A+DS has contributed to a number of placemaking conferences in recent weeks. Head of Urbanism Diarmaid Lawlor outlines the messages that he has been conveying at these meetings.
What is a place? Placemaking has become a phrase that is fast moving in the same direction as phrases like ‘sustainability’ and ‘community’, overused and under valued. Place however is an important word to be specific and accurate about. The Australian urbanist Kim Dovey says that a place is a ‘centre of collective meaning’. It delivers for people. If we want to understand places therefore, we do not start with the building, its efficiency or value. We start with a question to people: what kind of life do you want to lead and how can this place enable your choices.
In the 21st century, it is clear that the decisions we make about where we live, what we do and how we relate to others matter. Research such as ‘The Place Race’ by Scottish Enterprise show that in a changing economy, quality of place is a key element influencing where and why people locate. The new economies of the 21st century are people economies. People need places, ordinary places, places that people want to be in, places that work, places that deliver choice. In this context, the biggest challenge we have in front of us is to do the ordinary things better. Most of our villages, towns and cities are made up of ordinary things. Edinburgh is a fantastic city made up of ordinary, well formed buildings, streets and spaces in an extra-ordinary setting. We do ordinary things for most of our day, most of our lives. It is the quality of the ordinary built environment that enables or fails a place. On this basis, sustainable places are about a better ordinary, enabling people choices.
To make a better ordinary, to meet the challenges of a changing set of social, economic and cultural contexts we need to think differently and do differently. We need new models of development, and place planning that are based on a real understanding of scale, context and contemporary skills and technology. There is a need for a new model of how we make better places in Scotland. The heritage of the places we have inherited provide clues as to how we should move forward. The future is not about replicating the past, it is about understanding it, working with it, challenging it and expressing all these issues in a confident urbanism for Scotland. This matters because places matter, because places are all about people.