Columbia Road of the West

How a community Vision for a new Flower Market on a car park in Chiswick is transforming perceptions and regenerating the High Road.

By Ollie Saunders, Co-founder, Chiswick Flower Market

Hatton Gardens in known for diamonds. Portobello Road is known for antiques.  Brick Lane is known for curry.  Columbia Road is known for flowers.

Our High Streets have always evolved – from their creation in our market towns as we became a nation of shopkeepers, to the impact of the large supermarkets and then out-of-town retail, to the advent of online shopping.  With a third of all retail sales in the UK now made online, this gives an immense opportunity for our High Streets to innovate and evolve once again.  The winners will be those that remain contemporary in a digital age and become places that are engaging to be in.

“I was worried that if we did not have a proactive plan, involving the community, then my local town centre would be toast!”

Several Sundays a year, I would get up early and walk past a large surface car park at the top of my street – always thinking that it would make a wonderful place to have a market.  I would then traipse across town to visit Columbia Road.  My early start was rewarded with bags full of plants and flowers for my garden and allotment – and to enjoy the vibe and buzz of a waking market.  I also witnessed the market’s ever-increasing popularity pump the local retail economy.  From instant coffee and bacon butties in the mid 1990s, the local shops now buzz with trendy coffees and interior design shops.  It has become part of a proper day out in London.

I watched as my local High Street in Chiswick declined – the vacancy rate was uncomfortable despite being a wealthy neighbourhood.  There was a polarising local campaign about cycling and an absence of tangible ways in which to kick start things locally.  I could see no-one able to put my leafy corner of London on the map like Brick Lane or Portobello Road was.

I was worried that if we did not have a proactive plan, involving the community, then my local town centre would be toast!  So I found some friends and we started Chiswick Flower Market in that old car park – which we later discovered was originally the place of a market 100 years ago. 

To make it work, we knew that we had to get the traders that the punters wanted, and the punters that the traders needed in order to come back.  To add to the challenge, there had not been a new flower market in London for 150 years, and we found ourselves in the middle of the first pandemic in 100 years.  We had also never run a market before.

We talked about it being a “Columbia Road of the West” on the basis that we wanted our part of London to be known for its market and to bring both locals into the High Street but also Londoners into Chiswick.   We found data from TfL which showed residents were not even staying locally at the weekend – our local tube station was a massive net exporter of local people on a Sunday morning as they went elsewhere, for them to return later in the day.

As we planned the market, we persuaded some established flower market traders to come to our first market.  They liked the idea and wanted to give it a go.  But I also found a number of small local businesses that had started in the pandemic and were solely selling online.  They were hugely creative and entrepreneurial – from several houseplant vendors with exciting social media to small businesses that grew their own flowers or made their own pots.

At our first market, 30 traders turned up at 6am to set up their stalls.   By the end of the day, we had 7,500 visitors come through the market who – in the aftermath of the first lockdown – needed an outdoor day out in the sunshine to buy flowers and plants.   We found that the established traders had a good day and the online traders loved the new experience of physically meeting their customers rather than sending them their purchases in a cardboard box.

“What we have seen is that the market has brought footfall to Chiswick.  Our data shows that footfall doubles on a Sunday.  Our local retailers tell us they notice the difference and view us as a positive addition.”

We had to deal with the lockdowns that followed but that gave us more time to plan and be creative.  We found more traders who brought interesting things to complement our other traders – from mushroom growing kits to terrariums and cacti, to gold medal winning nurseries selling some of the best plants around.

The market is gaining a reputation for street theatre – we have fire-eaters and stilt walkers, jazz singers and tap dancers.  We have workshops on how to build terrariums or make wreaths.   The team is also energised to make this the most sustainable market there is – from banning plastic bags we are now looking to make sure that the goods sold are peat free, have the lowest possible carbon footprint and are looking to introduce a plastic pot reuse or recycle scheme next year.

And as we are run by volunteers, we are in the luxurious position of having made a surplus to invest back into our local area.  We have already invested in replanting all the flower beds in the market area and have organised a huge Christmas tree which will be turned on by Sophie Ellis-Bextor together this Christmas.  We will hold our largest every market with four choirs singing their hearts out.   We think that will be a crowd-puller and kick start a buoyant Christmas locally as locals sip mulled wine and kids have their faces painted.

What we have seen is that the market has brought footfall to Chiswick.  Our data shows that footfall doubles on a Sunday.  Our local retailers tell us they notice the difference and view us as a positive addition.  Two sister markets have now set up on the second and third Sundays of the month –  a community led cheese market and a commercially operated antiques market.     One of the internet retailers who took a stall has now opened a shop in Chiswick.   Our visitor surveys show that a greater proportion of our visitors are increasingly coming from outside the immediate catchment as confidence in travelling in the aftermath of the pandemic increases.  This has been helped by word-of-mouth, press coverage and social media spreading the word.   The vacancy rate for shops in Chiswick is now much lower.

But importantly, the market has developed its own vibe on market days.   Who knows, one day Chiswick may be as well known as Portobello, Brick Lane or even Columbia Road!

Ollie Saunders
November 2021

Ollie Saunders, photograph by Charles Campion

All other photographs courtesy of Anna Kunst Photography

Chiswick community creates first new flower market in London for 150 years

This article has been written for 20/20 Visions by Bridget Osborne, Editor of The Chiswick Calendar and a founder director of the Chiswick Flower Market:

September sees the first anniversary of the Chiswick Flower Market – the first new flower market to have been opened in London for 150 years. The organisers, all local residents who volunteer their time to run it, set out to create “the Columbia Road market for west London” and have succeeded, judging by the thousands of people who visit the market held on the first Sunday of every month.

The aim was to make Chiswick a “destination” which people would come to on Sundays, to help reinvigorate the economy of the local high street.

Chiswick’s existing businesses have welcomed the increase in trade the flower market has brought, especially as, in the wake of the new flower market, other groups have set up an Antiques and Vintage market and a Cheese market on the second and third Sundays of the month respectively.

Chiswick Flower Market has been recognised nationally as an exemplar by the High Streets Task Force. Read the High Streets Task Force case study here.

Chiswick Flower Market

Chiswick Flower Market takes place every month in the Old Market Place, outside George IV pub in Chiswick High Road.

The idea of running a flower market on the spot where soldiers returning from the First World War set up the first outdoor market in Chiswick 100 years earlier, was first mooted by Ollie Saunders, a local resident and commercial property surveyor who used to trek regularly from his home in Devonshire Road to Columbia Road Market for flowers.

The idea was taken up by others and enthusiastically supported at a public meeting in February 2020. The plan was to start the market in April, as a way of revitalising the economy of the High Road.

Like everything else in 2020 that plan was scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the group, who are all volunteers and local residents, went ahead and set up a Community Interest Company and opened the market, with the support of the London Borough of Hounslow in September 2020.

It was a resounding success, with Time Out proclaiming it the top thing to do in London in September 2020 and the London Evening Standard agreeing it was the best thing to do in the capital that weekend. More than seven thousand people came.

The organisers set out to make the market “the Columbia Road of West London” and have succeeded.

There’s a mix of stall holders, which include several long established market traders from Columbia Road as well as new start-up firms, including people who were made redundant during the pandemic and decided to set up in business for themselves.

At the request of businesses in Devonshire Road, the market spread round the corner from Old Market Place to encourage people to visit the shops, cafes and restaurants there.

We have stall holders selling cut flowers and live plants: bouquets of live and dried flowers, bedding plants, herbs, shrubs and hardy perennials, bulbs and houseplants as well as pots, gardening accessories and grow your own food kits.

Sustainable regeneration

The market is very sustainability conscious, selling its own brand of jute bags in the hope of weaning people off plastic bags, and operating a free delivery service locally by bike (again, volunteers).

The gardeners who tend the Kitchen Garden at Chiswick House have a stall where they sell home grown produce, which they bring to the market by cargo bike, with zero carbon footprint. Several of the stall holders grow their own stock and other buy a mix of continental and British flowers.

It has also been recognised that the market is doing what it set out to do and attracting customers to the existing High Road businesses.

Anecdotally, shopkeepers have told us trade is up on Flower Market Sundays and the Government’s High Streets Task Force singled out the Chiswick Flower Market as an example of how a community group could make a difference to revitalising the local economy.

Paving the way for other markets in Chiswick High Road

Since the Chiswick Flower Market opened, others have applied successfully to run markets in the same location. The Antiques and Vintage Market opened in May 2021, as did the Chiswick Cheese Market. The Antiques and Vintage Market runs every second Sunday of the month. The Cheese Market runs every third Sunday.

There’s also a long-established Food market that runs every Sunday morning at Dukes Meadows and the Duck Pond Market, which also opened in 2020 in Chiswick, with regular markets at both Gunnersbury Park and the gardens of Chiswick House.

First anniversary

To celebrate the first anniversary, at the flower market on Sunday 5 September 2021 there will be the usual established mix of stalls selling cut flowers and live plants, including houseplants and bulbs – bulb seller Jacques Amand was one of the award winners at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. There will also be a special programme of events to celebrate the anniversary – gardening workshops in George IV pub, in the middle of the market, apple pressing and a chance to get up close to the beautiful Fuller’s dray horses.

Read a recent Daily Telegraph article about Chiswick Flower Markets with quotes from co-founder Ollie Saunders here.

Closing the zip: TULLI, TAMPERE, FINLAND by Fred London & Charles Campion

“The Charrette covered a huge amount of ground in a condensed time frame and created consensus from the wide range of stakeholders involved in a way that no other process could have achieved.”

Charrette participant

A magnificent river, known as ‘The Rapids’, flows with gentle but awesome power through the heart of Tampere, Finland’s second city.  A twenty metre drop over one kilometre between a lake to the north of the city and another to the south, gives the river force enough to run two hydro-electric generators.  A park runs along the river’s eastern bank, a popular and beautiful green space, and Keskustori, the city’s main urban square, lies on the western side. The river is a constant presence for citizens and visitors as they enjoy the many attractions of the city centre.

By contrast, the Tulli quarter, separated from the city centre by the broad swathe of Tampere’s railway tracks, was isolated and suffered from a lack of vitality.  This had a negative impact on two of the city’s most important institutions located in the quarter; Tampere Talo, the iconic concert and conference hall, and Tampere University.

The railway corridor consists of 8 railway lines that create a break in the urban fabric – the open zip.  This is exacerbated by a sharp level change of around six metres from the generally flat city centre up to Tulli and its environs. Locals refer revealingly to the area to the east of the railway line as “Russia”!

The main entrance to the station is from the town centre and a series of routes continue at the same level, beneath the tracks, to reach the stairs and escalators that lead up to the platforms.  The upper level, where people get on and off the trains, is at the same level as that of the Tulli quarter.  The tracks are a barrier for anyone wanting to go directly from Tulli to the city centre. A further consideration was a new landmark development by Daniel Libeskind to be built on a deck over the railway lines with jagged office towers and a new Ice Hockey stadium for Tampere’s premier team.

By 2011 there had been significant investment in building projects in this part of the city but no one had yet fully contemplated the spaces and connections between them. Then Kari Kankaala, Tampere’s chief planner, saw a presentation on “Collaborative Placemaking” which got him thinking about how a Charrette process could help address Tulli’s challenges.  Mr Kankaala successfully encouraged some key local stakeholders including Finnpark, Tampere Talo, Tampere University, Technopolis and Tulli Business Park, to join the City Council and contribute towards the cost of a Charrette process.

JTP was appointed to lead a multi-disciplinary team to facilitate the Charrette focussing on Tulli’s connections and how to overcome the barrier effect of the railway. The resulting Vision was to inform a brief for an international competition for the area.

Kari Kankaala described the Charrette’s task as trying to find out how to “close the zip” and bring the two sides of the railway tracks together.

After some deep thinking about the process, it was agreed that rather than holding a single Charrette, a two stage Charrette process would be appropriate.  The first stage was the ‘thinking’ workshop to be followed two months later by the second stage, the ‘creating’ workshop.  The make up of the JTP team were adjusted between the first and second workshop to reflect the changing focus, from formulating a strategy to producing the Vision.

The main design challenges for the Charrette were how to:

Tulli: Enliven the quarter to serve as a vibrant connection from the station to the eastern part of the city.
Tampere Talo: Improve connections between the biggest combined concert hall and conference centre in Scandinavia and the city centre and railway station.
Tampere University: Enable a listed building of elegant design to open up and venture out of its campus to engage more with the rest of the city and welcome in the outside world.
Finnpark: Plan for the removal and replacement of the multi-storey car park monopolising the heart of Tulli as a consequence of the new one kilometre underground linear car park blasted into the city’s bedrock by Finnpark.

What I saw today, in the final presentation, was more than I ever dared to expect! We’ve learnt such a lot from the Charrette process by all working together.”

Kari Kankaala, Tampere’s Chief Planner

The Charrettes were invitation-only stakeholder events. The fact that the major organisations were funding the process led to strong engagement from representatives, many of whom knew each other but had never worked together and had no idea of their neighbours’ plans for the future.  Participants responded readily to the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas in the creative atmosphere of the carefully structured workshop processes, including hands-on co-design tables. There was a lively buzz in the room at both Charrettes and participants enjoyed the process!

The Charrettes gave all the stakeholders an unprecedented opportunity to learn about one another’s aspirations and thereby develop integrated ideas and strategies for the regeneration of Tulli and the adjacent station area. The Vision was presented on the final day of the second Charrette after which Kari Kankaala declared, “What I saw today, in the final presentation, was more than I ever dared to expect! We’ve learnt such a lot from the Charrette process by all working together.”

The Vision created through the process included:

  • The workshop outcome to form part of the brief for the City of Tampere’s 2014 international design competition for the station area
  • The extension of city centre’s car-free, slow movement system to include Tulli and the establishment of the Eastern Station Gateway concept
  • Relocating the planned long-distance bus terminus to the eastern side of the railway tracks
  • Development of integrated multi-modal movement concept including additional pedestrian and cycle connections to overcome barrier of railway tracks
  • Moving Tampere Talo “closer” to the station by creating a themed route acting as a covered outdoor foyer
  • Vibrant new public spaces in Tulli quarter – hard and soft landscaped
  • Introduction of ‘Box-park’ concept to overcome Tulli’s lack of active frontages and kick-start the process of bringing the area back to life
  • Proposals for new commercial buildings over and alongside railway tracks and a design concept to create a fitting sense of arrival
  • Ideas for intensification and diversification of the University campus with new buildings, spaces and connections to transform it into a ‘UniverCity’
  • Integrated catalogue of projects and phased programme for developments and short, medium and long term design competitions
  • Drawing up of ‘Tulli Charter’ and establishment of ‘Tulli Team’ for collaborative decision-making on the Vision for Tulli

The Charrette covered a huge amount of ground in a condensed time frame and created consensus from the wide range of stakeholders involved in a way that no other process could have achieved.  A key success factor was having top representatives of all the organisations devoting their time to benefit the overall process.

To this day the Tulli Team is still active, guided by the Tulli Charter and the catalogue of projects from the Vision for Tulli and several of the Vision projects are underway.

An international competition was held for the station area, with the Charrette report included as part of the competition brief.  City representatives and winning team COBE, from Denmark, made a trip to visit projects in and around London, including Kings Cross redevelopment and Camden Market, which had been presented by the JTP teams during the Tampere workshops. 

The station design work is now underway and incorporates many concepts that emerged during the Tulli Charrette. Renewal of the existing station, now called the Travel Centre, is undergoing the ‘zoning-phase’ process, and will consist of a 200,000 m2 floor area accommodating residential accommodation for 6,000 people and business space for 4,000 employees.

Tulli’s planners are working through the local plan process, aiming to house 1,000 people in mixed-use buildings, to help accommodate the city’s growing population. On the main road in the eastern part of Tulli are proposals for existing 4-storey residential blocks to be extended up to a total of 10-12 storeys. Other existing low-rise buildings nearby are to be demolished and replaced by new-build apartments.

The ‘UniverCity’ concept for Tampere University is on hold, pending further decision-making, but a student accommodation company is converting existing offices in Tulli with ground floor mixed uses and student rooms above.

The Long-Distance Bus Terminal may still be implemented but is now in the hands of the government, not the city.  Improvements are being introduced for cycle routes through the Tulli area as part of the city’s sustainability strategy. The the first phase of the underground car park is now complete and the demolition of the multi-story car park in the heart of Tulli, whilst currently on hold, may still be implemented.

Tampere West+ Vision 2020
The years of investment focussed on Tulli, the Travel Centre and the city wide Tramway projects generated a feeling that Tampere’s historic city centre to the west of the rapids was being neglected. To redress the balance, and reflecting the success of the Tulli charrette process, the city again commissioned JTP and Von Zadow International to lead a multi-disciplinary team to carry out another local business funded Charrette process to co-create a Vision for the revitalisation of the mixed-use area known as WEST+.

The West+ Charrette programme, run from February to October 2020, had to be modified to be facilitated both face to face and virtually due to the social distancing and travel restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was completed successfully and the outcomes are set out in the report published in English here and Finnish here. To see the detailed Report Back presentation pdf click here for part 1 and part 2, and the summary broadsheet here.

People’s Powerhouse! by Mary Clear, Co-founder, Incredible Edible Todmorden

In this month’s blog Mary Clear, co-founder of Incredible Edible reflects on the impact Incredible Edible has made on the former mill town of Todmorden and how the Covid emergency has showcased the power of community and kindness.

Never under-estimate the power and the reach of activated, motivated citizens to sort out a town!

What a day to do a blog! I’ve just done a Zoom with our town councillors, I didn’t hold back, why bother now!? I felt they listened and I felt they cared.

Over the years our project has not felt the love from our Town Council. The public realm has been seen forever as belonging to power not people. Covid has changed all that.

Our team is out picking up litter, planting and fixing stuff while the absence of other workers continues.

During these dark days we have fed thousands of people through our food distribution project and built little libraries to distribute free books.

Our urban growing group is able to respond to the crisis with an energy not found in other places.

“People laughed at our “thing” about public benches, not laughing now are they?”

We love our streets and green spaces as that is where lives are lived out. We love to install benches and beautiful things. We live in an area of back to back homes with little private space, nowhere to sit safe outside.

People laughed at our “thing” about public benches, not laughing now are they!?

We like words in the landscape, we are fuelled on kindness, now more than ever our favourite word is needed by all.

Never under-estimate the power and the reach of activated, motivated citizens to sort out a town!

The public realm shouldn’t need reclaiming, but it does!

We haven’t got Banksy on our side, just ordinary Joes who see the sense and feel the joy of altering the town to suit the needs of its people.

It’s a sign of the times! No one is going to do the fixing needed for a very long time, so we just crack on.

It might not be very legal to plant up the cop shop with veg but the jails are full, so it will never matter!

Don’t think big society, think small, let’s take back the streets one plot at a time.

Many, many years ago, during the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance process, JTP encouraged us to follow our dreams, we did and we grew and grew. We don’t have offices, staff or a desire for a kingdom. We own our streets.

You the great and the good, architects and urbanistas, can help all of us be the change we want to see.

For more information on the Upper Calder Valley Renaissance process please visit the JTP website here.

On the CaSE by Mark Patchett

Two years on from the publication of 20/20 Visions, Mark Patchett writes about the Caddington Woods case study with an update on the progress of the newly established Community Trust (CaSE), which was first conceived at the Vision for Chaulington Community Planning Weekend. Mark, who has a wealth of experience of setting up and running Community Trusts across the UK, writes from the perspective of being the Trust’s first manager.

“The Community Trust model is effective and flexible and demonstrates that successful community based stewardship and placemaking can be achieved with similar processes at a range of scales.”

Redrow Homes recently partnered with General Motors (GM) and Central Bedfordshire Council to build just over 300 new homes at Caddington Woods on the site of a former GM vehicle testing track and storage area in the Central Bedfordshire green belt. An innovative charitable trust has been established to undertake a range of activities including to own and manage the woodlands and public open spaces, the children’s games and play area, the new community centre and to commission and fund a bus service.

The Caddington & Slip End Community Trust (CaSE) was formed in 2016, shortly after development started on site, as a lasting legacy to deliver community benefits for the new residents and the two parishes of Caddington and Slip End.

CaSE is funded through initial start-up funding from the developers and an innovative scheme which harnesses the rental values of some of the affordable homes at Caddington Woods. Forty six of the affordable homes will be permanently endowed by Redrow to the Trust and the properties are being rented at intermediate rents (i.e. 80% of market rent) to those who meet the relevant criteria set by the trustees, ie local connection and key worker. The balance of the affordable housing is provided by Catalyst and Thrive housing associations.

The trustees, made up from the principal stakeholders (Redrow Central Bedfordshire Council, the two parish councils and residents) provide strong leadership and governance, and the Trust is managed by a full-time Trust Manager with support from a Community Warden for day to day landscaping and maintenance, and other commissioned services.

The first two years were spent planning and preparing for the Trust’s early responsibilities and activities.  In 2019 it took ownership of the children’s play area and multi-use games area, and a new state-of-the-art, 500 square metres, zero carbon community centre. Residents chose to name the facility, the Lyons Centre, in recognition of the vision and role of Julian Lyon, former head of real estate for General Motors UK.

Providing a bus service as an alternative to the private car use was a key part of the Vision created at the Community Planning Weekend. The new bus service was launched in 2018 and has grown to a fully scheduled commissioned service which serves the main stations, the Town Centre and the local primary and secondary schools.

In a 20 year period, the income derived from the forty six properties will allow the Trust to deliver:

  • £2.6m investment into bespoke bus services
  • £1m investment into the woodland & landscaping
  • £1.25m into on-site community development and youthwork
  • £400,000 into grants to the local community/parish
  • Full operation of the community centre
  • Leaving a sinking fund after 20 years of £1m for continuously upgrading and improving the CaSE community trust properties, community centre, play area and public open space.

Being endowed with forty six affordable homes on the new development means that CaSE will have a reliable income every year and the residents of Caddington Woods will not have to make any contributions to the estate maintenance. The Trust has already played a key role in attracting residents to choose to live at Caddington Woods and in building a cohesive community through its multiple activities, not least at the community centre, which has been self-evident from the arrival of the first residents.

I am currently working with another 10 projects across the UK where partnerships are being developed to manage community facilities provided alongside new homes.  CaSE is the smallest Trust I’m involved with, but the model is effective and flexible and demonstrates that successful community based stewardship and placemaking can be achieved with similar processes at a range of scales.

For more information visit CaSE and

Liskeard Cattle Market Charrette – another masterplan, why would this one be different? by Adam Birchall

Adam Birchall, Head of Sustainable Development for Cornwall Council, reflects on the impact of the Liskeard Cattle Market Charrette held in Spring 2019 and the progress that has been made subsequently in delivering the vision. This is a transcribed version of his recent talk as part of the Academy of Urbanism “Beyond the Buzz” webinar held on Thursday 23 July 2020.

“The Charrette process provided a route to the clarity of vision the site needed.”

You may never have heard of Liskeard, but think of a small rural town in your own area and you would be familiar with it. Liskeard has everything you would expect a market town to have – including a high street, a pedestrian area, a town hall, out of town supermarket, housing estates, council housing, a train station, doctors and, of course, community leaders with a variety of views as to the future of the town. 

Aerial view of the Cattle Market site

So what defines Liskeard? It only has a population of 10,000 but serves a large rural hinterland of adjoining parishes, that look to it as a service centre.  It has a station on the mainline to London with half hourly trains to the major urban centres of Exeter and Plymouth.  It is at the junction of the scenic branchline to the seaside town of Looe and is just off the A38 trunk road. 

You might have noticed that I called it a market town but the one thing I did not list it having is a market.  And indeed, despite it having had a market since 1240 to 2017, it does not have one anymore.  The town is still, in a way, grieving that loss of identity.  The market probably had not made a significant difference to the economy for many years, but it was a key part of the town’s identity – it still calls itself a modern market town in its neighbourhood plan. 

And that is where the story starts.  The old cattle market site. Owned by Cornwall Council, but belonging (in every other sense) to Liskeard, it has been subject to several masterplans.  There were long standing mixed views as to its future. And so we were lucky to be selected for inclusion in an Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) pilot study in to the use of Charrettes.  The Charrette process provided a route to the clarity of vision the site needed.  The site had some significant benefits – clear ownership, existing strands of thought, coherent boundary.  What was needed was a conversation to bring the strands together and identify a route to delivery. 

“With clarity from the community came an obligation of delivery – a moral imperative to see it through.”

There was nervousness amongst the community of yet another masterplan.  Why was this one going to be different?  The answer was in the focus and clarity. Not letting anyone off the hook. Everyone had an imperative to be present.  The Charrette was about creating buzz, excitement, active drawing and momentum.  It created a moment to gather thoughts and get behind a vision.  That was really vital.  Both the Council and the community are capable of being immobilised by optioneering and indecision.  With clarity from the community came an obligation of delivery – a moral imperative to see it through. 

Hands-on planning workshop during the Charrette

At heart of the delivery mechanism was an acceptance of principles.  It was not to be a typical single,  regeneration project, rather, it was to allow for organicness and fluidity.  It identified individual project elements, some that were deliverable now, whilst providing a framework for others to fit into.  It would allow a suite of complementary but independent projects space to grow at their own pace.  Into that space of clarity created by the Charrette came funding opportunities.  Funding for demolition, funding for workspace, funding for artisan space. Serendipitous maybe, but the Charrette provided the framework so moments and opportunities could be taken within accepted parameters. 

“The Council had to let go – the strategic decision was to allow the Charrette process to take its course, and respond to the community’s expressed vision.”

What is left to do?  We have funding for two key but different areas of workspace, plus a covered market area, consistent with the Charrette vision and they will progress now, with one currently awaiting a planning decision.  Shape now needs to be given to the remaining components – the community centre space and public service hub.  It has been important to provide parameters to the public hub – it could so easily become an overly dominant influence.  The Charrette outcome provide containment for that, whilst leaving space for the much more delicate community centre thinking to germinate.  The Council had to let go – the strategic decision was to allow the Charrette process to take its course, and respond to the community’s expressed vision.  The community equally had to make a leap of faith. 

Artist’s impression of the Market Square produced as part of the Charrette

Chance and opportunity came together.  Along the way, the Council bought a derelict garage at the entrance to the site which certainly helped remove an element of uncertainty and contributed to the opportunities available, and so judicious land assembly has its place too.  There was an acceptance that the future of the site would grow and evolve, and it would not be facilitated through a normal development appraisal.  The Local Planning Authority also respected the outcome of the Charrette by accepting the findings as a material consideration.  Whilst the Council’s coincidental ownership helped facilitate this, the weight of evidence collected through a Charrette process provides a very strong consultative base that has to be respected in any circumstance. 

For its part too, the Charrette process respected the need to have an eye to delivery.  It is not enough to simply create an undeliverable dream.  The community have risen to the challenge too, as the main promoters for the artisan “makers” workspace project.  It is only with the framework provided by the Charrette that such a flowering has been possible.

CGI of the ‘Workshed’ artisan makers workspace building and covered market area submitted as part of the Phase 1 planning application

For more information about the Liskeard Charrette please visit the JTP webpage here.

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