

The two cities I am talking about, of course, are Bristol and Bath, and the physical and symbolic connection between them is their eponymous cycle path!

Bristol and Bath. Two cities.

Two cities, who on the face of it, are tasked with navigating very different challenges at the dawn of this 21st century.

Two cities who, I would argue, tend to be viewed in this way, rightly or wrongly, because of certain cultural associations or caricatures of place.

Whereas outsiders tend to associate the romantic and traditional with Bath by way of Jane Austen and Sally Lunn’s and Bristol with the gritty and leftfield a la Banksy and the free party scene of the 1990s.

The elegant Georgian townhouses of Bath juxtaposed with rows of multi-coloured terraces in Bristol, taken as evidence of a yearning chasm between two rival West Country neighbours.

The reality, of course, is that Bristol and Bath are both forward looking, modern cities. Two cities that share a lot more in common than what separates them, and not because you are just as likely to find a kitsch tearoom in Bedminster as you are an aspirant Banksy in Widcombe!

For me, Visit England puts it best when describing Bristol and Bath as “the yin and yang of the West Country”. 

Without one, you wouldn’t have the other. 

They are inseparable contradictions, both at forefront of developments in arts and culture, science and technology on the world stage, yet fiercely traditional in their own unique ways.

Two cities, who since the establishment of the West of England Combined Authority, share a future that is inextricably linked. Standing together as they do with the other devolved city regions of England at the dawn of a new era of inter-city partnership and collaboration.

You could say, rather than being incongruously green cities for a festival that turns the spotlight on the city in the 21st century, Bristol and Bath are fittingly futurist in this regard, embracing enthusiastically the bright future that lies ahead of them!

In this spirit, it is great to be working in partnership with our West Country neighbours; sharing this landmark event: the 2017 Festival of the Future City.

Not only does it demonstrate how great things can come of collaboration between our two great cities, but also a commonality of purpose in celebrating culture and ideas. 

And while there’s plenty to look forward to in Bristol, I of course will do the cheerleading for Bath!

Owing to Bath’s rich architectural heritage, and the shared issues our cities face in terms of ensuring that housing and public spaces are fit for the challenges of the future; the Festival programme is generously apportioned to the future of urban housing and creating great spaces.

Ensuring that the future city evolves in a way that is simultaneously liveable, inclusive and sustainable, while maintaining and developing a unique sense of place form the core of Bath’s contribution to the Festival programme.

We’ll also see architecture writer, Owen Hatherley, do a walking tour of Bath’s main architectural sites, while one of the city’s most radical adopted sons, Ken Loach, lays out his vision for the future of the place he calls home.

Two cities, yin and yang, pathfinding together the shape and colour of the future city.

The Festival of the Future City is supported by the University of Bath, University of Bristol, University of the West of England, Bristol City Council and Business West.

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    Bristol Festival of Ideas is an initiative of Bristol Cultural Development Partnership - a body established and funded by Arts Council England, Bristol City Council and Business West.