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Glass-House Chats x WEdesign Series: People Place Planet

Posted on 19 March 2024

Written by:

Louise Dennison

This month we held a special edition Chat, part of this year’s WEdesign series People, Place, Planet. In this session we explored the opportunities and synergies that exist when we strive to balance people, place and planet in placemaking.

Joining us in this engaging Chat was a diverse group of participants from a range of interests, professions and backgrounds. 

Key Themes

Our chat started with introductions from our Chat attendees, and we then went on to ask the same questions we have been asking our participants who have attended our in person WEdesign events: How do we balance People Place and Planet? What are the conditions that make that balance possible?

This led to a lively discussion about this balance and how people perceive the environment around them. Following that, we then had a great conversation about designing for everyone. We also looked at ownership of outdoor spaces, which then led into how we can actually make change through current legislation and ended with discussion around issues in the current funding systems. Overall it was a Chat which covered many themes and had many threads of interesting conversation, from which we have picked out the main ones in more detail below. 

Designing for everyone

As we started our chat it was evident that all our participants brought a great wealth of different experiences and expertise to this conversation and this led to a really rich and varied conversation.

One of our participants talked about how they often try to encourage people to engage with the balance of People, Place and Planet through their work and they spoke about how it’s impossible to get things right for everybody, so they work on a ‘degree of wrongness principle’ , recognising that it is not possible to get things perfect for everyone so aiming to get things ‘least wrong for everybody ’, ‘Trying to create equity, rather than inequality ‘ and giving a voice to the things and people who don’t normally get one or can’t speak up. This continued into a conversation about people connecting with their environment, nature and the critters and how we can give these a voice. One participant spoke about the upside of Covid which enabled people to connect with nature more, another participant spoke about the right to nature and the environment and how she would like people to have more ownership of their environment and how this might hold people accountable and protect nature more. ‘Protecting green corridors’ was something that was mentioned, ensuring that we are designing spaces which consider critters as well as humans and cars within public realm design. 

One conversation was sparked by the work of one of our participants who talked about how she supports the local community to use the outside more, giving them confidence and the skills  and ways to engage their local groups, children and families to enjoy nature. She noted that it’s important to design spaces so that people can use them, not just focusing on these spaces for wildlife. 

Biophilic design, which aims to shift the relationship between people and nature to one of mutual respect rather than our domination over nature, was also a thread which sparked conversation and interest throughout our discussions and all our participants were keen to find out more about these principles. 

Ownership, Power and responsibility

‘We all have different roles in this equation but all have a responsibility to nurture and cultivate a sense of ownership

There was also an interesting thread of conversation about community ownership of green spaces and who has power to look after, transform and make these spaces more biodiverse. This followed with questions about how communities and individuals can start to do something about it. Balance of power and land ownership were brought up as issues which often caused this struggle with balancing People, Place and Planet. 

A loss of having ‘commons’, an outside space that has a sense of community ownership, was talked about and how people don’t appreciate places as much as they used to and therefore don’t look after these spaces. Perhaps it’s because ‘people don’t feel appreciated themselves’ was a comment by one participant, who also noted that in deprived areas people don’t look after their spaces because they feel they themselves are not cared about. Which was an interesting observation. 

Fly Tipping was brought up as something which happens more often in an area of need and want, as it’s seen by people from outside it as a neglected space, so disposing of more waste isn’t seen as a problem. ‘We don’t accept that we own rubbish’ This was followed by a conversation about education around littering and how we need to cultivate a sense of ownership of nature and outdoor spaces. One proposition for change was around encouraging communities through interventions and guided tours around their space, giving them positive memories and encouraging people to explore and ‘be’ in their local green spaces and parks, discovering that these common spaces are theirs to enjoy and look after. 

Legislation & Funding

As well as discussing the challenges of balancing People, Place and Planet our conversations also touched on legislation which already exists with the current system which can be better used to rebalance them within placemaking. One participant raised biodiversity net gain as a positive piece of legislation, which is an approach within development and land management that aims to leave the natural environment in a better state than it was beforehand. He went on to state that with these new rules coming in, it may have a positive effect. However there are major loopholes where they can offset this outside of the area they are building in, which does not help the biodiversity of the local area. Joes Bloom, was mentioned as a useful resource and tool to support biodiversity net gain. 

Another attendee mentioned that there are new models of ownership at all scales which will disrupt the imbalance of power within the built environment and planning/development systems.

Another theme which was prevalent in our conversation was around funding and how current funding timescales are restricting opportunity to embed change and embrace nature. 

Wrapping up

With so many threads to this fascinating conversation, the group felt that we could continue chatting about this subject for another hour and that we had barely scratched the surface. However our group wanted to stay in touch and were inspired that there were so many like-minded people in the Chat space for this session. Many of them have already started talking to each other and making new connections and collaborations, which was a great outcome from our discussion.