The economy of places: how can we re-think how places meet their needs?

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The third in the series of live discussions leading into the ‘Design Skills Symposium’ was on the economy of places. The purpose of the discussion was to explore ideas about how places meet their needs.

In broad terms, the discussion focused on two key issues, value and measurement. What is the value of place, what is the contribution of place quality to economic performance? The discussion followed a questioning format to exploring the topic and themes.

The wordle diagram below provides a snapshot of some of the key words and thoughts that informed the discussion.


The diagram highlights issues of how value is linked to interesting experiences, how places perform and how we define the bottom line measurement of success. Value is an idea to be argued. It can be created. It needs to be managed. Value then can be created, and destroyed. The following summary sets out some of the key issues discussed and questions raised.


Within the broad topic of value, a number of themes emerged. These included consideration of:

  • Data sets: what data do we use to demonstrate the value of place, to demonstrate the role of place quality in economic performance?
  • Scaling: at nation and city scales, there are a series of ranking and measurement approaches which express one view of how these places perform. These include the Anholt Gfk-Roper Index for example. These indices measure a range of variables, but much of it is about performance. What would a place performance framework at town or neighbourhood scale look like? Would this help guide decisions about how to invest in places?
  • Valuing cultural heritage: how do we value the cultural heritage of our existing places, our existing buildings? How do we argue the case for the existing and potential value of these spaces as part of a whole economy view?
  • Unlocking ‘lazy assets’: In some places, the latent asset value is unrealised. This is an observation of studies like like ‘Residential Futures’ undertaken for the Northern Way. It identifies that some neighbourhoods in the settlements in the region have massive underexploited potential, but the focus of development activity is elsewhere. How do we both express this potential and enable the conditions for different forms of development potential in these places?
  • Appraisals: what metric do we use to discuss financial value, and how are these decisions informed by current copntexts,m past performamce and future potential?
  • Capital: the economic capital of place is about the commercial, public and social economies. How do we express the value of say the social economy, and link this to financial measures and place performance?


  • Relationships: the value of any element in the built environment is a function of its relationship to other things, and its relationship to time. Things can lose or gain value in time, depending on how people use them, why people need them. Jane Jacob’s talks about the value of relationships in ‘The Economy of Cities’ and links cities and their hinterlands. Seen from this scale, how do we measure the value of place, and how do we define place quality?
  • Skills: what are the skills needsd to measure the value of place? How can this activity be informed, objectively, by an appreciation of the potential of a place based on historic trends, future potential and the experience to be created? Do we need to re-think how we measure, and who measures?
  • Scale: the scope of issues to make up ‘the economy’ varies at each scale of place, from the street to the neighbourhood to the settlement and region. How do we find a language to express the different values and potentials at each of these scales?

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