Board Blogs: I would like to be a street superhero – Karen Anderson

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In a series of blogs members of the A&DS Board explains what attracted them to join the A&DS Board, their policy priorities and what they wish their secret built environment super power would be. First up is Karen Anderson who has been the chair of A&DS for nearly eight years. 

It is a privilege to be part of an organisation that works every day to make Scotland’s built environment better and the skill, insight and passion of our staff are my inspiration.  The work they do is incredibly important as it focusses on the things that practitioners and communities tell us need to change; it helps identify opportunities and support people to make more resilient places and communities.

There are huge opportunities to improve Scotland’s places and how they can make our day to day lives better.  It is a ‘whole country’ challenge and finance and resources are limited.  I get frustrated by short-term thinking and those who work in silos saying ‘this is the way we do it’. This is not sustainable. In contrast, I am encouraged by those who recognise the new challenges, listen to constructive critique and do things differently, and by the support of partner organisations and individuals who help us, a small organisation, widen our influence and the impact of our work.

What things/activities has being a board member of A&DS enabled you to get involved with?

The quality of the built environment is shaped by everything from planning and economic policy, through education to the way a contractor mends the pavement. Through A&DS I have been involved with diverse and important work at all levels from Town Centre Challenge and ‘Can Do Places’  to working with young people on their vision for future cities, highlighting the empty homes challenge and promoting best practice in the design of public buildings.  All of this has given me new insights and underlined to me the importance of bringing people together to explore  new ways to do things and disseminating best practice.

From your perspective, what are the best projects or activities A&DS has done? Why?

I have been involved with many exciting projects and all contribute to our important work but Decade was the one I personally valued most.  To celebrate our tenth birthday we brought together experts, partners and stakeholders to discuss the challenges and opportunities at ten events considering ten key fields from the historic environment to health and housing.  We were able to capture and publish what they told us and use these key messages and insights to shape our future work.  See more here.

What future work is A&DS involved in that particularly interests you and why is it important?

The housing ‘challenge’ is obviously important and housing is one of the priorities of our Corporate Strategy. It is vital that we stop viewing building new housing as primarily a logistics and financial challenge.  Providing new homes is an opportunity to build new stronger communities and improve existing ones. To do that we have to think seriously about how best to do that in each specific location and we need to learn from local views.  Through the Place Standard we have worked with NHS Health Scotland and Scottish Government to produce something that can be used as part of this work. One solution does not fit all and the facilities, greenspaces, places to meet that support new homes need to be taken seriously as a key component in all built proposals.  We live, shop, play and work differently from our predecessors in the 1950’s but ‘housing solutions’ have not changed as radically as our lives have since that time. We need to work with the housing development industry as well as social landlords to see how they can better build for 21st century future lives.

If you could make built environment policy …what one issue would you tackle first?

I guess it has to be VAT and ‘Town Centre First’ for all development proposals.   If we are really serious about preserving the character of our special places we cannot let existing buildings fall into disrepair and lie empty while we let folks build cheap structures on our out of town and agricultural land.  Old buildings are made of stone and slate but are also our local stories, our identity!

What built environment super power would you like to have?

I would be ‘super street’ hero.  I would fly across the country clearing road drains in towns, restoring our pavements that truly now are a disgrace, planting street trees, zapping unnecessary road signs and taking out badly designed street furniture.

It may seem mundane but it is the good ‘place stewardship’ that all people get.  It leads to ‘pride in place’  and to a feeling of belonging somewhere special which leads to demands for better quality new buildings, more investment from the private sector and attracts and impresses money-spending tourists!

Place Standard: Housing in Shetland

A&DS helped Hjaltland Housing Association and Shetland Islands Council prepare for the development of Shetland’s largest housing site at Staneyhill.

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