What Really Matters?

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The Academy of Urbanism awards recently showcased places and developments from across Europe that were voted successful. Two things seemed to underpin the success of these places, an authentic story and honest leadership. An authentic story is something that everybody can relate to, it has resonance, we can believe in it. In other words, it is not motherhood and apple pie. Powerful place stories generate confidence, and a desire to make things happen. Place leaders can access and champion the story for the betterment of citizens, using their powers to unlock blockages. Without this we are left with process, and a hope that more efficiency in the process can deliver the kind of places we think we want and need. Process without vision, meaningful vision will fail to deliver better development because there is little to measure success against. Vision without leadership will fail because there is no clarity on who does what and when and no one who says, when surrounded by the doubtful, that the way to go is this way. This is not a land use issue. This is an issue of urban governance.

I once sat in a lecture by Professor Stuart Gulliver reflecting on the way we deliver places. The address was to planners and masterplanners. His key point was that we pull small levers. When we are in the midst of making the plan, or designing the masterplan, we can easily forget that these processes are but a small element of a much bigger picture. Too often we fail to recognize this and perhaps overinvest hope in our own processes. Places are like Russian dolls; each element has a relationship to other elements. A land use plan or masterplancan not solve all problems. These instruments, valueable as they are, work at a scale, and have a particular focus. Places bring together people who invest in the story of a place, the spaces they use, the services they access and the opportunities they exploit. The decisions we take, particularly in the public sector, shape the context for all these influences on people’s lives, our lives. This agenda of ‘placeshaping’ means that planning for place must link community planning, spatial planning, delivery and place management.

Better whole place planning need to be like creating a business plan for place. These instruments should make it easy to see how and why public sector budgets and assets can be linked to achieve economies of benefit; instruments which make it clear why better quality in terms of the spaces we create, the services we provide and the opportunities we enable make it easier for people to develop a sense of belonging in a place, to invest their time and future there. Delivering better development which enables better places should be seen as part of a process of growing value rather than development which is growth for the sake of growth.

This concept of growing value, and the long term nature of place value should determine what goes where and why in terms of development. The mechanisms and processes to deliver that should follow. Planning is key to making this happen.


Place and leadership

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