DECADE: Participation – How can people shape a building, place or service?

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In 2015 A&DS celebrated 10 years and following a series of 10 events on 10 key topics a publication of reflections was published at the end on 2015. Throughout 2016 – the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design – we will -re-publish extracts from the publication on each topic. This extract looks at participation under the heading of Participation – how can people shape a building, place or service? 

Ten years ago, there was a certainty about the design agenda and the role of built-environment professionals in changing places. There was a new policy on architecture. Designing Places was published. We had urban regeneration companies, specialist urban design firms, the emergence of charettes and a lot of talk about master planning.

Today, society’s challenges are increasingly complex. We have structural changes: the recession, austerity, the Community Empowerment Act and migration. But we also want more representation and participation in decision-making, informed by local narratives, service needs and making more of what we already have.

Increasingly, the ‘now’ is about the uneasy journey of defining problems and solutions collaboratively, between citizens, politicians and professions. True participation means that the role of the professional in ‘changing places’ is changing.

Together, we need to address three future challenges:

Trust – We must build a bridge between citizen participation to shape outcomes, and decision-maker collaboration to deliver them.

Purpose – Dealing with large economic crises is about helping governments to change things for the better, faster. Public budget holders need to rethink their way of doing things. What skill sets do we need to reimagine, and are we asking the right questions?

Organisation – Some things need to be planned centrally, like infrastructures and sewers. But we also need spaces for co-creation and doing things differently. Can we move the public sector from direct service provision to platforms for co-delivery? This would channel activism, distribute ideas and openly share knowledge between neighbourhoods. Co-creation is about better and faster, together.

These challenges demand a new approach to professional practice – from control of ideas, to facilitating possibilities. It demands a new form of institution, which is localised, collaborative and system organised, not silo based. It implies a new form of empowered citizen with the capacity to act.

Participation could make placemaking central to the new politics of public space for the next decade. The question is, can we deliver?

Diarmaid Lawlor, A&DS

Making Places

Making Places: This project is about community empowerment and capacity building through community events and workshops.

Making Places Initiative

Find out more about the Scottish Government's Making Places Initiative and the latest developments.

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