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How good governance leads to better place making

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9 Jun 2008

GOVERNANCE: A radical rethink of the approach to future city making is needed - where are the resources, tools and new structures?

How good governance leads to better place making In 2004 we, in association with the Carnyx Group, organisers of the Scottish Design Awards, were the first in the UK to create a PLACE MAKING AWARD. This has been running for the past four years and it reflects the importance that we attach to this issue. Unfortunately, there is still a belief in many quarters that place making is a stand-alone economic activity. For instance, for some time London’s Thames Gateway has been shaped primarily by aspirations based upon economic and statistical indicators such as inward investment, new jobs created and housing stock. But recently, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced a new delivery plan in which a key element was as follows: ‘We will expand and wrap our proposals in highly visual parklands spatial framework, setting the overarching vision for the region that we will publish after consultation with partners in September 2008.’ The recognition that there can and has to be a “highly visual” design element, a spatial framework that coordinates land, roads, building and the public realm has been slow to dawn on British cities.

Development control is never enough, and good planning has to be proactive and strong in leadership and vision, and involve both public and private sectors. After years of stagnation, Edinburgh is now in the middle of a huge growth spurt, not least because it is now a true capital city, but also because cities worldwide are now targets for reinvestment. Moreover, the entire British economy has been transformed from post-industrial decline and neglect to an era when cities themselves are the centre of wealth-making. True city making is an act of wealth creation in every sense, and the major project areas in Edinburgh are now, without doubt, recognised by all as driving an urban renaissance in the city. Over the past four years, Edinburgh has soldiered on without full urban design and place making resources especially when compared with other cities such as Leeds, one of its nearest parallels in terms of the financial service industry. In Leeds they value city making much more and are led in this endeavour by John Thorp, their Civic Architect, and Jean Dent, Director of City Development. Manchester has Howard Bernstein and his forward thinking councillors; in London, the Mayor takes a great personal interest, having set up an Architecture & Urbanism Unit led by Lord Richard Rogers and then a city wide design directorate, Design for London, headed by Peter Bishop. Both are well resourced, progressive institutions.

In forward thinking cities everywhere, proactive urban designers are leading and shaping city making structures. Though the Design Champion initiative in Edinburgh has been operating in a bit of a vacuum, the strength of Edinburgh’s private sector should be able to add much more momentum than it does. The design talent of the design community and the economic strength of the financial community can all be brought into play with the creation of an Urban Room, which has the potential to focus and disseminate vital endeavours in city planning and urban design.

We are pleased that recent discussion with Jenny Dawe (the new Council Leader) and her senior colleagues have lead us to believe that this administration is now developing an increased understanding of the critical place making issues and we wait to see how ‘Project Edinburgh’ may evolve to rival or even lead the way once again in proactive city making.

This system of city tiles was evolved by the Design Champion working with Riccardo Marini and Duncan Whatmore. City Tiles are a reaction to the red line approach, it is not about land ownership or definition of physical boundaries, it is about areas of interest which relate to community, collective memory and place. The principle was to take a big idea like Waterfront City or a large region like the central area, and try and identify how it can break down into component parts that each had an overall consistency or similarity that could be seen as an area that could be called a planning unit or genuine place. By breaking the city into these smaller component parts each of them then became an urban
design sized project. These elements were named
“tiles” by Riccardo and were then given to urban
designers to study and work up a brief, that would
then form the basis for a practical proposal. By doing
this the plans become a proactive part of the town
planning process, in contrast to the reactive
development control philosophy of contemporary
planning.

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