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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 www.wildlondon.co.uk)

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
JTP
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.

Delivering Action in Your Town Centre

Chris Jones runs Chris Jones Regeneration, a values based consultancy that cares about bringing long lasting benefits for communities across Wales, the United Kingdom and beyond. Chris was project lead for the Blaenau Ffestiniog revitalisation process featured as one of the case studies in 20/20 Visions.

By Chris Jones

As you embark on a journey to revitalize your town centre or community, it’s important to be clear about where you want to go.  Understanding where you are and where you want to be, making best use of the physical assets of a place, energising people and bringing them together with a common focus is all equally important.

Developing a Vision and a Plan for a place can work on all levels – a building, street, square, large area of land, town centre or for the wider settlement.  It is also important to realise that sometimes having fuzzy boundaries is good as places don’t stop at the city limits but relate to other places whether there are workforce, transportation, employment and/or other factors that may have an influence.

A Vision for….

When a town needs a vision it is sometimes because it lacks one or it needs to remind itself about its function, identity and future opportunities.  The need to reimagine town centres is important as we’re not about “popping out to the shops” anymore but about using towns as place to do business, spend social time in and engage in arts or cultural activity.  A vision isn’t just a physical visualization of where a place wants to be, it also needs to consider its social make-up and how it can unlock economic and social opportunity, and local service delivery for a diverse and maturing population.  It also needs to reflect on the distinct environmental qualities of its place that define its history, setting and modern day identity.

A vision can also work alongside destination building, acting as a messenger for economic development, inward investment and tourism. This creates an open door for companies and investors that see the potential and who want to locate in the city or town to be part of the local business community.

Lastly and importantly, a vision needs to relate to its local community so people understand the current health of their town or place, to understand choices and how development and infrastructure can meet their needs, and how it can benefit them.

Language is therefore important so that it connects with strategic organisations and local residents, shows a sensible logic to proposed actions and sets out some ambition. Visions by their nature need to be forward looking and about horizons.  They also need to show through their accompanying plans the steps to get to the end goals, so that they build confidence and show visible benefits along the way.

Involving People

Plans will only succeed if people have been involved and have ownership.  Sadly, words like stakeholder management are creeping into regeneration these days.  Values of participation and involvement as a continuum is therefore critical to people understanding, responding and helping co-deliver future plans and action.  Communication is often over-looked when addressing who needs to have a voice in the process and how they can join the conversation, whether this be through open meetings, roadshows or roaming place workshops. Use of the web, social media and surveys are also good tools for getting people involved.

In developing plans for the regeneration of Blaenau Ffestiniog, involving local people was critical to the success of future plans.  This included creative examples of visitor journey reflections on the local steam train, town centre walkabouts, community workshops sessions using local slate as a canvass for sketching out ideas, and the use of physical models in workshops and exhibitions.

Community participation is important to mapping the physical and social capital and challenges of a town, often revealing stories and the personality of a place that aren’t written down but told by people. Local people also help us understand how they use their towns and why they don’t.  They will also tell you what will attract them back into a place, often wanting to get involved through a community organization or as a local resident.

It is equally important to involve people that have direct influence such as large and small businesses/employers, landlords, public sector bodies, educational institutions, transport providers – among others. Finally make sure young people have a chance to get involved, after all they will be adults, perhaps parents, when they start to see the plan come to fruition!

Whilst the client within the local authority may consider themselves as a leader of a visioning and place based process, they need a champion.  This needn’t just be the Council’s cabinet member. This could be a local business person, a major employer or a community organization, or could involve a series of champions that represent business, transport, learning, culture, etc.  You may want to consider somebody that is new to a town or a place and who brings a different perspective.  Equally, somebody born and bred locally would understand how the town has evolved as well as its people.

Maintaining the energy, trust and relationship beyond a plan-making process is also important as people want to see things happen and be reminded that they were a part of the initial conversation that led to action.  Remember managing change in towns and communities takes time and how you communicate progress is key to showing the value of your town’s vision and plan, and keeping people interested.

A Doing Plan

When looking for a focused approach to delivering change in town centres, masterplans tend to be favoured as they present and analyse an understanding of place, and provide a structured approach to creating a clear and consistent framework for development.  These tend to focus on:

  • suitable locations for commercial, housing and mixed-use development;
  • locations where the town or city should increase density, use redevelopment, or intervene in other ways;
  • opportunities to extend and/or improve open space, recreational areas, and civic facilities;
  • strategies from increasing or growing economic development;
  • environmental, historic and cultural resources that need conservation; and
  • strategies for solving congestion and improving transportation

Master plan-led approaches often tackle issues through a process founded on co-ordination, sharing ideas and collaboration across professional disciplines that includes matching assets with potential users.

Whilst masterplans are about physical place-led solutions they also need to understand the current behavior of users and whether enhancements and new uses can stimulate additional activity that makes towns and places that are pleasurable to live, work and enjoy.  The knitting together of masterplans with economic development and destination management needs is key as well as planning-led allocations so an integrated approach to delivering policy is achieved.

In addition to having an awareness of specific opportunities for sites and properties, sustainability should run through a masterplan as a constant check with affordability, energy efficiency, green infrastructure, biodiversity, health and well-being and good connectivity. Masterplanning should also be about raising the quality of place-led design solutions that show creativity, innovation and make statements of intent.  They should not be about window dressing and piece-meal solutions but demonstrate a real understanding of a town centre’s built assets, its distinctiveness and identify where new interventions can add to the form and activity.

Design should be about recognition of a town’s distinctiveness and should also show opportunities for making statements that take a community forward.  Design codes should therefore cover key strategic sites, a group of buildings or key streets and can be adopted by the local planning authority as supplementary planning guidance. They should also be about ‘talking-up’ a place through a plan-led prospectus that identifies the unique selling points of a place, proposed infrastructure enhancements and how investors can complement a place.

Some examples of where towns have used digital medium to show their visions and plans can be found further away in Warringah, New South Wales, Australia.  These short films help visualise issues, opportunities and show to the local community and future investors the way that visions and masterplans are going to be delivered.

Research undertaken for the North East branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) identifies that: where masterplans tend to work they have either met or exceeded the brief, complied with policy, undertaken a sound and thorough approach, responded to constraints, proposed efficient infrastructure, suggested viable components and set out a framework for positive inter relationships. Town centre visions and masterplans can also help provide a business case for funding and grants – often at a programme level – or can support individual sites and buildings. This could be through Government programmes, Heritage Lottery Funding, transport grants and to shape capital programmes.

Working for Isle of Anglesey County Council in Holyhead, we helped develop a Vision and Masterplan document which led to securing Heritage Lottery funding and Vibrant and Viable Places funding from Welsh Government.  If you want to find out about best practice advice for masterplanning, guidance can be found in England and Scotland.

In addition to masterplans, Neighbourhood Plans and Place Plans are also about realising economic, environmental and social ambitions for a place that are informed, logical and delivered through a partnership approach.  In England, the Government’s 2012 Localism Act provided powers to produce Neighbourhood Plans which help shape development in terms of location and what it will look like for uses such as housing and employment.  The development of Neighbourhood Plans is through strong community engagement as debates focus on how best to provide for new housing and employment and to understand the implications for local services in line with future growth.  Plans that have been held up as best practice include Thame in Oxfordshire, which was awarded the 2013 RTPI award for Innovative Plan Making.

This approach to neighbourhood planning is fairly new in Wales with Place Plans now forming part of the Planning Wales Act 2015.  Abergele in Conwy County Borough, North Wales is an example of where a Place Plan process has been undertaken.  The Design Commission for Wales has also invested in a toolkit “shape my town” which provides a step by step guide to assessing the quality of their place, town, village or neighbourhood before investing time and money in improving it.  Other Welsh Councils such as Monmouthshire County Council have adopted a service delivery focus to places with their whole place planning approach.  This is an initiative that looks at how a whole area approach to public services can lead to better services at less cost.

Are We There Yet?

Often overlooked is the need to monitor and understand the impacts of a town centre vision and masterplan.  Establishing a strategic headline level of indicators is important as well as local street level ways of measurement.  Away from statistics, citizen panels, e-zines, social media updates and vox pops through audio and video, annual reports help communicate progress to the wider community as well as local people communicating how they feel.  The mid Wales market town of Llandrindod Wells has recently launched an annual report for its economic action plan for the town in the form of a short film on its activity to date.

Key Pointers

Some of the main tips when considering a vision or plan for your place or town centre include:

  • Understand why you need a vision and a plan and whether it has a specific focus
  • Identify who needs to be involved, how to communicate with your community and find champions that will promote the opportunity
  • Find ways of understanding your place or town centre and not just through physical analysis
  • Look at what types of activity can be unlocked through physical development and improvement
  • Have a timeline that allows for ambition and making progress on small wins and longer term goals
  • Think of your audience – your local community and also people that want to invest – what are you unique selling points?
  • Build in monitoring and establish some outcomes that are realistic and show holistic as well as project related

Community Revitalisation in New Orleans [update]

This is an update to the blog post from the 17th of July about the AIA R/UDAT revitalization workshops in New Orleans. The AIA team has just released a comprehensive report detailing the process and outcomes after working with local people to shape a vision for the regeneration of their neighbourhood.

View the report here: New Orleans R/UDAT Report

blog post from 17 July 2018

This past weekend a Regional & Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been leading community revitalisation workshops in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, an area devastated by hurricane Katrina.

The Lower Ninth Ward is an urban district of New Orleans surrounded by water on all sides with a man-made canal to its north west and the Mississippi River to its south. Today just 6,500 people live there with a third of these households living below the poverty line. The new Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, has pledged city support to renew the restoration efforts.

The revitalisation workshops were spurred by a coalition of faith-based organisations, planners, architects and artists in the community which came together to organise a new effort for the urban regeneration of the neighbourhood.

“The role of the AIA team is to work with these partners and the community to create a neighbourhood-based strategy for the regeneration. The central components of the strategy are on generating equitable development that doesn’t displace the community but serves as a vehicle to facilitate economic mobility and strengthen community.” – Joel Mills, Senior Director of Communities by Design, AIA

The four-day workshop process has included meetings with the steering committee, local tours, stakeholder sessions, and an open house event. To ensure the AIA team is capturing and reflecting on what residents are telling them, they follow a series of feedback loops.

Prior to the weekend’s workshops, the AIA’s Communities by Design released a short film about the project which gathered over 12,000 views on social media. It’s believed the film helped bring significantly more participation to the workshops.

Watch the Communities by Design film here

A resident in the film explains,

“The Lower Ninth Ward was historically, one of the most progressive, black-owned communities in the entire country.”

Before Katrina in 2005, nearly 20,000 people lived there over 90% of whom were African-Americans. The flood waters, a result of the hurricane and a breach in the levee, destroyed 5,000 of their homes. Following the destruction there were an estimated 15 attempts to recover the neighbourhood through different planning initiatives, but none were successful at helping restore the neighbourhood.

There appears to be a renewed sense of determination for people of this community. One resident said,

“This is the first time I have seen energy like this in the lower 9th. This feels like a new beginning.”

It’s a positive shift in a difficult story; no doubt many will be watching with hope as the AIA team, the local organisations and residents work together to build a brighter future.

More on the story can be read in this article from NC State University

The Lower Ninth Ward: Not Just Another Plan