14. The human city

‘The human city’ was a term I coined in the 1990’s to describe a project I initiated concerned with the communal regeneration of Birmingham.   The Human City Initiative was an attempt to reclaim the city as a ‘human’ entity in face of a Thatcherite regime which proverbially stated that ‘there is no such thing as society’.   The Initiative ran for four years until, in 1997, we translated it constitutionally into the Human City Institute (or HCI).   HCI had a number of innovative features.   These included:

human city sites – social collectives, usually small groups (though a number of organizations, such as schools, were involved), which committed themselves to further human relationships and operate in a human way
human neighbourhoods – neighbourhoods committed to humanize the relationships and activities of residents, those who worked in the locality and all ‘incomers’ (short or long term)
human institutions – an attempt to strengthen the human qualities of those bodies, not least governmental departments and agencies, which impacted on the life of the city.

The project operated by persuading groups, organizations and institutions to make a commitment to the mission statement of the Institute  – to enable those who share a vision of the human city to work together with others to make this vision a reality.   This vision proved a powerful motivating force for many social collectives across Birmingham at that time.   The project focused on three neighbourhoods in Birmingham – and  a similar number in Bradford and Swindon.   All human city sites were linked by a newsletter.   Their names and activities appeared on HCI’s web site (such technology just coming on stream at that time) and they were encouraged to meet up from time to time in city – and occasionally cross-city – gatherings.

Networking was also facilitated by a Human City Bulletin which went out regularly to some 3000 people across Birmingham, a number of hearings, when people came together to share their concerns about the inhumanities of urban life, and partnerships, where organizations and institutions worked together to enhance some particular aspect of the life of Birmingham as a human city.

The project was founded on values similar to any that make collectives communally strong and resilient – which in this blog I define, sociologically. as the 3Ss – a sense of security, of significance and of solidarity (Page 3).   However, the term ‘the human city’ was found to be a more comprehensible and motivating title than ‘the communal city’.   Although I myself was at that time developing a communal theology (the 4L’s) founded on these sociological hall-marks of community, I did not introduce the latter into the parlance we used to inform the life and work of those associated with HCI.

HCI, in the form indicated above, lasted some eight years.   In the end it succumbed to the usual staffing and funding problems facing all such ventures – grants are often given only for start up initiatives and those which address specific issues.  The concept of ‘the human city’ – however vital for the well-being of its citizens – was too ambitious a concept to attract the funding required to sustain it.   HCI still continues (with its own web site – see below) but in a very different form.

Nevertheless, the vision which inspired the Human City Initiative and the first years of the Human City Institute developed a range of innovative approaches to urban renewal which I believe are still of considerable importance for those concerned with the humanity of our cities.   They are written up much more fully, and evaluated, in the report on HCI listed under Publications and downloadable from –

After a number of years HCI produced a paper entitled ‘Twelve signs of the human city’.   We did this reluctantly because we did not wish to give the impression that there was any kind of a blue-print for such a phenomenon.   However I believe it gives some feel of the vision towards which we were working.   It is interesting that if, in what appears below, the word ‘city’ is replace by terms such as ‘business’, ‘hospital’ or ‘school’ (and not least ‘church’, which I would, in this context, equate with a diaconal church) then we are well on the way to identifying what might make all associations or institutions genuinely human (communal) collectives.

Twelve signs of a human city

 1.   A human city is committed to being a new kind of city.

  • A human city is a place alive with the energy of hope, enables imagination and creativity to flourish and looks for the revitalization of every aspect of its corporate life.
  • It is a city which is a dynamic community of communities that offers a powerful sense of security, significance and solidarity to all its members.
  • It is ‘a rainbow city’ which delights in diversity and difference in pursuit of the common good.
  • It is a city which creates a new culture and a new language to embody and communicate what it means to be human.
  • A human city enables those who share a vision of the human city to work together with others to make that vision a reality.

2.    A human city is committed to all those who live and work there, or visit it.

  • A human city is about ‘value for people’ before value for money.
  • It is a city where ‘all matter and each counts’.
  • It is a city where people acknowledge and respect one another, where they care and where they share.

 3.   A human city is committed to affirming the whole of human experience.

  • A human city treasures the human achievements of its past and celebrates the human endeavours of the present.
  • It is a city committed to human wealth creation.
  • It is about the fulfillment of all that it means to be human; in body, mind and spirit.
  • It is a city with a heart and a soul.
  • It is a compassionate and ‘faith-full’ city.
  • It is a place of fun and laughter.

4.   A human city is committed to a life-enhancing environment.

  • A human city gives life to those who live and work there, or visit it.
  • It is a safe, clean and healthy city.
  • It is a city within which people can move about easily and comfortably.
  • It is full of natural beauty and architectural grace.

It harnesses and uses all its resources in ways that sustain the planet.

A human city is committed to social justice.

  • A human city recognizes, repents and confronts the suffering that inhumanity causes.
  • It places the concerns of the poor and the marginalized high on its agenda.
  • It is committed to the vision of a just, peaceful and inclusive city, revitalized by forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • It upholds human rights and human responsibilities.

6.   A human city is committed to truth and integrity in public life.

  • A human city fosters a culture of trust founded on mutual respect and honesty.

It is about open, informative and straight communication within all spheres and at all levels of city life.

7.   A human city is committed to the transforming power of the human group.

  • A human city is dependent on a multitude of human groups contributing in their own ways and situations to the creation of the human city.
  • It is a city where ‘small is beautiful’.
  • It values the human scale and the human touch.
  • It is a city with a human face.

8.   A human city is committed to being a place of lively and creative encounters.

  • A human city provides spaces and places where people can meet and talk.
  • It encourages those who live and work there to come together to share their experiences, stories and concerns.
  • It provides forums for vigorous discussion and debate about the meaning and nature of the human city.
  • It fosters many forms of networking that can link and connect those striving to build the human city.

9.   A human city is committed to genuine partnership.

  • A human city recognizes that the humanity of the part and the humanity of the whole are inextricably linked.
  • It is a city which brings together diverse sectors (public, private and voluntary), neighbourhoods, cultures, faiths and generations in innovative and creative ways
  • .It is a city which fosters the commitment, empathy, tolerance and tenacity which all true partnerships require.
  • It is a city which works with any other urban community that shares its vision.

10.   A human city is committed to democratic leadership and participation.

  • A human city gives its citizens a voice and hears what they say.
  • It enables its members to participate in the decisions that affect them.
  • It is a city which believes in the mutual accountability of those who live and work there, or visit it.
  • It is a city where those who lead use their power to empower others.

11.   A human city is committed to learning for living.

  • A human city is a learning city.It is a city involved in an ongoing quest to discover what it means to be human.
  • It is a city which creates a multitude of opportunities for attentive listening, innovative exchanges, open dialogue, ongoing reflection and the birth of new understandings.
  • It is a city which provides an education for life.

12.   A human city is committed to ongoing change.

  • A human city is about fundamental and continuing change because its concern is the transformation of the inhuman into the human.
  • It is a city which never ceases to challenge and redeem those things which would destroy its humanity.