29 May 2012
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
Last week, Louise and I had the pleasure of taking part in High Street Camp, an ‘unconference’ which brought together a diverse group of people from community representatives to regeneration professionals, to explore the future of our town centres and to share ideas and experience to address some of the key issues involved.
We ran two workshops in partnership with Living Streets (a national charity who work with people to create safe, attractive, enjoyable streets where it’s great to walk) to think about the spatial experience of the High Street and consider how the built environment can be used to make High Streets more vibrant and exciting places.
Thoughts on 'What qualities make a great High Street'. Image courtesy of Alice Vaughan/3space
During the workshops, we asked participants to think about the qualities that make a good High Street before taking them outside to observe and experience the case study on our doorstep - Willesden Green High Street in North West London. Living Streets used their successful Community Street Audit tool to get participants to identify what improvements to the built environment would make this place safer, more attractive and more enjoyable for all users. Overall what emerged from these sessions was the importance of ease of movement around a High Street, an emphasis on the need to give people diversity and variety in the high street and to create safe, pleasant and inviting spaces for rest and interaction.
During our walkabout in Willesden Green High Street
Here are our key thoughts which emerged from the workshops and conversations throughout the day:
- High streets are not just retail space – they respond to a social need and these needs along with many others are mixed and interlinked. The High Street is an ‘experience space’.
- Design is crucial - We tend to socialise and spend time in places that are pleasant. We need to engineer places in the High Street that encourage people to stop, rest and interact
- Physical barriers create mental barriers - Design can influence the routes people take and therefore have an economic impact. For example - Queen’s Parade in Willesden Green where before a meanwhile use project people never went because it is inaccessible and across the road from most of the facilities on the High Street
- Fixing broken signs isn’t going to save a High Street, but it’s a start – There was a scheme on Willesden High Street to improve shop fronts and it was found that it raised the bar generally. Shops that weren’t involved in the scheme started to make their own improvements
- Involvement is key - A variety of local people need to be meaningfully engaged in the process of improving High Streets to ensure it suits their needs and creates lasting positive change
- Is there a need for a set of standards to bring a consistency of quality to a high street?
High Street Camp was a fantastic event and we left full of energy and excitement for the future of our High Streets and town centres. We were really pleased to hear groups from other workshops highlighting the potential that design has to contribute to the changing the fortunes of our High Streets. Mary Portas, author of the Government commissioned Portas Review, popped in at lunch which gave Living Streets and The Glass-House the opportunity to challenge her on the omission of the importance of the built environment from her report. (She countered our argument with her experience that she had seen major financial investment in the design of the public realm fail miserably. However we did not have the opportunity to respond that with community involvement in, and sufficient time allocated to the process this is far less likely to be the outcome!)
We will be watching the Town Team pilot projects closely and hope to see community led design playing a leading role in making these town centres more friendly, vibrant and successful places!
The now thriving Queen's Parade - Willesden Green
16 May 2012
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
We were recently commissioned by First Wessex Housing Association in Southampton to deliver a two-day training course for members of three design review panels.
Some of the group (a mixture of staff and residents) had just joined the panels and others had been involved for years. I worked closely with our Glass-House Enabler Matt Lally to develop a programme which would give this group of mixed experience the knowledge and tools needed to undertake design reviews.
During the course we explored ‘What makes a great neighbourhood?’ and helped the group to understand the basic principles of neighbourhood design.
To help the group better understand how to assess plans for proposed schemes, we gave them drawings of Chapel Road - a completed housing scheme in the locality and asked them to identify various features. This exercise was much more difficult than expected and really demonstrated the challenges of reading plans.
We then visited the scheme and assessed it according to the Building For Life Criteria. The group had very different impressions of the development after visiting it; it brought the plans to life, whilst highlighting the things you just can’t tell from a drawing such as the atmosphere of a place.
By the end of the two-day course, all of the members of the design panels had:
- Learned how to read and analyse a variety of architectural plans
- Grasped the key principles that make up good neighbourhood design and gained practical tools to help them during future design reviews
- Explored the difficulties of home design and the challenges in creating internal spaces that are practical
- Gained confidence in their own ability to make a really positive and meaningful contribution to the design of new homes and neighbourhoods
- Become aware of the various criteria and standards that relate to home and neighbourhood design
- Been inspired by visiting two housing schemes that are up and running
- Gained a full appreciation of the need to consider the wider context of a scheme in order to assess it accurately
Some of the residents now feel that they need to be much more demanding and be more involved at an earlier stage so that they can have greater say in the design of future First Wessex schemes. It was fantastic to see participants’ confidence grow over the two days and see staff and residents learning together.
10 May 2012
Submitted by Maja Jorgensen
Neighbourhoods by Design, one of our longest-running design training courses, has undergone a re-vamp of late.
The Design Training course is a whistle-stop introduction to urban design and gives participants the chance to develop their community neighbourhood project. Despite the name, urban design applies to anywhere people live, including urban, suburban, town and rural settings – in essence, urban design is about what makes great places.
We were very excited for the opportunity to use our new material at the Neighbourhoods by Design course, which took place in Birmingham in February.
Three groups attended the course: St Paul’s Residents Association, Moseley Forum and the Jewellery Quarter Neighbourhood Forum. Each group is working on rather different scales and face very different challenges, but all three projects are focused on how to improve their neighbourhood through physical change.
Over the course of two days participants learned about approaches to place-making, how to decode architectural language and drawings, and visited several neighbourhood projects, including a large-scale re-build of an estate and a small food-growing space just up the canal from where we held the training.
Most importantly, learning from this range of approaches was applied to each of their projects. Groups mapped out how their places work and used ideas and learning to consider which change would be appropriate and how these changes could take place.
Here are some of our favourite pictures.
The groups map out their area to understand how it works -
St Paul's Residents Association present back their findings and everyone chips in with ideas and feedback -
A field trip to Wychall Farm provided real inspiration about the difference engagement can make to a place, both in built form and in social cohesion and capacity -
The groups develop their designs and action plans based on case studies, presentations and advice from our Enablers and the other participants -
Jewellery Quarter Neighbourhood Forum present their findings and action plan for everyone's comments and ideas -
Moseley Forum's final work includes analysis maps, sketches and detailed suggestions to manage traffic flow and make Moseley Village more accessible and viable -
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