In many ways, the world wide web is the global front door to the perception of a country. At one stage, the landing page of VisitScotland showed misty, moody mountains shouldering the assertion that ‘Scotland is the place’. This image, and this statement invite reflection. What is the nature of this place? The power of the image provokes thinking on some key principles of place; time and change, identity and authenticity, perception and expectation. Richard Florida says that successful places are ‘authentic’. This is about the creative applications of talent, technology and tolerance, and an understanding of time. What differentiates any place from any where else with the same mix of ingredients is context. What then is the context of ‘Scotland the place?’ What are the drivers of its contemporary authenticity, and how does urban design help this debate?
Scotland has, according to the first report of the Council of Economic Advisors [CEA] to the Scottish Government, created urban places and developments of ‘mediocre and indifferent quality’. The problem of poor, anywhere development is not limited to Scotland. However, the CEA assert that sustainable economic growth must be underpinned by the ‘creation of places where people want to be’. This is a challenge that is being embraced by the Scottish Government. The planning system is being reformed. The objectives of the reform agenda are to achieve a culture change, a more outcome focused planning which enables more sustainable places where people want to be.
Scotland now has a hierarchy of policy instruments to support the reform agenda. The National Planning Framework sets a broad spatial framework for the country. Four city region plans are being prepared to co-ordinate cross boundary spatial priorities. A new shorter, clearer and more accessible Local Development Plan is promoted. This infrastructure is central to the Government’s ambition, set out in the draft revised Scottish Planning Policy [SPP] to create ‘visionary and ambitious plans’. Design is seen as central to achieving better places through planning. At national level, the design agenda is supported in a number of ways including ‘A Policy on Architecture for Scotland’, 6 Urban Regeneration Companies [URC’s], the ‘Designing Places’ policy statement, the recently published ‘Designing Streets’ and the Scottish Sustainable Communities Initiative [SSCI].
The aim of SSCI is to create exemplar projects and processes to drive forward the place and design agendas in Scotland. In March 2010, Andres Duany of DPZ, champion of the new urbanism agenda delivered charettes in three Scottish locations; Ladyfield in Dumfries, Lochgelly in Fife and Grandholme in Aberdeen. The new urbanism charettes can be seen as a moment in modern Scottish planning history, a challenge in an ongoing discourse about the nature of contemporary Scottish places. Is there a Scottish urbanism? Are there alternatives to new urbanism? In either case, how do the appropriate responses derive from an understanding of Scotland?
A+DS is the national champion for design and placemaking in Scotland. Our interest is in the discourse of how we make places where people want to be. We seek to deliver on this brief through design review, and a series of programmes which facilitate better outcomes in urbanism, schools, health, regeneration and engagement with the public through exhibitions and networks. A key element of our current work is in helping to deliver the planning reform agenda by focusing on outcomes. In practice, this is rooted in considering a simple question: what kind of place are we trying to create? Places are complex, and are meaningful to many people for many reasons. Professors Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy, authors of ‘Sustainability and Cities: Overcoming automobile dependence’ argue that if places are about people, then people must actively participate in shaping places. For them this means moving from a planning process of ‘predict and provide’ towards ‘debate and decide’. This is the process of visioning.
The Lyons Inquiry into Local Government argues that the public sector has a key role, through its decisionmaking and service delivery functions, in shaping places. Visionary and ambitious plans must therefore be a combination of the placeshaping function of Local Government, positive and proactive leadership and active engagement by citizens. This is the path to sustainable visioning. A+DS have engaged in a number of place visioning pilots in Scotland. In Stirling, we have worked with the Local Authority to facilitate a vision for the city which shapes a context for the Local Development Plan. Working with Highlands Council we are facilitating a process which explores place concepts for Inverness, one of the fastest growing cities in the UK.
As part of the Scottish Renaissance Towns Network, we are exploring the idea of place as ‘shared space’, the shared space of national and local policy agendas, the shared space of decisionmaking, and the shared space of delivery. Place is not the responsibility of one agency. As the economic landscape changes, we need to think increasingly creatively about place, and how a range of parties shape decisions to make these places where people want to be. The initial pilot of the Scottish Renaissance Towns initiative at Neilston in East Renfrewshire has been recognised as a model of best practice in community oriented placemaking by the Scottish Awards for Quality in Planning.
Scotland is changing. The policy and delivery contexts are creating imperatives fro new ways of thinking, and new ways of doing. It is through positive engagement in this challenge that a new responsive and confident architecture and urbanism will emerge for Scotland.