Town centre living: Place Challenge 2015

Creating town centres as living places that re-use existing spaces to deliver housing, employment, and services. 

A close up image of a hand adding coloured notes to a white sheet of paper with a yellow circle with the words Place Challenge 2015 written on it

At Architecture and Design Scotland, we hope to inspire those involved in designing and shaping our places. By fostering a culture of collaboration, we will improve the lives of people, support inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and create more successful places. 

Difficult economic conditions, increased competition and changing patterns of service provision are challenging the role of our town centres. Rethinking town centres as places to live is one possible future that can help overcome these challenges. 

At the end of October 2015, we—with a range of partners—brought participants from across Scotland together for a two-day conference in Arbroath, Angus. The question this conference aimed to answer was simple: how can we create town centres as living places that re-use existing spaces to deliver housing, employment, and services? 

Who was involved and where?

Based at Hospitalfield Arts in Arbroath, The Place Challenge 2015 used the town as a place to test ideas. What we learned in Arbroath, common issues, design thinking and collaborative working are applicable to towns throughout Scotland.  

100 delegates travelled from across Scotland to tackle the issues collaboratively and explore the “how” of making town centre living a reality. 

The place challenge process

During the conference, we encouraged our delegates to initiate conversations around how we can revitalise town centres, support towns that require help, and make them beneficial for the communities that reside in those places. 

"The challenge for delegates was to understand what town centre living could mean, using Arbroath as a tool to bring learning back home". 

 Martin Crookston, Board Member, A&DS 

The Place Challenge 2015 included ten steps which enabled participants to re-think how town centres can be designed with people at the heart of the decision-making process. The start of a journey to whole place collaboration for town centre living.  

Ten steps of the place challenge process

In the initial steps, we prompted our participants to listen and share learnings about town centre living issues before defining an initial brief for action. The first few steps included: 

  • A presentation with speakers that outlined key issues around town centre living  
  • A brainstorming session to share knowledge and experiences 
  • Stakeholder mapping to consider roles who would support or block the change  
  • Creating personas to establish who this problem would solve for 
  • Defining the problem to help develop an initial brief for action 

A brief is essential when it comes to planning and designing places. It outlines important issues to consider, creates a set list of desired outcomes, and provides a critical point of references for the design of the project.  

In the final few steps, we tasked our participants with activities to generate, develop and test ideas to solve their brief. The final few steps included:  

  • Exploring the town centre and visiting key sites relevant to the brief  
  • Meeting locals who were already involved in ‘live’ town centre projects 
  • Reflecting and digesting new information captured from steps six and seven  
  • Turning their ideas into reality by prototyping (e.g., physical models, hand-drawn plans, illustrations, and user journey templates) 
  • Seeking feedback from partners and end users 

Following the event, we reviewed all the material and drew out a series of themes which were captured in the diagrams illustrated in the Place Challenge 2015 Report.

"The town centre as a choice for people to live is about understanding user need, and linking this to specific qualities of space, housing, and service provision across the town. Understanding user need is about an ongoing conversation with users, a continuous collaboration."  

Diarmaid Lawlor, Former Head of Urbanism, A&DS 

Report summary: Place Challenge 2015

Download our report to get an in-depth view of the work that was achieved by delegates who collaborated to plan and design for town centre living. 

Why is town centre living important?

Town centres are essential to our communities throughout Scotland. Town centre living provides a central point for people to socialise, economic opportunities, connections to other towns through transportation links and a space for leisure.  

Re-shaping our towns with people at the heart of the decision-making process, enables our local authorities, communities and stakeholders in Scotland to apply the Whole Place Collaborative Approach towards how places are designed. 

Image credit: Richard Carman

Place Challenge 2015 was organised by Architecture and Design Scotland in partnership with the Scottish Government, Angus Council, Historic Environment Scotland, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, The Development Trust Association Scotland, Scotland’s Towns’ Partnership and Improvement Service. The event is supported by BIDS (Business Improvement Districts Scotland), SURF (Scotland’s Urban Regeneration Forum) and PAS (Planning Aid Scotland). 

Our goals for town centre living

At Architecture and Design Scotland, we are working collaboratively with local authorities, communities and designers to help transform the future of our towns as better places to live. If you’re involved in the process of planning for town centre living, we can support you with advice and learning resources catered to your needs. 

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