What do we want out of our cities 2061?

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Vision without action is a daydream… Action without vision is a nightmare
Japanese proverb

The RTPI West of Scotland Chapter event on 2nd February, 2012 heard from two presentations which focussed mainly on the purpose and process of Visioning.

The first, from A&DS’s Head of Urbanism, started by asking “What do you want to achieve for your place” as a necessary condition to avoid a piecemeal approach to making places. Several visioning examples (Birmingham, Ashford and Emsher Park in Germany) demonstrated that there is no one-size-fits-all ‘template’, and that places need to evolve from their own unique set of circumstances and ambitions; by considering “what are we good at, and what can we do here?”

Whilst the planning system concentrates on the ‘hardware’ of land-use, buildings and infrastructure; the sorts of concerns arising from engaging with a diverse audience with differing needs can include ‘softer’ and less-tangible issues. Visioning may therefore be less about ‘big physical ideas’, and more about ensuring structures that underpin peoples’ lives to create support networks and build social capital. This is particularly true in constrained economic times, where demands on public services are increasing whilst funding recedes; where youth work opportunities dramatically decrease with the length of time in unemployment; and where care for the elderly and less-able is under pressure.

Societal wellbeing or the ‘common weal’ is central to Scotland’s story, and the importance of how a place projects its values (including community cohesion and openness) is acknowledged in a report on The role of place in attracting and retaining talent in Scottish cities (Scottish Enterprise/DEMOS). In this context, visioning exercises need to consider how limited public investment can align to provide better people outcomes – tapping into human needs to drive physical change. The purpose of visioning is therefore to derive an integrated brief about what we want for the future of our place that links long term physical, social and economic outcomes.

The second presentation, by Nick Wright Planning, described the production of the Glasgow City Vision, which is nearing the end of its consultation period (Friday 10 February). The document looks forward 50 years and is intended as a statement of the city’s values and priorities, to guide public policy and investment in the city in the years to come.

The draft vision was produced following a three month public engagement programme with a cross-section of people, and a series of technical inquiries into issues, trends and other factors likely to affect cities in the future. The public consultation seeks to develop a city vision based on what people want, and many of the responses relate to improving the quality of people’s normal lives.

The subsequent discussion noted the importance of leadership; recognised that although visioning is complex, action needs to happen and the planning system can be an agent and enabler of change; spoke of the necessity of overcoming a risk averse culture; and, noted that influencing long term wellbeing requires an ability to operate beyond land-use planning. Developing the right conditions that enable choice and opportunity may require planners (and the purpose and scope of planning) to integrate more closely with community planning; with planners using visioning strategies, along with their skills in listening and problem solving, to enable better lives.

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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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