Shop responsibly, shop locally

As non-essential shopping open across England, and citizens are urged to “shop responsibly” and “Shop for Britain!”, Charles Campion, author of 20/20 Visions, sets out the benefits of focussing spending in local high street shops & businesses.

It is estimated many local households have saved £100s a month during lockdown across the UK. Meanwhile the lockdown has shown how vital the services of local, walkable shops and other businesses are for residents. Small businesses and community enterprises have also shown how responsive they are by setting up home delivery services, practically overnight, for the vulnerable in our communities. And how amazing the shop workers have been serving on the frontline to keep us all going!

“Local business is the lifeblood of the community!” Mary Clear, Incredible Edible

Tactical urbanism in Barnes – taking parking spaces for social distancing

During the Barnes Ponder Charrette in 2013, one of the case studies in 20/20 Visions, the community co-created a Vision which recognises the social, economic and environmental benefits of shopping locally and sustaining a vibrant local economy. As the then Barnes Community Association (BCA) chair Steve Mindel said, “If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it!”

Vision for Barnes High Street, Barnes Ponder Charrette 2013

Since then, for a range of reasons, including the enterprise of local businesses and the creative efforts of the BCA in marketing, helping business develop an online presence, and going out and attracting in businesses, the local high street offer in Barnes has flourished. And as a result, regular pedestrian and cycle counts on Barnes High Street have shown “footfall” more than doubling, up to the March 2020 lockdown.

There are many known advantages to having a strong independent retail sector and the variety of shops and services in thriving town or village centres is often one of the top reasons people give for loving their neighbourhood. Key benefits include the unique range of products and services on offer, the ease of walking and cycling to shops is better for health and the environment, and, my favourite, the huge positive impact on community wellbeing of the informal social interactions we all have when we are out shopping locally. It’s fun!

“Get our neighbourhood hearts pumping again, not just for the benefit of the businesses themselves but for the benefit of every resident, young and old.” Charles Campion

As lockdown rules are relaxed, I would urge everyone to consider focussing their spending in their local communities to support local, independent businesses and get our neighbourhood hearts pumping again, not just for the benefit of the businesses themselves but for the benefit of every resident, young and old. As Mary Clear, co-founder of Incredible Edible in Todmorden and one of the inspirations behind the Barnes Ponder, says, “Local business is the lifeblood of the community!”

See you in the High Street!

It’s Time to Build a Nation of Citizen Urbanists

In this month’s blog, Joel Mills, Senior Director at the American Institute of Architects Center for Communities by Design, argues that, in response to the pandemic, a broad and democratic base of citizen urbanists is required to co-create sustainable cities for the future:

In response to the pandemic, professional circles are abuzz with discussions about how to change the physical framework of cities but little thought about the need to change the nature of our work and who is included in it. If we are going to create sustainable cities to succeed this century, we need to build a nation of citizen urbanists to do it.

Everyone needs to develop an urban fluency to understand what will be necessary for us to respond to the defining challenges of our time and how we can all participate in the process.

Our Cities’ Pre-existing Conditions
If we want to be ready for the next crisis, we need to consider our vulnerabilities. To put it in medical terms, our preexisting conditions require real focus. The pandemic has highlighted dynamics that were in place prior to the outbreak. Many jurisdictions were under incredible stress. It has brought new awareness to how inequality shapes our lives by highlighting how disparate healthcare access, affordable housing gaps and economic security issues have led to starkly higher infection and death rates for vulnerable communities. According to one pre-pandemic global survey, wide majorities of the public fear the future and the pace of change while doubting government’s ability to understand technological changes and respond to them effectively. Our future success hinges on the ability to re-build trust in institutions so that we might facilitate a successful transition to a healthy and equitable urban society. It’s time to move from a nation of urbanites to a nation of urbanists by involving our citizens more directly in public life. Our efforts moving forward should be predicated upon several key ideas.

City-building is the Grand Calling of the 21st century
Cities matter — now more than ever. Despite all the anti-urban rhetoric surrounding the pandemic, we need to come to terms with our urban reality. Most of our citizens live in urban areas. In America, cities are also the driving force behind our economy. The top 23 metro areas account for half of our national GDP. Following the 2008 financial crisis, America’s cities reportedly drove 70% of the nation’s job growth. However, cities are more than simply the hubs of our economic vitality. Today, cities are the central organizing mechanism for the survival of humankind. Cities reportedly consume 78% of the world’s energy and are responsible for more than 60% of global carbon emissions. We can’t solve the key issues threatening our collective future without more integrated and sustainable cities.

City-building is the grand calling of the 21st century and it requires a unified, integrated effort.

Our contemporary approaches are demonstrably inadequate. Despite valiant attempts to build more cross system collaborations over the past two decades, our present-day methods of city-building are still characterized too often by professional silos. We have designed our cities with a balkanized orientation that assumes topics as centrally connected as land use, housing and transportation can be understood and strategized for independently through professional specializations and expertise applied solely in that realm. We can see the effects of this approach in cities across the world today in housing crises, strained transportation systems and segregated lives. We need to destroy our professional silos to build more resilient cities. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that the era of top-down, siloed city-building is over.

The Future of Urbanism is democratic
Our collective success as a civilization requires fully integrated processes with robust public participation. No government designs a city alone. We must all become citizen urbanists. The pandemic should be a gamechanger for considering not just the built environment we are designing, but the process by which we are building it. People are the foundations of our cities. The answers to our challenges must come from the bottom up, not the top down. Our strategies must be powered by the grassroots and integrated at scale to have meaning nationally — and globally. Local government is still the most trusted level of government and is advantaged as the most accessible level to facilitate civic participation. However, there remain substantial gaps in public participation expertise and capacity at all levels of government that pose barriers to making progress. Too often, what we are witnessing today are the consequences of widespread misapplication and improper design of public processes that backfire in controversy and conflict because they don’t meet public expectations for involvement or reflect community values. The result is a precipitous increase in community conflict and a corresponding public demand to have a meaningful role in public decision-making processes. The stakes are going up. This is not only an American issue — city leaders must respond to a rising democratic movement globally. The mantra of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda deliberations should echo in the ears of every city planner in the world: “nothing for us without us.” Meaningful public participation is the path to restored trust and confidence in our institutions.

The Urban Fabric Must Heal and Connect
Trickle-down urbanism doesn’t work. As a result, inequality has become the central issue of our times. Prior to the pandemic, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer found that a growing sense of inequity is undermining trust across the world. The overriding crisis in public trust is reflected in the physical makeup of our cities. Neighborhoods are the building blocks of great cities, but they are not designed for equal success. Media coverage of the pandemic has captured the connection between our unequal realities and associated risk, as vulnerable communities who are disadvantaged have suffered most. Connections between civic health and physical health are readily apparent and the statistics tell a dramatic story. According to a 2018 study, over 50 million Americans live in “at risk” or “distressed” communities. Another recent study found that the number of poor neighborhoods in metropolitan areas has doubled in the past 40 years. In 2019, income inequality reached a 50-year high in the US. Over half a million people in America are homeless. Over 4 million homes in the US are overcrowded. Almost half a million homes in the US do not have adequate plumbing. With the renewed importance of public space, 100 million people in the US do not have a park within a 10-minute walk from home. In perhaps the most dramatic development, an individual’s address is now the most significant determinant of their life expectancy and economic future, with starkly different outcomes depending upon geography. The proverbial ‘Tale of Two Cities’ has become an ingrained narrative in America. The familiar dividing lines — railroad tracks, urban highways, waterways and related barriers — now often signify wholly different life realities that underscore race and class divides. For instance, residents of Baltimore’s wealthy neighborhoods have a life expectancy that correlates with Japanese citizens, while the residents of its distressed communities have life expectancies closer to North Korea and Pakistan. In Louisville, residents on the western side of the infamous “Ninth Street Divide” have life expectancies 12 years lower than their neighbors on the wealthier eastern side. In Washington, DC, residents born on the eastern side of the Anacostia river can expect to live 10 years less than those on the western side of the river. These are unacceptable norms that make our cities more vulnerable and our society more fragile. This is not only an American issue, but a global issue. Consider that 40% of the world’s population does not have access to handwashing facilities at home, or that over 1 billion people globally live in slums. By 2050, the UN believes over 3 billion people will require access to housing. These facts underscore our growing vulnerabilities without significant interventions in how we design and build our cities. Addressing inequality must be a central tenet that carries across all of our urban work moving forward, rather than a narrow, isolated pursuit. Climate change and inequality have important overlaps and it is important to note that inequality defines who is most vulnerable in our society whether the threat is a pandemic or climate change. Prioritizing strategies to create more integrated and equitable cities will address our vulnerabilities directly and help cities become resilient more quickly.

We Need A Flexible and Adaptive Urbanism Beyond the 6-Foot-City
We need to reconsider the implications for how we approach our built environment in the context of unprecedented change. Few would argue that the pace of change today is dramatically different from past eras and presents unique challenges to our society. We need a more flexible and adaptive urbanism that can accommodate quickly changing dynamics while becoming more responsive to citizen aspirations and needs. We should resist the reactive tendency to begin re-designing our cities in 6-ft-increments in favor of a sustained approach that views every component of the built environment with a new flexibility and adjusts for multiple realities to support our citizens’ pursuit of healthy, vital lives. This will require a new, more experimental view of our urban assets as we begin to value the public realm and buildings by their ability to serve evolving needs and purposes that are sustainable. It mandates as a prerequisite a knowledge of what our citizens’ want for the future of their cities.

Listen to Our Cities to Understand Them
If we want to mobilize a national movement to adapt, we need to understand community. Our national thinking must demonstrate greater understanding of the mosaic of local experiences that make up this great country and the role that citizenship plays in bringing them to life. We need professionals to sharpen their listening skills to understand their communities and heal public trust. In doing so, there expertise will gain a new relevance and help create a more informed citizenry. Every community has its own unique identity shaped by its geography and history and rooted in the traditions of people and place. As years pass, community life produces a profoundly complex and deeply meaningful representation of place. Tapping into these values and traditions is critical to understanding place and designing the authentic foundations from which enduring civic change can occur. Similarly, our nation is characterized by a democratic vernacular exhibited across tens of thousands of local jurisdictions. Understanding the combination of governing structures and traditions, as well as the civic culture of participation, is key to breathing new life into our common purpose. Community design cannot take place outside a deep understanding of the rich contextual realities of place, which means that robust public participation is a prerequisite to our future success. We have an historic opportunity to heal our divides and address our key vulnerabilities as we build a modern urban society that adapts to the new challenges of this century — but it requires community.

A Vision for Scarborough Charrette – 18 years on

This month Nick Taylor, former Scarborough’s Renaissance Manager, now freelance consultant urbanist with Tanick Consultancy, considers the lasting legacy of the Vision for Scarborough Community Planning Weekend 2002 (one of the case studies in 20/20 Visions) which brought the town together to deliver a range of transformational projects. Scarborough has won a number of prestigious awards including Europe’s Most Enterprising Place 2009:

“I would commend to every community the process of co-design to work with local businesses and the community to shape and deliver a place-based Vision that is right for their town!”

In April 2002 the Vision for Scarborough Charrette took place at the Spa Complex to seek the views and aspirations of the community for their future.

To be genuinely asked what they wanted, how they saw their future and then prioritise these ideas was something totally new for the community and they lapped it up! The enthusiasm and benefits of the co-design working between members of the community and professional architects showed in some of the remarkable projects that formed the activity. Following the presentation of the Vision for Scarborough at the end of the Charrette, the community went onto form a highly successful and award-winning Town Team, underpinned by 7 action groups. Theses monthly Town Team meetings connected around 400 people each month with the town’s ongoing development.

One key element behind the success of the process in Scarborough was the creation of the Renaissance Manager post which I was very fortunate to be appointed to. Installed in a shop unit in a busy part of the town I co-ordinated the activity. Making connections, bringing people together, hosting meetings, writing newsletters and putting together and submitting funding applications were all part of the role. Supporting the Town Team, the action groups and other community initiatives all needed continuous effort and keeping the process fresh and relevant to change was critical as the benefits from the process started to manifest themselves.

The action group that was and still is particularly effective, 18 years on from the outset, is the Scarborough Ambassadors. They are the businesses leaders of the town and their greatest achievement was to initiate and then deliver a £14m UTC (University Technical College) for 600 students aged 14 to 18. This came from the identification of a skills shortage and consequent difficulty in recruiting for the buoyant engineering sector and expanding branch of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the town.

The next project was to work with GCHQ and Scarborough Council, to deliver a cyber AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre), guided by the one in Sheffield which operates with Sheffield University, Boeing and McLaren. Discussions are well under way.

Their latest focus is working with Network Rail, the local and county council with all the nearby businesses – especially the new potash mining company – to deliver a significant upgrade to Seamer Station which services the new business park.

The group continues to flourish and help attract new business to the town and more importantly, young people to step into the STEM subjects and fill those vacancies.

It is commonly recognised that the relationships built up within Scarborough would not have happened if not for the 2002 Charrette process and the creation of a consensus Vision for the town which was developed and delivered with the input of the Town Team. As we focus today on regenerating so many towns across the north of England I would commend to every community the process of co-design to work with local businesses and the community to shape and deliver a place-based Vision that is right for their town and serves the whole community.

Big Barnes Ponder Charrette – 7 years on

February’s blog is by Emma Robinson, the Town Centre Manager for Barnes Community Association, who reflects on the Big Barnes Ponder 7 years on:

20mph limit introduced January 2020 following community campaign that began at the Barnes Ponder

“The process highlighted that the community is best placed to shape and direct its own destiny and that projects delivered with full community involvement are inevitably going to deliver the best results.”

It has now been almost seven years since the Barnes charrette of 2013 and what a journey it has been!  At the time I embarked on the Big Barnes Ponder, as we called our charrette, I had no idea the impact it would have on me as Town Centre Manager, on our team of volunteers and on Barnes.

Our charrette visioning day in October 2013 enabled us to harness the ideas of the community to create a resident-led vision for the future of Barnes.  It was a successful event that brought residents of all ages together to think creatively about the future with the support of planning experts.  These residents were passionate about the future and gave up several hours of their time to help us plan. The process highlighted that the community is best placed to shape and direct its own destiny and that projects delivered with full community involvement are inevitably going to deliver the best results.

Barnes Ponder Problems Dreams Solutions workshop

The charrette was just the beginning of our journey.  Over the last seven years we have seen many highs, as projects have come to fruition, and many lows as we have come up against delays and challenge, but what has kept me going is the enthusiasm of our many volunteers for the projects they work on.  Our volunteers have changed over the years but a few have stayed with us on the journey and have given so much time and energy to our community projects.

The key to our success so far without a doubt has been our ability to harness the support of residents for the projects they identified. This has enabled us to influence key decision makers, whether that’s the Council or TfL, our MP or our ward councillors.  We have also been able to benefit from the extensive skill sets of our local volunteers to enable to us to tackle even the most challenging engineering problem.

Persistence is also incredibly important.  We wouldn’t have got where we are today if we took no for an answer.  Most of our projects have taken many years to come to fruition and would no doubt have disappeared many years ago without the dedication of our volunteers.

Monthly collectors market around Barnes Pond

Our successes so far have been many and include the realisation of projects for a new community playground and a footbridge and also the realisation of a vibrant high street despite the economic challenges. We have been recognised nationally for the work we have done in Barnes and I have spoken about the Ponder charrette experience in Parliament and at conferences. Barnes was a runner up in the Great British High Streets competition of 2018.

We have still got a long way to go but we have established a reputation for the quality of the work we do and for delivery and so the future looks positive.  I’m sure there will be many more great projects delivered in Barnes by the Big Barnes Ponder team.

Barnes Pond (Photo copyright Andrew Wilson

The Liberties – 10 years on

January’s blog is by Clare San Martin who revisited the Liberties, Dublin 10 years after leading the collaborative process to draw up of the Liberties Area Action Plan for Dublin City Council. The Liberties is an historic area of Dublin, famous as the home of the Guinness brewery.  Huge development pressure from the Celtic Tiger economy in the 2000s led Dublin City Council (DCC) to commission JTP to work with the local community to co-create a Vision and develop the Area Action Plan.

This article is an unabridged version of that published in the latest edition of the Academy of Urbanism’s Here & Now Journal:

In May 2019 I revisited The Liberties area of south-central Dublin to find out what has changed ten years after DCC adopted the Liberties Local Area Plan (LAP) – a community-led regeneration strategy for this historic city neighbourhood.  As leader of the Liberties LAP masterplanning team, a productive collaboration between JTP and Metropolitan Workshop, I got to know the place and people well and developed a great fondness for both. Fourteen months of intensive community participation preceded adoption of the Plan in 2009. It remains City policy and sets out a detailed strategy for delivering social, economic and physical regeneration through high quality placemaking on major opportunity sites.

LAP Major Opportunity Sites and Key

But the property crash following the Credit Crunch meant developers, once hungry for land in The Liberties, put their ambitious plans on hold and dashed the community’s hopes of delivering new social infrastructure and environmental improvements. So ten years later I was unsure what to expect. Had the whole exercise been a waste of time? Would any of the transformative projects have happened? What I found took me by surprise and made me reflect on the value of the work we’d done.

Back in 2008 The Liberties community was passionate about defending their neighbourhood from what they saw as poor quality, inappropriate development. Indeed, they had good reason to be alarmed. In the 1960s historic streets in the Coombe area of The Liberties had been left derelict for years, blighted by a road ‘improvement’ plan before being demolished to sever the neighbourhood with a brutal four-lane highway. Hard drugs devastated the community in the 1980s. Historic buildings were left empty and many demolished as they deteriorated beyond repair. At the time we were appointed the Guinness Brewery was considering moving significant parts of its production process elsewhere. The National College of Art and Design (NCAD) was also talking of moving out of the area – and all this at the same time as other areas of the city, including docklands, experienced a boom. Developers were turning their eyes towards The Liberties and promoting plans for new buildings on the scale of those in docklands. The community strongly objected to schemes they felt would threaten the special character of The Liberties and their way of life. They were not against change and understood the benefits development could bring through funding improvements. But they were adamant that development should to be of an appropriate scale, include the restoration and re-use of heritage buildings and ensure existing residents were not driven out.

The LAP involved many hours of workshops and discussions with the community, DCC and other interested parties to achieve plans that were acceptable and economically viable. A comprehensive participatory Community Planning process led to the establishment of The Liberties Forum with focus groups facilitated by consultants developing and presenting back Action Plans for different aspects of the regeneration strategy. The final LAP included proposals to improve connectivity by establishing routes through some of the large industrial sites earmarked for redevelopment and detailed plans for improving the public realm and increasing greenspace. A new library and sports facilities were planned. A tourism strategy was designed to enable local traders to benefit from the million visitors coming to Guinness Storehouse each year with a heritage tourist trail to encourage visitors to walk through the area and stay a while rather than making straight for the Storehouse on a coach and leaving without exploring The Liberties. The LAP’s mandatory heights strategy set parameters to protect views from the Storehouse and other places. Former industrial sites were re-zoned for mixed use including new homes to accommodate around 7,000 new residents and a rolling programme of DCC housing estate redevelopment was agreed that ensured existing tenants could move into well-designed new homes in the same area.

But like the rest of the development industry we did not see what was coming next. By 2009 when the LAP became policy, the property crash had changed everything. Revisiting ten years later I found some parts of The Liberties unchanged, which is what I’d feared and expected. But other areas were transformed – some in the way we planned but some in a completely different way.

I met some residents who had taken part in the Forum and workshops and others who were unaware of the original process but actively involved in implementing greenspace improvements. One group invited me a workshop to plan how to involve more local people in the design and management of a new park at Bridgefoot Street on derelict land owned by DCC where they already had a community garden.

Meanwhile uses on Bridgefoot St open space

In 2014, in response to the economic situation that put the LAP’s ambitious plans in jeopardy, the City Council published a Greening Strategy focusing on sites they owned and which had a ‘realistic chance of being implemented in the medium term’. Many of these public realm improvements have now been completed.

Open Space improvements by DCC at St Audeon’s Church – Dublin’s only remaining medieval parish church

One of the great surprises was the revival of brewing and distilling – historic Liberties industries that had seemed on the decline or were looking to relocate. Much of the LAP was based on industries moving out and freeing up land for development of housing and other uses but I discovered Diageo Guinness has built a state-of-the-art brewery and were about to open their new whiskey distillery, branded as Roe & Co. Three other urban whiskey distilleries had also been built – each with an interesting story and each regenerating part of the Liberties.

The Pearse Lyons distillery on James’s Street has delivered a highly innovative re-use of the former church of St James and the sensitive restoration of its historic graveyard is nearing completion. The church now hosts whiskey tasting and has a dramatic glass spire.

Another LAP objective was the regeneration of Newmarket, a neglected area with an historic market square located to the South of the Coombe. Two new distilleries have been established there. This is fantastic, although it was disappointing to see the visitors arriving and leaving on a tour bus rather than wandering down past the antique shops along Francis Street or experiencing the colourful market on Meath Street as we had hoped.

Teeling Whiskey Distillery Newmarket – tourists arrive by bus

Newmarket also demonstrates another phenomenon seen throughout the Liberties – new student housing. Just outside the LAP boundary several large blocks have been built in a striking contemporary style. There is also a 3-star hotel with a rooftop bar. Residents I spoke to welcomed students and tourists but feared the amount of student housing was too great and would result in a transient community overwhelming other residents and changing the character of the area. The close-knit Liberties community where families have lived for generations is part of its unique charm.

New student housing near Newmarket

The same combination of student accommodation and a hotel has been built around the Digital Hub, Ireland’s largest cluster of digital media and internet companies which occupies former industrial buildings on Thomas Street. Here digital media companies are thriving in re-used historic buildings. A new pedestrian route has been implemented as planned and creates a convenient cut through a big urban block. A pop-up coffee shop was doing a brisk trade on the route. The LAP heights strategy has preserved the setting of St Patrick’s Tower, an historic windmill, and a network of internal routes and courtyards with restored historic structures and contemporary buildings has created a lively new quarter.

New pedestrian route with view of St Partick’s Tower, Europe’s largest smock windmill that once powered the Roe Whiskey Distillery

Historic Grain Store re-used as offices with associated open space

Pop up coffee shop on former car park near St Patrick’s Tower

Bringing derelict historic buildings back into use, an important LAP objective, is evident throughout the area. But there are also many examples of important buildings left empty and deteriorating. A notable and tragic example is the Iveagh Markets on Francis Street, an indoor market opened in 1906 which has been empty since the 1990s. The mouldering structure blights surrounding streets that were once a bustling hub of small independent shops and street traders.

The Iveagh Market

Disappointingly there was no evidence of DCC’s council estates being rebuilt or of the new library which was a central part of the cultural regeneration strategy. However, DCC’s 2009 housing scheme at Timberyard in the Coombe by architects O’Donnell and Tuomey, provides an excellent exemplar for future social housing in The Liberties.

DCC housing, the Timberyard

In response to the slow delivery of housing nationally, the Irish Government introduced a new fast-track planning system in 2017 whereby planning applications for housing developments over 100 residential units and 200 plus student bed spaces can be made directly to Ireland’s national planning appeals board, An Bord Pleanála. All applications must be determined within the target period of 16 weeks and although pre-application discussions with the local authority are required, the time constraint means these are limited. Many people I spoke to were concerned that design quality and The Liberties regeneration objectives would be ignored in the rush to get housing built.

So, on reflection, The Liberties LAP covered such a complex area and in so much detail that it was unrealistic to expect to find it implemented as planned, even without the economic downturn. But it did provide a robust framework for public realm improvements that enabled DCC to implement them knowing that each individual improvement would support the creation of a cohesive place over time. It was flexible enough to enable DCC to prepare amended plans that adapted to new economic circumstances without losing the overall Vision.

There are certainly successes to celebrate like the Digital Hub and Guinness quarters and the new distilleries. But urgent action is needed to save the Iveagh Markets and other heritage gems. The improvement of DCC’s housing estates remains a challenge and the increasing amount student housing a concern.  If left unchecked it could reach a tipping point that drives other residents away including the indigenous Liberties families who are the heart and soul of the place.

The comprehensive community engagement for the LAP is remembered by some but a new generation of activists has emerged. Residents’ groups are actively involved in a host of individual projects but lack a central forum which would enable them to act more effectively. It would be a terrible waste if a rush to deliver housing numbers led to the shared Vision unravelling and poor quality schemes like those the community objected to all those years ago being built.

The Liberties still has huge untapped potential. There are major opportunity sites to be brought forward. Its community is still passionate about protecting its heritage and way of life. With many long-planned projects now underway the Vision seems much closer to being realised even though it has taken a lot longer than expected and will need to adapt to changes we can’t foresee. But that’s what great neighbourhoods in great cities do – and The Liberties in Dublin is certainly one of them.

Auroville: A Way Forward Charrette

“An open and collaborative spirit prevailed during the workshops.  People commented that new voices were being heard.”

Auroville was founded in 1968 by the spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa, the Mother, outside Pondicherry, Southern India as a universal town where men and women of all countries could live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.

Much progress has been made over the last 50 years, including the environmental restoration of the land, and more remains to be done to develop Auroville and raise the population up towards the 50,000 inhabitants originally envisioned.

Beginning on 7 January 2019, Auroville’s town planning and development research organisation l’Avenir and an international team led by Andreas von Zadow facilitated the “Auroville: A Way Forward” charrette to work out baselines for Auroville’s next decades and develop a Way Forward Strategy reflecting on:

  • Mother Mirra Alfassa’s vision and unlocking its potential
  • Fresh ideas for healthy and sustainable placemaking
  • Challenges of decision making within a unique self-governance concept
  • Capacity building at l‘Avenir to improve services and outputs

The charrette team included:
Von Zadow International
Dreiseitl Consulting
Eble Messerschmidt Partner

Charrette team member Clare San Martin from JTP tells the story below.

Auroville’s January co-design sessions were an opportunity for the community to consider the difficult issues that have stalled growth and development in recent years and to explore ideas for the way forward. I was privileged to participate as part of the international team facilitating workshops and presenting our work. Over the 7 days of the Charrette I got to know many inspirational people committed to realising the utopian dream of The Mother, the city’s founder.

Over 130 people attended the workshops with a dedicated core of around 60 people participating in all sessions and continuing to work with the visiting team right up to the final presentation, in the true spirit of a charrette.

Much has been achieved in the 50 years since Auroville’s founding. The Matrimandir, a huge, gold-clad meditation centre set in lush gardens, has been built at the centre of the planned city. Large areas of forest have been re-established to halt soil erosion and people have built their lives around a community centred, eco-friendly lifestyle with a focus on unending education. But Aurovillians complained of a growing lack of unity since the completion of the great project of the Matrimandir which bound them together with a common purpose.

Workshops focused on how to re-establish unity as well as; how to address the pressing issue of water shortage through landscape design; potentially re-casting the city plan to reflect more environmentally friendly building types; integrating small scale agriculture; developing education including links with international universities; developing a better tourism strategy, and; widening participation in planning, particularly amongst younger people. There was also much discussion about the need for Auroville to work more closely with the Tamil villages in the bioregion to jointly tackle issues such as water conservation, ground pollution and transport.

A major success of the sessions was consensus on a pilot project to create a shared recreational green space for Tamils and Aurovillians as well as addressing a number of other issues. A concept design developed during the ‘Hands on Planning’ co-design sessions demonstrated how an integrated approach could allow the Tamils to sustainably expand their village, incorporate water management and create a sustainable transport circuit using electric vehicles to benefit tourists and residents alike.

An open and collaborative spirit prevailed during the workshops.  People commented that new voices were being heard. Honest and sometimes uncomfortable discussions took place, which seemed to move towards unblocking the way to progress, but the issues are complex and only time will tell whether the seeds planted at the January sessions will take root and flourish. I will certainly keep in touch and be willing to follow up with advice if asked.


Santa Fe Railyard Revitalisation

The remarkable story of how the local community shaped and delivered the revitalisation of Santa Fe Railyard to create a new “living room for the community” is told in 20/20 Visions. Below, architect Gayla Bechtol, one of the key movers behind the process, has penned a short review of 20/20 Visions.

“Charles Campion’s book 20/20 Visions: Collaborative & Placemaking not only includes the Santa Fe Railyard but also 19 other case studies that used democratic design principles as the basis for successful design in community. This is a critical read and timely exposition given the climate and housing changes every town and city faces, no matter the size. Here in Santa Fe we have an excellent example of democratic design. We need to use the wisdom gained in our community for the issues facing us today using collaborative planning and charrettes. Collaboration is critical as we move forward.”

You can see and hear more from Gayla and others involved by viewing this beautiful and moving short film from AIA Communities by Design here.

Report Back from Collaborative Planning in Riegel Germany

In follow up to the Breite III participatory charrettes in Riegel, Germany, which you can read about in the 2020Visions blog post by Andreas Von Zadow; a report back presentation with broadsheet was delivered to the charrette participants on 22 November 2018.  Andreas has shared the broadsheet along with the key themes as they were presented (in German) which can be viewed by following the links below. 

Presentation Broadsheet

Key Themes Insert

Collaborative Planning in Riegel “Breite III” (Germany)

Following an earlier post about the Breite III participatory charrettes in Riegel, Germany (see post here); below is a write-up from Andreas Von Zadow who shares some of the discussions with participants that took place on 12 and 13 October 2018. The article closes with a view to the next steps which includes the creation of a masterplan concept for Breite III. This will be presented back to the public on the 22 November 2018.

We have to shift from me-living to we-living if we truly want to achieve sustainable settlements! – Joachim Eble, EMP Tübingen

As an introduction to a public cooperative planning process for the 4,000 strong community of Riegel, Joachim Eble, town planner, architect and pioneer in sustainable masterplanning presented a number of European best practice projects. With his presentation he introduced a new terminology to describe an increasingly important trend in designing new, sustainable neighbourhoods: Creating conditions for We-Living, which means smaller units in collaborative housing projects, instead of continuing with ME-living, the default credo for single housing plots for young families with 2 cars, 2 motor cycles and 4 bikes each.

Many owners of those single-family houses want to sell their houses, because they are too large for them after the kids have flown the nest. On the other hand, the dwellings can easily be reused for collaborative living, with other adults or elderly people who are in the same position and would love to share their places and lives with others.

Collaborative living needs appropriate building formats suited to the new area of Riegel that is to be developed. If that happens, we can sell our houses, move with our friends and live together with them just a few streets away. Young families looking for somewhere to live could buy them without having to build their own, including their mature gardens. One of the Riegel house owners at the workshop session said,

This is a win-win-situation that would create advantages for all of us, and be a sustainable use of resources at the same time!

Participants were keen for the development area to be based on sustainable water and energy solutions. However, as architect, town planner and auditor for the German Green Building Council DGNB, Rolf Messerschmidt, pointed out:

Many things are possible, but not everything is financially affordable.

The very well attended planning weekend, facilitated by Eble Messerschmidt & Partner and VON ZADOW INTERNATIONAL, focussed mainly on housing typologies and models for compact, multifunctional living for people of all ages, that are accessible and affordable for all. They should be combined with a mix of services: health and maintenance support, small offices and co-working spaces, and of course a broad range of green environments such as leisure and children’s facilities serving not only the local inhabitants but the whole of Riegel.

So, let’s look forward to seeing the new masterplan concept for “Breite III” to be presented on 22.11.2018 in Riegel. The day after the presentation, the local support group (Unterstützerkreis), whose 25 members are nurturing this extraordinary development project, will commit backing and assistance from regional and state level as well as approaching private investors to bring this project to fruition.

Andreas Von Zadow

You can learn more about Von Zadow International on their website

Big Local fuels community-led approach to decision making in Heston West

Heston West is an ‘overlooked’ suburban neighbourhood in the Borough of Hounslow to the west of London, a stone’s throw from Heathrow Airport and it is one of the 150 areas awarded Big Local funding. 

Big Local is an exciting opportunity for residents in 150 areas in England to spend £1million or more each on making a massive difference to their communities.  Big Local, launched in 2010, is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and managed by Local Trust, a unique organisation whose aim is to support resident- and community-led solutions for creating lasting change throughout England.

In the summer of 2018 the Heston West Big Local Partnership (HWBLP) supported by the Academy of Urbanism (AoU) held two day-long Diagnostic Workshops with residents, businesses and key stakeholders. The Diagnostic Workshops, run by AoU Academicians —Biljana Savic, Charles Campion, Joanna Chambers, Anna Leggett and Hilary Satchwell — were attended by representatives from Local Trust, members of Hounslow Council’s Planning and Transport departments, several local charities, residents and young people from the Cranford Community College. Through walkabouts, discussions, illustrations and group work, they sought to understand the impact of the built environment on social and economic issues in the area, to identify potential improvement projects and initiatives, to consider how they could be funded and to build the Partnership’s engagement with local communities. This citizen-led initiative revealed several key priority proposals for the community, including the widely felt recognition that the built environment and public spaces play a pivotal role in mental health and wellbeing.

The AoU team and the HWBLP are now assessing the outcomes and working with partners and the local community to consider next steps.