What sort of a city is Glastonbury, and how well is it planned?

July 2, 2014

Utopia and dystopia stories aroused my interest for urban planning– and during our annual crowd safety observation at Glastonbury Festival, I got the perfect occasion of understanding the full implications of this appeal and of giving some thoughts about a rather classic debate in urban planning: can we make the cities we want?

Combining crowd safety with sublime, often surreal visitor experience

As Owen Hatherley reported on Guardianonline.com [1] at the end of June, Glastonbury becomes the seventh largest city in the South of England, somehow comparable to a city like Brighton. Markets, residential areas, public spaces, hospital… Glastonbury does look like a city. However, contrary to most cities, Glastonbury is re-built every year, modified and improved for the greatest good of its 200,000 users, from sound systems to waste management techniques.

Has then Glastonbury become the perfectly planned city– learning from the mistakes of the past? A city where everything works and trains arrive on time? You probably guessed the answer: no, not everything happened perfectly this year in Glastonbury.

But here is the subtlety: the perfectly planned city is less about predicting every each possible scenario or imposing behaviours at any cost than creating the conditions of efficient self-regulation and spontaneous and diverse encounters.

And because, like beauty, the perfect city is in the eye of the beholder, Glastonbury meets its own standards. For instance, the ground surely became muddy in the absence of paving, but what kind of cows would graze in the fields after the festival if there were proper city streets? In this case, the sort of city that Glastonbury has chosen to be is a green [2] –or rather brown- city, making responsible use of its land, to the detriment of Londoners’ fancy shoes.

Another example: the line-up is scheduled in such a way that you cannot see Lilly Allen and Foster the People at the same time. Certainly not rational according to Spotify streaming numbers [3], but having competitive scheduling results in festival-goers dispersing across the site and thus makes it easier for the Events, Crowd Safety and Security teams to manage people movements.

What sort of a city is Glastonbury and how well is it planned? I used to conceive it as a utopia, only possible because it is ephemeral, because of its relative wealth or because of the sociology of its users. I realised Glastonbury is like many other cities: made of difficult choices, with winners and losers. But most importantly, like other cities, it also allows exceptional, cheerful and safe entertainment. So in the end, what goes and what remains from Glastonbury city 2014? You will have to go to the 2015 edition to discover.

Movement Strategies specialises in visitor analysis and design for sports and entertainment venues. To find out more about our services please contact us today on 020 3540 8520 or email info@movementstrategies.com

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/jun/23/glastonbury-city-pop-up-weekend-festival
[2] http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/information/green-glastonbury/
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/music/ng-interactive/2014/jun/20/glastonbury-2014-line-up-by-streaming-number