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People, place and value: the golden triangle?

Posted on 22 March 2013

Written by:

Louise Dredge

The day after our debate ‘People, place and value: the golden triangle?’ I spent the afternoon at Goldsmiths Community Centre (in Grove Park, South London) with some of the centre’s members and I was struck by the value of this group of people to their place, and the value of their place to them. ‘Place matters’, is how our chief executive Sophia de Sousa opened her provocation at the final debate in our Putting People in their Place series (in partnership with The Academy of Urbanism). She shared the frightening statistic given to us at our Glasgow debate by panellist Christopher Rowe, that life expectancy in his Glasgow neighbourhood Milton, is 20 years less than another neighbourhood only 3 miles away.

Over the course of this series (in Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool) we have tackled each one of the themes of people, place and value and drawn out some key questions, asking chiefly:

How can great places create value for local people? What value do local people bring to placemaking? Does involving local people in placemaking make good business sense?

But what is the golden triangle and how do we get there?

What Process?

On a day when the government were announcing their latest fiscal manoeuvres to tackle the country’s economic troubles, the challenges and frustration with processes (particularly their Localism and neighbourhood planning policies) unsurprisingly took centre stage.

In his provocation, speaker Josef Ransley (a West Sussex district councillor and chair of a neighbourhood planning forum) emphasised that placemaking is an evolutionary, organic process, something which policy makers need to recognise and make space for. Sally Rawlings of Local Trust, echoed this from the audience, as she shared the experience of their Big Local resident-led programme, which has given communities in 150 areas across England £1m to make a positive and lasting difference to their place. Sally spoke passionately about the value of participative democracy, and how it is now as important as elective democracy.

“We’re in a different place”. As speaker Kevin Murray shared his reflections on the Glasgow debate, and the value of great places, he also spoke of the great need for change, to reimagine and move on – rethink local authority roles, recast education and embrace the opportunities of our open information age.

Sophia warned of the danger of processes working in isolation from each other: ‘Why are we not bringing people into the room together?’ and prompted by chair Tom Dyckhoff revealed that her message to Chancellor George Osbourne on Budget Day would be to invite him to sit in a room with those different people working on a local project – community organisation or group, local authority officers, developers, businesses – to experience the reality of delivery.

The advent of Localism has removed a significant regional tier from the shaping of our cities, towns and neighbourhoods, putting a greater spotlight and responsibility on our local authorities. There were many contrasting views on the value and ability of local authorities in the placemaking process but as one attendee put it – ‘they are absolutely the glue in this’.

Who is ‘local’ and how do you engage them?

More than once the question ‘How local is local?’ was raised by our panel and audience. One audience member expressed his frustration that he doesn’t have a voice to affect change in the place he cares most about, which is not where he lives. Ensuring that our vision of local brings in not only those who live in a place, but also those who work, study and play is key.

Speaker Pam Alexander expressed the importance of bringing language back to basics. In placemaking, language is often a great barrier when it can be one of the greatest resources. Indeed many placemaking professionals in the audience agreed that their professions need to redefine language. Kevin Murray, drawing on the experience of the Kings Cross regeneration project (in which our Central Saint Martins venue is situated), said that one of the great skills the developer and designer should possess is the ability to listen. Added to this, Pam made the point that ‘It costs a lot of money not to talk to people’, which came with the warning not to forget those groups who can’t organise themselves as well as others.

“We assume everyone is a NIMBY. It worries me.” Pam Alexander expressed concern over the lack of trust of local communities and their ability not just to engage, but to contribute meaningfully.

And where do we need to get to? We need to build places and spaces that are life affirming (and not the crap places discussed at every debate in this series) to transform the NIMBY movement from opposition (Not In My Back Yard) to demanding – QIMBY (Quality In My Back Yard).

We ended with a ‘What if?’ – what if you could change or reimagine how we make places? What do you think would make a real difference?

Our annual debate series gathers expertise from the ground, and draws out the aspirations and frustrations of people about the places where they live, work and play. This conversation will continue…