20 Sep 2012
Submitted by Louise Dredge
Green Sky Thinking Week held from 17-21 September was set up by Open City to highlight green expertise in the built environment and encourage deeper collaboration for sustainable development between industry sectors. The theme for 2012 was ‘Mapping Sustainable London’ which sought to highlight and unpack best practice and thinking in how a sustainable city could evolve. The Glass-House held a breakfast workshop on Wednesday entitled ‘Future Cites: A Collective Vision’, aimed at getting practitioners working and thinking in a collaborative way towards designing and planning the city.
With just over twenty people in attendance, participants were split into two groups. One group was asked to design what they collectively believed to be a sustainable city, while members of the other group were given a specific perspective/role each which they had to adopt in their design approach.
The former group, performed in an organic way, throwing out ideas from the get go, making impulsive decisions and rapidly shaping their city into a fully-conceived organ. The group who had to adopt a particular position were far more methodical and theoretical in their approach and by the end of the exercise what they had produced was a set of ideas and concepts rather than a fully realised city with all its quirks and nuances.
The groups embraced the task at hand with an energy and intelligence which was really encouraging!
Key sustainability themes raised included affordability, access, self-sufficiency, flexible building uses and design intelligence. As we discussed the group outcomes, a number of key issues arose.
How do you allow for choice in a vision for a sustainable city? The gift of choice is one, which our democracies hold dear, and we celebrate diversity in our social and physical environments.
How does a sustainable city create a synergy with its hinterland, and beyond? The groups suggested features such as a closed resource loop (i.e. using waste for energy generation, growing and supplying all food needs) and creating a city currency, but this begs the question of whether an inward looking city is a sustainable one?
Above all it was felt that a truly sustainable city would involve such a complete transformation of our habits, and is a concept which is so alien to us that it is almost impossible to image this alternative. Many felt our capitalist societies will never allow the sustainable city to flourish.
So what does this mean for our sustainability goals? Can we hope to create a sustainable city in the truest sense of the word? What are the real sustainable solutions for our future cities?
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
6 Jul 2011
Submitted by Maja Luna Jorgensen
Maja and Hannah were invited to take part in an event arranged and run jointly by Architecture+Design Scotland (A+DS) and Centre for Local Economy Strategies (CLES) in Manchester. The event brought together council officers, practicing designers and representatives from Third Sector Organisations to build on the learning from a number of workshops A+DS and CLES have run on mixed use developments. The findings will be compiled in a report.
Setting the scene were Sarah Longlands (@sarahlongslands) and Neil McInroy (@nmcinroy) from CLES, and Diarmaid Lawlor from A+DS (@arcdessco). Here are some of the main points of their presentations and following discussions amongst participants, as well as our observations from the afternoon’s site visits to Openshaw, Ordsall, and MediaCity.
Incorporating a range of uses in the redevelopment of an area can be a strong contributor to good place making. Places with a broad mix of functions bring in a range of users, which can contribute to the resilience of that place. With a considered approach to the mix we can aim for a balanced, resilient environment that rests in itself physically, socially, and financially.
It is crucial that the integration of uses is a firm aim from the outset, and that it is followed through in the design of the physical spaces, linking up residential areas with the high street through cycle and pedestrian paths, considering multi-use of open spaces (parking lot as a community resource?) and creatively offering opportunities for people to meet and interact. Mixed use is not about proximity of functions, it’s thinking about how they can interact to create surplus – creative connections, ease of use, services people need.
Historically, the unique characteristics of a place have often been overlooked in the rush to create growth. However, there are plenty of examples of projects demonstrating that considered attention to the context - including working with people living there, understanding the history, and analysing the physical shape - contributes to generating positive outcomes. It is crucial that any kind of place strategy, whether anticipating growth or non-growth, is based on the context in which it operates and responds to available resources and qualities of the place.
The importance of strong, accountable leadership was considered a key ingredient, but who should lead processes of change? Should the public sector take the charge and set out a well-founded strategy and work to deliver it? Or should the public sector set a strategy and step aside to allow new ways of working and delivering projects, such as community organisations or social enterprises or multi-sector partnerships taking the lead?
Neil McInroy suggested seeing areas of change as a ‘petri-dish’: A place where we as influencers and stakeholders have the opportunity to set the conditions for things to grow organically. Changing the environment allows different things to grow. What are you going to grow today? And how do we create resilient, mixed-use places for the future?
A few snaps from the site visits:
High street facelift element of regeneration in Openshaw, Manchester
New homes being delivered in Ordsall, Manchester
The group examining public realm in the new MediaCity development in Salford
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