News & Blogs

People’s Powerhouse! 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 jtp.co.uk.

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.