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People, Place, Planet: The Ethical City Event Blog

Posted on 14 March 2024

Written by:

Jake Stephenson-Bartley

On the evening of 5 March, over at Civic House in Glasgow, we were joined by a diverse group of participants for our People Place Planet, WEdesign event, The Ethical City. The event was delivered in collaboration with the Glasgow School of Art’s Postgraduate Architecture students and Missing in Architecture.

Two participants from the event working together to represent their co-designed proposition as part of the ecology table.

The event itself took place as a ‘Co-design’ event, bringing together the voices of our diverse participants and student facilitators to co-design and co-create a proposition for change.  Through encouraging discussion, sharing realities, building positive imagined (but realisable) worlds with strangers, friends and colleagues, the audience explored what an Ethical City might look like and the implications of how the city facilitates and nurtures society.

An ethical city concerns itself with not only the need to balance people, place and planet equally but also considers how we can face our multiple and overlapping crises, in a way that is similar to the event. It brings together a multitude of voices and perspectives to support adventurous attitudes towards city-making and to take ethical steps to realising a future which shapes policy, practice, education and community for the betterment of all earthly inhabitants.

Mapping Glasgow

As participants started to arrive, they were greeted with a short introductory activity prepared by the students to get the participants thinking: four maps, four questions and four lenses to look at the city of Glasgow through. These lenses reflected the lens of each of the tables a different group of students was facilitating – the task was designed to prompt the participants’ thinking and ground their initial ideas about place in something that was familiar to them before applying their ideas to a global context.

Each map asked questions through one of the four lenses the participants would be looking at the event theme through. The map prompted questions such as ‘Where do you feel most connected to community?’, ‘What does the city teach us?’

Illustrating The Ethical City

One of the student illustrators capturing elements of the conversation on the ecology table.

As part of the event the students at GSA invited 3 student illustrators to map discussion, capture themes and visually illustrate the conversations which were happening around the room. 

Each illustrator had a distinct style and visual representation, each capturing different aspects of joy, laughter, debate and discussion throughout different points in the evening. In a way, having three interpretations of the event served as an equitable way to capture multiple conversations that were being had, each capturing specific nuances from the participants’ propositions for change.

After wondering around the room, capturing elements of the conversations and hearing about the different propositions for change the student illustrators took to the wall to capture the conversation for all to see.

The Ethical City: Propositions for Change 

An Accessible Duty

The Policy table focused their discussion around the influence of Policy on community engagement. There was a general concern on this table that there is not much of a discussion when it comes to engagement or engaging communities of interest. From their personal perspectives, they identified that  not everyone has the same amount of time or opportunity to engage with the politics of place and placemaking.

The table suggested the idea of a Citizens’ Assembly that was jury based. This would randomly select individuals from the population to encourage and broaden perspectives and opinions to shape places, while contributing to a more equitable form of participation and participatory practice. 

The model demonstrates the citizens assembly – making accessible through monetary compensation and

They felt it was important that this ‘jury service’ would always remain accessible, with employers paying for the citizens’ time and providing services such as childcare to support wider citizen participation.

Place, Space and Time 

The Education group preparing the model illustrating their proposition for change

The Education table discussed the cyclical nature of learning. It is a continual process that is made up of both formal and informal education. The group focused on the more informal means of learning from each other as a way of encouraging more engagement on every level. Education can be used as a tool to understand each other’s views and build empathy with one another.

The Edcuation groups find model with the inter-connected threads of connection at every level

The group illustrated an interconnected web of people overlaid over a map to suggest how education more broadly can invite people to connect through place, space and time. Between each point of connection was a pair of glasses which invited people to look through the eyes of another individual, plant, critter, as a way of seeing the world from a different perspective.

Crafting Community

The community group feeding back their proposition and the following discussion about their proposition.

The Community group focused their proposition around the importance of Third Spaces – recognising this as a missing piece in The Ethical City. They recognised the diversity of spaces and aspects of life where we as individuals craft our communities. Each of us represents not only one but multiple communities we belong to; school, work, family, friends, heritage to name a few. However there is not always a space for the diversity of communities we represent or others to come together.

The final model for the Community group highlighting the connection and activation of third spaces

So their pitch focused on third spaces as a remedy to this. Encouraging connection between liminal spaces and thus between each other to foster opportunistic and serendipitous moments for connection. It was important to build this into aspects of our everyday life, as a means to continually nurture moments for connecting a diversity of spaces, and to further inspire the connection of a diversity of people.

Revealing the River

A participant from the ecology table sharing back the groups co-design pitch.

If you were to peel back the city, what would you learn from it and what would you do better?

When thinking about ecology it is not surprising that our first thought is about green spaces, however the group asked, what is this missing link? Their answer was the river (especially in Glasgow). The discussion focused on how they could reclaim the river for nature, transport and enjoyment as well prompting them to think about other forgotten aspects of the city’s history and how this heritage could  be used to shape the city more thoughtfully.

The Ecology find model illustrating the different moments of access and activity along the river.

The proposition was about connecting and revealing the river for different aspects of life, and about nurturing different relationships with the water, whether that’s for leisure, learning or play. The pitch focused on unearthing, decarbonising and activating the river.

Defining an Ethical City

The event showcased that there is a lot to be done, a lot we can do and a lot that’s going on. The principle of Co-design is about creating democratic space where people’s experience and ideas are valued equally, combined with the events theme The Ethical City, the event acted as a small test bed and forum for revealing people’s priorities for how we transform and care for our spaces. 

Priorities and threads drawn from across the different groups included:

It was clear from the evening that creativity is necessary for change and that it can lead to realistic  ideas of what we can do to overcome the challenges we face.

The last question on our lips focused on how we can continue these conversations. Our challenge for you and to us is to take these ideas, seedlings and thought experiments and begin planting them elsewhere, in order to allow an Ethical City to grow.