Co-producing quality places: When places change

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This blog series – by A&DS Director of Place Diarmaid Lawlor – looks at lessons learned from a trip to Mannheim, Germany, in early 2017 and sets out some of the observations and learning for Scotland. This blog looks at Vauban and the way places adapt to changing community need and links to the Place Standard Theme on housing and community.

Ideas are handed down from generation to generation in the hope that each group’s contribution will be carried forward. How the receiving generation uses the knowledge given to them may look different to how people did things in the past. But, at the root of it is a thread which links ideas across huge spans of time.

Or at least, that’s the ambition.

For this to be true, we need to have a way of capturing our learning. Because, if there’s no framework for learning, we don’t always have a way to pass on knowledge.

A powerful idea 

Vauban  is a clear expression of a set of values around cooperation, pluralism, micro-democracy group scale and small communities negotiating values to shape how people live, with an overarching ambition around environmentalism and sustainability.

Vauban’s inception saw furious, animated and involved discussion at the scale of groups – thematic, neighbourhood and special interest. All shared an ambition to shape change and actively participate. And, this generation were very successful.

Walk around Vauban and see streets without cars; streets where drainage becomes ecology, where children wander safely in the grass and wild planting. The houses are a mix of Baugruppen, housing corporation, developer and self-build ventures, all of which build the environmental story.

This is a young town, designed by young people for families at a time before they thought about getting old.

Changing residents; changing requirements 

The problem with young people is they get old and their children become teenagers. The problem with places that aren’t designed to accommodate these demographic changes is that spaces made to suit one life stage won’t work for others.

In Vauban, a lot of the founding community were roughly the same age, so they’re all getting older at the same time. There is little population churn because this is a comfortable place to live, and those who benefited from affordable housing in the early days are comfortable. But, there isn’t the infrastructure for older people.

Vauban isn’t yet a great place to grow old, but, they’re working on it. Crèches are now being converted to spaces for older people, and projects are being developed to build interdependence between the needs of different generations. Inclusion and social mobility are being discussed.

Not only are people getting older, but the core values which bound them as a community are not always taken on by younger generations, nor by people who move in from the outside. For example, it seems that teenagers want cars, speed and the modern life; not the old values or the limits of sustainability.

Cooperation, visible in the architecture, behaviours and character of community action, is Vauban’s philosophy, but how do you carry that forward? What happens if people don’t want to carry it on? What does that mean for the here of here?

We need to think about how to adapt places as people grow up, and how to pass on the core values that enabled the place to form in the first place. How can these be adapted to the needs of a new generation? This needs knowledge, learning, and trust.

Key lessons from changing places 

Vauban is an interesting study in the challenge of maturing places and in the briefing stage of creating new places. It tells us we need to design for change. We need to engage across generations and imagine radically different service models and radically different uses of spaces for very different needs in the same place at the same time.

The culture of cooperation in Vauban offers a model by which this might be achieved. But it also needs a new form of collaboration, across different communities, across age groups and between new groups of people in the community and the city council. Collaborative governance based on outcomes framed around the changing needs of the place are part of the growing-up stage of change.

Vauban has a wealth of learning, well-established practice in diversity, negotiation and environmentalism. It will be interesting to observe how the generations capture and use this learning, and engage the city government with it to transform this wonderful place to the next stage of its development.

The architecture and streetscape of Vauban are fascinating. But the social story is far more compelling. Its future is about the architecture of transformation. And that will be worth watching.

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