This excellent report deserves to be widely read. Launched by Alex Neil MSP, Minister for Housing and Communities, at the end of January, Delivering Better Places in Scotland: a guide to learning from broader experience was prepared by the University of Glasgow’s Department of Urban Studies for the Scottish Centre for Regeneration in the Scottish Government, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Scotland and Architecture + Design Scotland (A+DS).
The work is based on solid analysis of eight urban development projects, all outwith Scotland – from Adamstown near Dublin, to Castlefield in Manchester, to Vauban in Freiburg. The research looked at the ingredients that made for success, taking account of the experience of each of these eight projects.
what did they find?
Here are the key lessons that the research team found:
ensure good leadership
control the spatial development framework
achieve fast and co-ordinated regulatory approvals
exercise ownership power
attract funding for advance infrastructure provision
secure design quality through procurement strategies
thereafter: continue to invest and provide stewardship over time
What’s really interesting for me is that these are all about the process of placemaking – not about design, architecture, buildings and public spaces.
I’m a greater believer in good design: I enjoy being in places that are well-designed, and I enjoy working with good designers. But I also observe that, despite reams of guidance and policy and examples of good design, the quality of most of the built environment that we have designed in recent decades is poor.
What is important about this research is that it goes beyond the usual mantra of high quality design. Of course we need that. But what we also need are mechanisms for getting good design on the ground.
That’s precisely what this research has given us – the eight critical lessons listed above. That’s why Delivering Better Places… is so important.
and the most important lesson?
At the launch conference for the report in Edinburgh on 27 January, an interesting thing happened. In feedback from group discussions about the report, one of the report’s 8 critical lessons emerged as paramount: leadership. So no coincidence, maybe, that it’s the first lesson on the researchers’ list, above.
What do we mean by leadership? The public sector, elected politicians and the professions (including planning) taking more of lead in making good places, and engaging with the public on that. Many of us do already, but just as many sit back and let someone else take up the fight – not just senior people, but all of us. In real terms, some suggestions made during the panel discussion at the conference were:
the public sector and professionals must learn how to take and manage risks – there are too many risk-averse people and organisations
the public sector, in particular, needs to be more entrepreneurial and participative (working with local communities) in the long term
place must be seen as a public good, which is worth fighting for by professionals and politicians alike
we need to be clear about the importance of long term quality, and of creating environments that we’re proud of
professionals and designers must not rely on manuals and rulebooks – they must be encouraged and allowed to be more creative
whatever sector or organisation we’re from, we all need to be more open, not afraid to speak to each other or change direction if things are not working – and less adversarial
the Scottish Government’s Planning Division really needs to encourage everyone to raise the quality bar and think longer term
local authorities need to be clear to developers on what they want to achieve, to get it right first time
let’s simplify things: management and regulation of change in the built environment has got every more complicated in the last couple of decades, and we need to get to the essence of what we’re trying to do
and plenty more besides
But the key message, in a way, is that it’s up to all of us to get out there and disseminate the messages about the importance of good placemaking and good leadership.
continuing the leadership discussion
More work is needed on this theme of leadership – and we each need to work out what we can do, whether we are orators or backroom beavers. Fortunately, there is an immediate opportunity to take the discussion forward. Planning Aid for Scotland’s latest annual conference is on this very issue. But it’s not far away.
25 February in Edinburgh: book your places now.