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People and places: Public attitudes to beauty

People and places: Public attitudes to beauty

15 November 2010

People and places: public attitudes to beauty focused on Sheffield as a city that has experienced recent significant change. It aimed to address what beauty means for individuals, for places and communities, and for society.

The study drew on ethnographic films and a day of qualitative discussion groups. It also used a national survey of 1,043 adults across England.

CABE also asked seven public figures to respond to the ideas raised in People and places: public attitudes to beauty:

  • Beauty and public policy - beauty may be contentious and difficult to define, but it’s also one of the great goods of human life. It is something we all crave and, as Glenn Parsons explains, a necessary part of any political conversation about the kind of places and the kind of society in which we want to live.
  • Beauty, localism and deprivation - Irena Bauman explores the links between deprivation, power and a lack of access to beauty. Using a project at the Richmond Hill estate in Leeds, she shows how poor communities can use beauty as a powerful agent for change, and a way to help narrow the poverty gap.
  • The X factor: beauty in planning - thinkers from the 18th century to the present have sought to understand why beauty matters. Matthew Kieran argues that beauty is what happens when we respond to our practical needs with imagination and integrity. It is not just intrinsically valuable but part of what makes a place economically and socially successful. Planners should recognise it as a legitimate and practical objective.
  • Beauty and a love of life - Diana Athill believes that beauty matters because it provides pleasure. We all have a right to expect pleasure from the buildings and spaces we use, alongside the essential requirement that they should function well. Problems arise when beauty and taste get confused.
  • Beauty: value beyond measure? - Hasan Bakhshi is convinced that conventional economics misses the most important things in life. Beauty is one of these values missing from public life because of an assumption that it can’t be measured. But, he argues, cultural leaders should embrace methods for valuing goods and experiences not captured by export figures or job creation. These techniques will make beauty impossible to ignore.
  • Beauty: a short history - have we become less certain over time of what beauty means to us, to the extent that we are now reluctant to discuss it at all? Alan Powers tracks the development of the concept of beauty in Britain and asks where we went wrong and how beauty could answer some of the most pressing questions for our society today.
  • Beauty, well-being and prosperity - Bonnie Greer thinks that an understanding of beauty lies at the heart of our culture. But, she argues, the cultural significance of beauty does not lie in appearance, but in helping us to find meaning. Government at every level has much to gain from understanding why beauty matters to people.

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