Waterfront Regeneration Knowledge exchange # 2 – Dundee

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Urban Life, Public Space and the Role of Urban Design

Scottish Universities Insight Institute

Discovery Point in Dundee – Monday 1 December 2014

The Knowledge Exchange programme brings together practitioners, policy makers and academics involved with waterfront regeneration in three of Scotland’s cities which account for a substantial part of overall urban regeneration activity currently under way in Scotland. These initiatives are evolving in parallel, developing their own independent approaches to city-building and to shaping the new places where people will live and work.

Through sharing experiences, the programme aims to contribute to the future development of the waterfront areas directly involved in the programme as well as other waterfront regeneration processes emerging in Scotland. In addition, it aims to guide a debate over issues surrounding economic, social and environmental aspects of regeneration activities in the country, in order to inform policy development and implementation.

The programme includes 4 workshops over 6 months, each exploring an aspect of development from each city (and including a field trip), with a final workshop providing the opportunity to draw together conclusions and identify next steps for an ongoing knowledge exchange network of policy-makers, practitioners and academics.

This note provides a summary of the second seminar in the series on Dundee which took place at Discovery Point in Dundee on Monday 1 December 2014. More information is provided in the accompanying summary document.

Allan Watt, Dundee Waterfront Manager, described how the central waterfront area has been a confusing entry /arrival point and first impressions of the city have been poor.

The 8km long Dundee waterfront regeneration involves £1bn investment (already at £500k) and will help to create up to 9000 jobs across a number of zones.

The Dundee Central Waterfront masterplan was approved in 2001, and�site specific development briefs are available for each site. The aim is to provide certainty to developers. The masterplan seeks a mix of uses, active ground floors and variation in design. Building heights will reflect traditional heights. Dundee Council is the land owner and can exert ownership as well as planning control. There is desire to keep the experience unique and support local traders.The flagship V&A proposal will sit with its prow out into the Tay.

Every Department is aligned to assist delivery; there is a feeling that the City has been down and there is now a chance to do something. Work to deliver the masterplan – don’t change; picking it apart will result in chaos!

A walking tour through the central waterfront area raised discussion�points including:

  • a fierce loyalty to a city which has been through tough times and determination to change Dundee for the better
  • the scale of the city and the project means it is possible to get on first name terms to build relations and working partnerships
  • “put hope back into the house” – give people belief that there is opportunity
  • the importance of ensuring quality walking and cycling environments – particularly if car parking is located remote from residential

Lars Gemzøe, Gehl Architects, presented on international experience of designing for urban life and public space, and divided his talk into four sections:

1. People and Public Space Two case studies were contrasted to evaluate environmental quality and demonstrate different ‘people and public space’ outcomes. In Oerestad, an area of Copenhagen, though superconnected is not making places for people. The shopping mall has a blank frontage; few places to sit; water features aren’t useable; long distances between buildings and entrances; no transition external/ internal activities. A monitoring of the roughly 8000 people passing noted that the average number of people staying is 5.5.

In contrast, the waterfront at Aker Brygge in Oslo, where 5000 pedestrians pass through it every day the average number of people staying is 212. The fact that people enjoy doing things is down to the design and quality of the environment. Aker Brygge in Oslo thinks about people; the focus of Oerestad was on buildings and forgot about life!

2. People – Space – Buildings A new approach is necessary that starts with life, then space, then buildings: It’s not what the city can do for the building, but what the building can do for the city! A public space plan is required that considers differing uses and activities, rich edges with functions that relate to public life, uninterrupted pedestrian links and car-free environments. Public space is for all to enjoy.

3. Different Strategies for Waterfronts Cities used to be at the waterfront but other things got in the way! (e.g. roads, train lines, industry…) Ideas for how this might be overcome:

  • Working harbour – (e.g. Hobart, Tasmania) is a great asset; work with it!
  • Office harbour – (e.g. London and Copenhagen) mono functional city districts; lifeless in evenings, nights and weekends.
  • Housing harbour – (e.g. former free port in Copenhagen) mono functional; privatised ground floor areas – can’t do public things!
  • Entertainment harbour – (e.g. Baltimore and Sydney) tourist entertainment industry – not a place to go to as a local.

Granville Island, Vancouver was proposed as a good lively waterfront which enables other things to happen. The strategy was to use what exists: diversity of places and landscapes: boat repair and house boats, art college and working cement factory; an incredible mix of things; small ferries; local character and true local identity; keep it unique; everything made or sold on the island is from the local area.

Islands Brygge is a harbourfront area close to central Copenhagen noted for its waterfront park which is now one of the most popular areas along the Copenhagen harbourfront, and has an open harbour swimming baths. A local action group made the park (sign: “the park is yours – take care of it”); a waterfront for the people made by the people, based on what the people needed. There are a series of overlapping activities, where walking past one leads to another. There are 1000 users in the park on a regular summer weekday.

4. Life on the Waterfront? What would you come there for? What is there for you? How to get there? What to do when you get there? What are other non-planned activities/possibilities? Overlapping activities – spatially and visually; surprising mix of uses; rich edges with open interfaces; invitations to enter, sit down, stay and enjoy. e.g. Western Harbour Malmo.

Mike Galloway, Dundee City Council, offered a personal reflection on how learning from experiences in London, Manchester and Glasgow has influenced the Dundee waterfront project.Learning has included: the importance of working with politicians, incorporating planning, design and other disciplines, land ownership and an ability to put in infrastructure which informs the basic street pattern that guides and implements further development.

A return to Dundee focused on an urgent need to tackle the central waterfront:

an embarrassment but a fantastic opportunity

south facing over the estuary and close to thriving city centre.

Initially different scenarios and a range of masterplanning options were drawn up and consulted on, to consider what the place might look like in 30 years. Feedback on different options (like/dislike?) identified successful components and distilled to a preferred option, and ultimate endorsement with a 97% approval rating. The process took 2.5 years to complete.

The process challenged entrenched thinking (e.g. ‘can’t do street trees as it interferes with underground services’; ‘can’t do pavement cafes because of licence regime’).

Mike referred to how the City of Bilbao benefited from the V&A Guggenheim effect; but only in terms of one night stay. The city wanted to deepen the strategy and worked with the wider city and region, to extend leisure into business tourism. This has turned the economy and brought business inward investment of which only 1/5th is tourism.

The major focus for the Dundee waterfront project is to change the perception of the city – site briefs call for a high quality environment with active ground floor where people stay and linger. The Partnership is prepared to take a long term view: to participate in the development; get more return on asset; take share in the profit; part of management of area in the longer term. The is a desire to stick by the principles and to deliver to the people of Dundee what they voted for 15 years ago.

A Q+A session raised the following considerations:

  • The challenge of ensuring mixed use: normally only have planning controls and ‘powers of persuasion’; however, ownership and installing the infrastructure can exert greater influence to achieve quality of outcome.
  • Changed contexts – 16 years ago it was harder to refuse planning consent
  • What is the art of the possible? Move it over time to a position of greater influence.
  • The importance of understanding and working with the politics of place.
  • East/West routes will cater for 40k car movements; the boulevards can take the scale.
  • Taken a financial hit to achieve socio-economic benefits; won’t get direct financial returns on investment; but will realise indirect benefits.

The group reflected on lessons from the site visit and presentations to identify factors contributing to increasing the quality of urban life and public space in waterfront regeneration in Scotland in relation to three areas of discussion:


Key considerations included:

  • Need time – this is a big masterplanning exercises that took 2.5 years to pull together.
  • Involve the right people at the right time
  • The importance of having land in public ownership
  • Space is limited – need well planned circulation that considers modal split – cars, pedestrians, cyclists + public transport
  • Close proximity to city centre – how best to link with and use it?
  • Need to attract a mix of people
  • Public space – how best to use it? Continued public use on regular basis may require management

Rules and Organisations

Key considerations included:

  • Leadership champion
  • Vision – believe in future long term
  • Joined up thinking – teams and departments
  • Move away from blueprint masterplan
  • Continuity and clarity of vision – need political support
  • Ownership – land and infrastructure investment – provide quality for future investors
  • Good site briefs
  • Good communication – council+ agencies
  • Different layers of considerations: macro, meso, micro – big picture + getting down to nitty gritty of fine grain

Ideas and Mindsets

Key considerations included:

  • Good quality public space – different types: both linear and destination
  • Visibility (to water)
  • Protection (weather + safety)
  • Accessibility (to water edge and to water)
  • Land / sea interface
  • Quality of public space
  • Responsive to user requirements – formal/informal
  • Importance of sequencing – different overlapping activities
  • How to manage edges
  • Quality of water important


  • Use of spaces changed over time – flexibility and adaptability over time
  • Importance of data and evidence
  • Professional roles / political mindsets
  • ‘Top down’ view? What is the ‘Public view’?
  • Rethink approaches
  • Changing perceptions – from industrial to cultural
  • Have a ‘can-do’ mentality


  • Permission to do, to occupy, to inhabit, to enjoy
  • Allow to use in different ways
  • Responsive to different ways of use
  • Council approach to masterplan – seek agreement and follow through to delivery
  • People who live here will have to have attitude to the commercial use of public space
  • Be opportunistic, entrepreneurial – be prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise

More information is included in the attached summary note

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