We may live in uncertain times but where we spend our lives matters so at A&DS, we have always promoted the importance of placemaking to support healthy communities and inclusive economic growth.
So, as we hopefully move into post-COVID restart and recovery, I have been reflecting on what learning we can take from lockdown and how we can use this to support communities across Scotland.
Restrictions on movement have led many people to explore their local areas and discover good design as well as the bad. Many will have found how the design of their built environment helped bring people together – from the doorsteps where people clapped for carers, through the almost car-free streets to the open spaces and city parks that allowed us to stretch our legs. I hope and believe this experience will start to help people think differently about how their local area makes them feel. What makes them feel positive? What impacts badly on their wellbeing and mental health? Most importantly – how can they have a say in their local areas and an opportunity to influence how it looks and feels.
At A&DS we have always promoted the importance of designing places with, rather than for, communities and the last few months has reinforced our belief in this and our commitment to the Scottish Government’s Place Principle.
The dramatic reduction in car use has highlighted the potential for moving at a pace to address carbon reduction through active travel initiatives. The environmental and health benefits of active travel are clear. The challenge now is how we build on this rather than slip back into old habits. If we look at cities like Helsinki where the focus is on walking and cycling, we can see ways to rejuvenate our cities and reduce pollution whilst supporting economic growth. The new pop–up cycle lanes and car–free streets must be encouraged and promoted, and these principles must be built into future design. The work that A&DS has done on looking at decarbonisation of our built environment can help to inform this.
I believe that we have also learnt some new skills – or at least new ways of applying existing skills. Many of us who work in the built environment assume everything takes time to design and build but I have seen national and local government as well as institutions, learn how to make decisions and changes quickly. The rapid installation of pop–up bicycle lanes and pedestrian priority areas have demonstrated that we can act quickly when we need to. It also demonstrates how we can test ideas in quick and easy ways.
The past four months has allowed us to start to think differently. However, to act on this still requires collaboration and compromise so we must find ways of working smartly that still involve and engage users. For me this means increased partnership between public sector, private sector and communities. It means individual groups need to be willing to compromise their priorities for the greater good. To do this we will need to have ways of evaluating and honestly assessing what has worked and what hasn’t and be willing to learn from what we find.
Whilst COVID-19 has meant people have become more aware of their local areas, it has also shown how we can use technology to connect nationally and internationally. Facetime, Zoom, Teams and the rest have allowed large numbers of people to access conferences, talks and ideas that previously you would have needed to travel to major cities and conference centres to hear. For our own part, I have been delighted to see how colleagues in A&DS have already delivered design advice workshops as well as major events using these platforms.
This rapid change is a major opportunity to ensure organisations like Architecture & Design Scotland achieve a national reach, supporting communities across Scotland and engaging with ideas and propositions across the whole country. In this way, we can ensure we give the same support to a community in Sutherland as we do to one in Shawlands.
So, what does the future look like? How do we come out of this pandemic using the built environment differently to truly support our communities? Well at A&DS we are currently developing a strategy for the next ten years. We have listened to colleagues across all sectors to test our priorities as we look to help realise the Place Principle across Scotland. The last few months has reinforced the importance of this principle.
As part of this, we also are clear that our strategy needs to support Government’s target to become carbon neutral. Ensuring that we collaborate in creating places that are great for our communities, where we share ideas and allow communities to help shape their local areas, will help both now and in the future, of that I am certain.
(Updated July 2020)
Image (detail) from Unsplash.com
Balcony Concerts: Image created by Catherine Cordasco. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.