Do we have a right to great design, we asked at the final conversation in our 2017/18 People on Place Series?
As a member of our London audience pointed out, we have the right to the best available standard of health and wellbeing and the quality of our environment plays a fundamental role in supporting that. Looking back over the past 50 years or so, we reflected that the quality of our built environment has certainly improved, with people citing the overall improvement in the condition of housing as one example. But where we find ourselves now isn’t good enough either. Space standards have been chipped away at over recent years, and the pressure to increase profit margins so often squeezes out the quality in developments.
So what can we do and what are the barriers? Our conversation honed in on personal responsibility and people shared ideas as to the small and catalytic actions that we can take to contribute to making our neighbourhoods better places.
The transience of communities in London was a key issue for some, who struggled with feeling a sense of belonging to their place and with that a drive to connect with their neighbours. Knowing your circumstances are temporary can make it hard to commit or invest in a place.
There was lots of advice from around the room. Start by introducing yourself to a neighbour, find your local councillor or a local residents or interest group. People also acknowledged that those existing members of a community should be welcoming to all – no matter whether rooted in a place for a long time or moving around. Holding a street party was suggested as one productive way to bring people together, share skills and ideas and support good communication between neighbours.
So what inspires us to participate in public life and more specifically in shaping the spaces and places around us? A threat to a place can be a strong connector for local people but also presents the opportunity to build long-lasting engagement and action within a community of shared interest.
What about permission? There are lots of examples of people appropriating public spaces in order to improve their quality. Formalised initiatives such as car-free days have their roots in community action to reclaim streets and spaces. Should we just go and do something? And is that democratic?
Where would you start to help shape and improve the quality of the spaces and places around you?