Real people, real business, real places

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What is the basis of organisations that work? The effectiveness of any organisation are the values that hold them together, and how they learn. This is true whether the organisation is a community of citizens, a community of business or people doing things together. It is the basis of active participation.

A set of shared values can bring people together. This generates a culture. This culture shapes how people do what they do. It shapes the spaces which they do what they do, and it enables us to re-think how we might use the spaces we already have to facilitate better working. This includes traditional works spaces, and ‘third spaces’, semi public spaces within cafes, existing buildings and public areas where people gather to exchange, to network, to work.

In the ‘Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning’, Professor Henry Mintzberg explores what helps organisations in a business sense succeed. He suggests that key to success is doing things, and learning. Planning matters but it needs to be a framework to help do things. Doing is the key. It is the basis of informed decision-making, and the basis of a culture that binds people. He argues that when this learning is responsive, when ‘it takes the form of fits and starts, discoveries based on serendipitous events, and the recognition of unexpected patterns, learning inevitably plays a, if not the crucial role in the development of novel strategies’. Another way of looking at this is that learning is key to survival. In this context, building a place and a culture of doing and learning is a key building block of successful placemaking. So how do you do it?

In the ‘Sharing the Place’ conversations, Clare Carpenter, Founder of the Melting Pot, a community of social innovators suggests that one building block is to understand the conditions needed for humans to flourish. This is about understanding how real people doing real business in creative ways work individually and together, and why. From this deep understanding of people and their processes, a vision should be developed which is both held strong as a framework for decision-making, and a framework for allowing things to emerge. Conversation and developing a shared awareness of the values of others who want to participate in this kind of place, in this kind of idea of this kind of place is key. It is central to the process of making real places of cultural and economic vibrancy.

David Watt, Director of the Glasgow Sculpture Studio suggests that part of the condition for success is to build an interest in the place. This is about enabling people to have some buy in into the idea for that place, and for them to become active stakeholders, active champions. This may mean different models of ownership of a physical space, or different financial models to enable people to share in a business , or different means of enabling collaboration in a community of practice. In all senses, it implies an active process, a doing. Again, in the ’Sharing the Place’ conversations, David emphasises the need to start with people, what they do and what they need, and actively explore how different partners in different sectors can come together to share in the doing of things. Part of this is about both exploiting and brokering relationships for mutual benefit. In the specific context of Speirs Locks, there are a number of major cultural industries on site. They are the ‘keystones’ of an emerging economic and cultural ecology.

If places are about people, then understanding people, and how they organise in their social contexts matters to building places that work.


Place and leadership

The cross-party group of the Scottish Parliament on Architecture and the Built Environment were presented with the findings of...

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