Award for Brixton X Harlem twinning

woman and man with award
Jessica Dyer and Gianluca Rizzo with the award

The Brixton X Harlem twinning initiative created by business improvement districts in the two neighbourhoods was the first winner of the best placemaking initiative category in the annual City Nation Place awards.

City Nation Place is a UK-based global forum for place branding and place marketing.

It said that the Brixton Business Improvement District (BID) realised that there was more in common between the two districts than one might at first think and that this led to the award-winning initiative.

“The Brixton X Harlem festival reached across continents to celebrate shared stories and weave together the rich tapestries of two iconic neighbourhoods that are deeply rooted in the African and Caribbean diaspora,” said the organisers of the awards.

“Crucially, it gave Brixton residents and businesses the opportunity to rediscover their own connection to the district.”

BID director Gianluca Rizzo and cultural manager Jessica Dyer said that the Brixton BID already knew Barbara Askin, president and CEO of Harlem’s 125th Street BID.

After the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent global Black Lives Matter movement, Barbara and the team in Harlem created Canvas for Change walls as a message of reassurance to the local community. This transformed of the boarded-up shop fronts into “spaces for the community to share sorrow, hopes, and dreams for the future”.

“Inspired by this, we connected with Barbara to discuss the challenges that our communities share across the two locations,” Rizzo and Dyer told City Nation Place.

“In Brixton, we then created a campaign with key messages of support and celebration of our community. Over 30 lamppost banners were installed around Brixton.

“These campaigns by both BIDs highlighted the similarities between the two places: both have a long and rich history of being the epicentres of a convergence of diversity, with large Black communities, representing various parts of the diaspora.

“They also share a number of common traits beyond the socio-demographic makeup of their neighbourhoods. These two communities share similar history, social issues and, in recent years, both have experienced a rapid socio-economic transformation, which some refer to as gentrification.”

They said the two BIDs have almost identical principles and values, such as equality, diversity, inclusivity and social justice.

“This led to the first of its kind BID to BID and neighbourhood twinning with the mission of improving the quality of life for residents of respective communities by improving the economic health and well-being of the community, and by creating programs that reflect the vibrancy and history of the people and the neighbourhood.”

The first festival, in Brixton in August 2022, was a free community focused event bringing together partners working in music, arts, culture, heritage, craft, and business. It addressed the twinning with five themes: Business & Industry; Arts & Culture; Music; Food & Drink; and Heritage.

It had also made connections including those between the Brixton Brewery and the Harlem Brewing Company, and Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

The first resulted in a brew for the festival and a continuing relationship. The second began with an online panel conversation during the festival and has developed into ongoing collaboration.

Read more