By Diarmaid Lawlor
There is no perfect place. There are only places. And each place is a map of the tension between the lives of the people there, the contexts of the place and the rules we create as organisations and as societies. Real places are messy and frustrating. Perfect is an ideal we might use as a vehicle to get people to strive towards something. Better is a destination that might deliver the most impacts. The difference between ‘better’ and ‘perfect’ is important.
Sometimes, I hear conversations about the perfect street, the perfect space, the perfect block, the benefits they promise and the time we need to achieve them. Sometimes, I see efforts at trying to achieve these ambitions through some form of empirical methods, quantifiable and absolute. And, sometimes, I go to places and see amazing things happen in the most amazingly poor environments. In these places, the ambition is to make things better. The practice is about a process of change by starting where they are, taking leadership, provoking possibilities. And expecting collaboration. These are all messy processes. It is less than perfect.
Often, in the middle of messy processes people say it would have been better if they had known more, had a bit more practice. People ask if there is a route map, a predefined next step. Without these, it feels a little scary. But the process of achieving better, with people, in places, is a process of negotiation. It is about probing and sensing and responding in each place, and learning to accept the value of the difference between better and perfect. It is also about building the necessary accountability to deliver benefits for people now.
The one practice that makes perfect is the practice of engaging with the unknown and negotiating a path with people to make things better. Now. And not predetermining the outcome by thinking about perfect.
Diarmaid Lawlor is Head of Urbanism at Architecture and Design Scotland. He is a designer, educator, communicator and collaborator who writes and speaks on creative approaches to making better places.
Architecture and Design Scotland is a local partner for The Glass-House Glasgow Debate on 1 October 2014
Does practice make perfect in place? The Glasgow Debate takes place on Wednesday 1 October from 6-7.30pm.