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Alone Together

Charles Campion reflects on how the power of community is being showcased during lockdown.

This article was first published on the jtp.co.uk website on 22 April 2020.

The success of humankind on this earth is to large extent a function of our ability to socialise and collaborate. We form communities for mutual benefit, the collective gain is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Historically our cities, towns and villages were the product of many local hands and designed to suit the social, economic and cultural needs of the communities they served. The African proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ recognises the necessity of multiple inputs and collaboration.

But in our fast paced, contemporary world our sense of community can often feel fractured. Decisions that affect our lives and our places are often taken remotely, and communities can feel they have little control. People can withdraw, feeling disempowered, frustrated and isolated.

Community-led tactical urbanism – Barnes Community Association has organised road space reallocation to pedestrians to provide space for social distancing.

With the lockdown keeping us in our homes, there is a danger that people feel even more alone and separated from their communities. But in many places, this unprecedented alteration to our lives has seen a remarkable rekindling of solidarity and togetherness. Our community spirit has been reawakened and reasserted with a confident, caring voice. Lack of physical proximity isn’t preventing communities from mobilising, rather, it’s catalysing just that!

I’ve been heartened to see what is unfolding. In my west London neighbourhood, the Barnes Community Association has coordinated a shopping delivery scheme called Barnes Community Shop with independent retailers and local volunteers with cargo bikes delivering the orders to elderly and vulnerable residents. [Since this article was written the service has now been opened up to serve all residents.] The Barnes Environment Group has also taken the initiative (with the local council’s blessing) to reduce road space outside shops so that queueing shoppers and pedestrians have enough space to socially distance.

In Todmorden, home of Incredible Edible, the Kindness Hub is working with the Real Junk Food project to redistribute excess food from supermarkets for ‘pay as you feel’ or free to anyone who can’t pay. And Apocalypse Chow is making and delivering meals at cost price to local vulnerable people – all food is prepared fresh and to the highest possible standard by a local, award winning chef.

In Todmorden, Incredible Edible are working with The Real Junk Food Project to distribute food boxes. Image credit: The Todmorden Team

Elsewhere in the UK, thousands of mutual aid groups have been picking up shopping and prescriptions, installing digital equipment for elderly people and setting up telephone friendship teams.

Globally, the pandemic has triggered community action on a vast scale. In Norway, a group of Covid-19 recoverees is now providing services that would be dangerous for non-immune people to offer. In India, young people have self-organised on a huge scale, providing aid packages for those most in need. Students in the Czech Republic are babysitting the children of doctors and nurses. In the Philippines, fashion designers have repurposed their workshops to produce protective suits. In Wuhan, China, volunteer drivers created a community fleet, transporting medical workers between their homes and hospitals. All over the world, self-organised groups of doctors, technicians, engineers and hackers are crowdsourcing missing equipment and expertise.

What does this tell us about ourselves and our communities? It tells us that we find purpose, motivation and pride by working together to help each other. In this time of crisis, our community spirit has been reawakened and highlighted – we are demonstrating and putting into action our powers of collaboration.

My expectation is that this resurgence of compassion, community and collective action will survive the pandemic. Its resilient power has been recognised by individuals, agencies and governments alike. Something positive is re-rooting itself – something that was always there but was largely overlooked: the delightful, transformative and essential force of local, mutual action.

At this time of lockdown, the best of humanity has come to the fore empowering individuals to connect and make a positive difference – we may be alone, but we are together.

Community action to support local retailers and residents: Barnes Community Association has organised cargo bike deliveries from local independent shops to elderly and vulnerable residents.

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.

20/20 Visions author Charles Campion appointed to Glasgow Place Commission: considering how design can make a better Glasgow

The Place Commission, led by Glasgow’s City Urbanist, Professor Brian Evans, held it’s first meeting on Wednesday 13 November 2019.

The Place Commission for Glasgow can be seen as an ongoing conversation with the city’s communities, developers, designers and other partners to consider how the built environment can best respond to and serve the new ways in which we live, work and travel – to create a better quality of place for the people of Glasgow.

Over the course of the next year, the Place Commission will meet to discuss how this can happen, with three main themes framing the discussions – the Everyday City (how we experience the city as residents, workers, business people, or visitors); the Metropolitan City (recognising the interdependence between Glasgow and the rest of the Clyde Valley); and the International City (considering Glasgow’s place on the international stage).

Professor Brian Evans, Glasgow’s City Urbanist, said:

“This is a great opportunity to hold a big conversation about Glasgow, its region, communities and places. Working within the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Scottish Government’s ‘Place Principle’, we will be looking to evidence how integrated action in respect of demographic, climate and technological change can, when designed around people, improve the quality of peoples’ lives and their places.”

The Place Commission comprises experts from a variety of fields, each with an interest in the topics to be considered. These independent commissioners are: Ann Allen, Chair, Architecture and Design Scotland; Jude Barber, Director/Architect at Collective Architecture; Dr Linda de Caestecker, Director of Public Health, NHSGGC; Charles Campion, Partner, JTP (Architects and Urbanists); Kevin Kane, Executive Director, Glasgow Economic Leadership; Professor Carol Tannahill, Director, Glasgow Centre for Population Health; Rachel Tennant, Chair of Landscape Institute Scotland, and Dr Brian Veitch, Consulting Engineer and Former Director, ARUP.

Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“Glasgow is a city still very much in transition, one which is barely recognisable from the post-industrial Glasgow of just a couple of decades ago. The physical transformation of so many of our neighbourhoods, our riverside, parts of the east end and the ongoing work at Sighthill and the city centre through the Avenues project is testament to that change. But with still much to do I’m delighted that a panel of such esteemed independent experts can help support our city’s development as a people-focused city which is s a great place to live, work and visit.”

 

The Commission also welcomes new ideas from creative thinkers that can help a design-based approach to the built environment create better places for people in Glasgow – those interested should contact Joseph Harvey (joseph.harvey@glasgow.gov.uk / 0141 287 6272) or Jordan Howard (jordan.howard@glasgow.gov.uk / 0141 287 1160).

Recommendations

The recommendations of the Place Commission will be made in Autumn 2020.

@PlaceGlasgow