27 Feb 2013
Submitted by Sophia de Sousa
Empty homes in Liverpool. Image by Craig A Rodway, used under Creative Commons.
It’s about time that we looked at more creative, small-scale interventions to improve neighbourhoods and bring our failing streets, towns and city centres back to life.
This approach is not new. A similar initiative was introduced through Baltimore’s homesteading project in 1975, when 104 homes in the blighted Otterbein area were raffled by the city for $1. The winners were sold the houses for $1 and given $30,000 in financing in return for committing to returning these 18th century row (terrace) houses to their original glory and to living in them for at least seven years. The city on its part committed to invest in improved infrastructure, roads and future development.
It worked. Homeowners invested in their houses, transforming rat-infested, blighted houses into functional and indeed elegant homes and the city invested in infrastructure provided vital protection and support in the early years of the project. Forty years on, this is now a sought after area, not only for the quality of the streets and homes themselves, but due to its position near the also regenerated harbour with its many shops, restaurants and access to city life.
What was so clever about the initiative, and what holds such potential in Stoke and Liverpool, is that the city invested in local people to help transform the neighbourhood while making complementary tactical investment in infrastructure. The raffle brought diversity to the neighbourhood by bringing together a broad spectrum of people with different backgrounds, but a shared commitment to building a home for their own families and to bringing the place back to life.
The test for both Liverpool and Stoke councils will be how they work with the new homeowners and other local stakeholders to create homes, streets and neighbourhoods that people are proud to call their own.
At the recent Glass-House Debate in Liverpool, Does engaging local people in placemaking make good business sense? both the panel and audience challenged the current reliance on private sector investment conditioned by land and property values. All agreed that this development model was a tool in the placemaking box, but that we should be a bit more creative about diversifying how we bring places back to life, and who is doing it. There was also a very clear message that we should be building all homes as if we were building them for someone we love.
While the “dollar row houses” were a rare financial investment opportunity for the residents involved, it required a level of commitment in time as well as money. It simply wasn’t possible to do the place up, sell it and make a quick profit. They had to work to make it a place they wanted to live in.
If policy makers, officials and communities alike want to find solutions to the housing crisis then we all need to step up to the challenge of finding creative ways to invest in places. We’ll watch what happens in Stoke and Liverpool with hope and expectation. What can we learn from this approach? And will they encourage other councils, particularly those with large portfolios of empty properties, to invest in similar and other innovative ways to reinvigorate the places in which we live, work and play?
3 Dec 2012
Submitted by Melissa Lacide
“People have a lot of assets that they don’t realise they have.” - Sophia de Sousa
Last week we took part in the Open University’s Valuing Community Led Design workshop, a research project in which The Glass-House is a partner. The participants were a mix of community group representatives, professionals and academics all interested in, learning about and involved in Community Led Design (CLD).
The first part of the day explored how CLD is captured and looked at each individuals invaluable CLD projects, how they value CLD and how they have been involved in CLD. One question that arose was: “What is Community Led Design?”
The shared experiences, knowledge, skills and efforts of everyone, particularly the community group representatives, answered this question: it is an approach to design that puts people at the heart of placemaking. The conversations touched upon social spaces, belonging and a sense of place alongside meaning, understanding (local) values and interpretation.
As three groups participants were then asked to create a poster that described community led design and the results were very different!
“What can we make?”
One group adopted an angle that focused on COMMUNITY AND PEOPLE, which included sharing stories, community involvement, bringing people assets together and a sense of belonging.
“Bring people together to unlock potential for things to happen”
Another group adopted an angle that focused on PEOPLE AND STORIES, which included stories, bringing people together, shaping spaces and people, and the changes that take place in people throughout the process.
“Value is in the process toward sustainable development”
The third group adopted an angle that focused on PROCESS, which included the reality of conflict and compromise, the process towards sustainable outcomes, and the need for different expertise (community, professionals and facilitators).
The second part of the day explored different methods for asset mapping, which is part of the Creative Citizens research project in which The Glass-House is also a partner. In the context of community led design, participants were encouraged to think of this in terms of a network of communities, a community group and an individual.
Following this, participants explored the different processes, assets and tools that they use, know of or have experienced. One group focused on STORIES (for processes), CONNECTIONS (for assets) and PERSPECTIVE (for tools).
Many interesting ideas, perspectives and experiences were shared throughout the day. One thing that came to light at the end of the workshop was that each project is unique and there is not one tool, process or asset.
“Everyone appreciated other people’s assets.” - Participant Vera Hale (talking about asset funding for communities in Manchester where groups voted for each other’s projects instead of their own).
Community Design Exchange is a new bespoke social network and research tool, created by Open University with The Glass-House as a space for people to share and celebrate their experiences of community led design.
13 Sep 2012
Submitted by Sophia de Sousa
Monday’s London parade marked the end of our Olympic summer. I think that all said, we Brits are pretty pleased with how it’s gone. We delivered a Games to be proud of in a series of sports venues in both established and treasured London destinations, and in our spanking new Olympic Park and sports arenas.
We are now keen to see what the much talked about legacy well be.
In terms of the physical transformation of an area, and of placemaking, I think that one of the greatest challenges is how to transform what has effectively been a gated community and series of highly secured event spaces, into a healthy and sustainable neighbourhood and a living, breathing part of the city in which it sits. There will need to be a sustainable mix of public realm, accessible and inclusive facilities and amenities and the right balance of private and social housing. Even more challenging, is how this new neighbourhood will weave into the local context around it.
I lived in East London throughout the development of the Olympic Park and Village, and despite living just down the road from it, I confess that I did not feel part of the incredible change taking place on the Olympic site. I saw the presence of builders, even felt excitement at the distinctive shape of the velodrome and other buildings emerging on the skyline. However, I still have not felt a sense of how I will interact with this significant area once the Olympics are over. I know that the canal network has been vastly improved, and that that large areas of green space and public realm will link the emerging neighbourhood to those around it, but I don’t yet know how I will be allowed and encouraged to move through it.
As the security required for the successful management of the Games gives way to the apportionment of public and private buildings and spaces, what will be handed to local residents, schools, businesses and what to the asset base shared by all Londoners, by all Brits, by visiting tourists? Which elements will maintain the long-term investment and oversight of those who developed them, and which will be handed over to the public, private and community sectors to take on a new life of their own?
This is where an honest exploration of what makes places work will be crucial. The legacy is not just about the buildings and spaces left behind. It is about the collaborative relationships that support and enliven a neighbourhood, that link it to neighbouring areas as an extension of their own locality, as a destination and as a connector to neighbourhoods beyond.
No place is finished when the builders move out. Let’s seize what is a real opportunity to integrate what was a fantastic show piece into diverse and complicated everyday life.
Let the conversation begin!
Visitors at the Olympic Park during the 2012 Paralympic Games
21 Aug 2012
Submitted by Sophia de Sousa
Two news items caught my eye yesterday. One was the much commented on statement of Housing Minister Grant Shapps, that it is “blindingly obvious” that social housing in expensive places should be sold to fund house building in areas that are cheaper. The second was that train fares are “forcing commuters off trains and on to 5am coaches”. Both demonstrate the clear need to rethink how our villages, towns and cities are supporting contemporary life and what needs to change if we are really going to tackle social, economic and environmental sustainability.
It seems to me, that if we really want to create places that are sustainable and that work, we need to cut out as much need for travel to support daily activity as possible. If we do need to travel to work, study, play or access services, we should be getting there on shared modes of transportation that are accessible and affordable. Yet the sheer volume of people regularly commuting, and the associated cost, time, and energy consumption is absurd.
Long commutes v. compact city living. How do we solve the housing crisis without encouraging extreme commuting?
Let’s put aside all of the social implications of removing social housing from the more affluent areas and talk about the logistics of moving the people who are going to service those areas getting to and from it every day. Unless something is done to cut UK fares on public transport, which are 10 times those for equivalent journeys in other EU countries, those affluent people are going to have to service their own neighbourhoods because those who currently do it will not be able to afford to get there. And even if they are willing to get on a coach at 5 am to do so, what will that do to the costs of childcare for their families or to employment figures, when childcare provision does not cover enough hours in the day. Can we really expect parents to put their kids into childcare at 4:30 am so they can travel to work? Can we expect the childcare providers to get there by 4am to let them in? And on it goes.
One of the great pleasures of my role is talking to communities, local authorities and the development sector about how they want to bring about change to our neighbourhoods. One of the things that strikes me again and again is the desire to make the place under consideration a destination, a place to visit. Should we not be striving to make our villages, towns and neighbourhoods places to live fruitful and productive lives, where we can walk our children to a high quality school (that we can actually get them into) then totter to our workplace, or back home where we care for our families and/or work from home. Should we not be creating places where we can easily get to the services and amenities that help us through life, that give us pleasure? Should we not be seriously looking at the way online shopping is affecting our retail activity? Should we not be seriously thinking about the critical mass of neighbourhoods and the networks that connect smaller ones to the larger centres of activity? Should we not be thinking about how we share our neighbourhoods, rather than perpetuating or creating new ghettos?
Should we not all be entitled to be surrounded by places that are beautiful, accessible and inclusive?
So let’s not just sign off quick fixes that free up a bit of cash. Let’s take a good hard look at what we can do to make our villages, towns and cities more sustainable, to cut down the need for the absurd amount of moving people huge distances on a daily basis, and to make those connections, where required, more logical, accessible and efficient. This is a big ask, I know, but it will never happen if we don’t start building these considerations into every decision we make about placemaking.
17 Jul 2012
Submitted by Louise Dredge
Design Council Cabe have launched a new network of Built Environment Experts (BEEs) who will support the work of the organisation in delivering high quality design to places and spaces across England.
Sophia is a leading advocate and enabler of participatory design as a means of informing high-quality inclusive and sustainable design that benefits local people. She works tirelessly to promote cross-sector partnerships which she believes are essential to the success of regeneration and of community empowerment.
Maja's background as an urban designer informs her ambition to enable inclusive and meaningful design processes. In her current role she works to develop and deliver design and community engagement training, as well as building partnerships with other organisations.
The Cabe BEE network brings together a multi-disciplinary groups of specialists who will act as mentors to design procurement, deliver design training and play a role in the Design Review process. BEEs will bring valuable support to communities, local authorities and other groups involved in built environment projects.
More at: www.designcouncil.org.uk/bee
28 Mar 2012
Submitted by Sophia de Sousa
Yesterday, the final version of the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was released. I would like to draw attention to three very simple points that Minister Greg Clark makes in his foreword to the document:
1. Our standards of design can be so much higher.
2. Planning must be a creative exercise in finding ways to enhance and improve the way we live our lives.
3. This should be a collective exercise.
Community led design aims to do all of this, and the support that The Glass-House has given communities leading built environment projects over the past decade has been founded on these principles. We firmly believe that a participatory design process that places local people at the heart of changes to their neighbourhoods can lead to neighbourhoods that are more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. With the right support, community led design and planning can lead to more creative and better informed solutions to local problems, and to places that are both functional and delightful.
However, let us be under no illusion that this is a quick simple process. In order to achieve great placemaking, the emerging neighbourhood plans will have to grapple with urban design principles and planning legislation, feeding them into an inclusive and participatory design and planning process. They will need to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their plans in the short and long term. Their community will need to include those who live, work, study and play in the area. It will need to consider and include local residents, businesses and government, as well as those who manage, maintain and service the area. Each neighbourhood plan will have to fully understand and respond to issues around land ownership and to the local (social, historical, economic, environmental etc.) context. It must also consider how the neighbourhood links to and complements the neighbourhoods around it. Neighbourhood plans must begin with a thorough understanding of place, a collective vision for change and an informed and aspirational brief.
So Minister Clark, we agree with your declaration of the importance of design quality, achieved through a creative and collaborative process, as a means of improving quality of life. We hope that the application of this new National Planning Policy Framework, and in particular the presumption in favour of sustainable development, creates the space for inspired and inspiring design and planning by, with and for communities. And we hope that adequate time, resources and practical support will be made available to help make this happen.*
Read the whole National Planning Policy Framework document here
*The Department for Communities and Local Government made a commitment to providing up to £50 million until March 2015 to help make neighbourhood planning a success. As one of the organisations delivering the 'Supporting Communities and Neighbourhoods in Planning' programme this year we look forward to hearing more about how government intends to carry forward this commitment and to exploring how The Glass-House can work with DCLG and other partners to continue to support community led design and planning within our new National Planning Policy Framework.
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