If you’re reading this in London or Edinburgh, congratulations. You are an official member of an ideopolis. If you’re in Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle or Glasgow, don’t despair: you’re well on your way.
For the rest of us, the nagging question is whether not living in an ideopolis (a knowledge-driven city, as defined by the Work Foundation) relegates us to the ignominy of hitching our wagons to an idiotpolis - a city too stupid to produce the skills its residents require to succeed.
While being Britain’s first idiotpolis may have marketing advantages worth exploring (the Crap Towns accolade didn’t do Luton any harm) it would take a brave economic agency to nail its colours to that mast.
The danger is that we could swallow a one-dimensional view of the ‘knowledge economy’ that could lead us down the same old blind alleys. Just remember those millions invested in call centres.
I’m not suggesting skills and knowledge are over-valued. Neither am I questioning the view that there is a tipping point where cities with a certain proportion of knowledge-based businesses reap an economic advantage.
But success in the 21st century has as much to do with our qualities as our qualifications: our adaptability, inventiveness, and ability to spot potential.
It’s understandable that the Work Foundation should use degree-level education as a proxy for knowledge. But it’s a rough and ready measure. And the idea that you can only invent, innovate and generate wealth with the right bit of paper is an invidious one.
Lasting economic success depends on participation as much as knowledge. Finding ways to enable the inactive to take part in useful work within their communities is vital too, because it creates and cements the social infrastructure that stops our turbocharged knowledge economies imploding.
If much of the wealth we produce must be spent on prisons, social workers and health facilities to deal with the consequences of excluding huge chunks of the population from meaningful economic roles, it doesn’t really matter whether we live in an ideopolis or not: we won’t have become more civilised.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine