Saturday, 26 October 2013

MIT's 'Places in the Making': I really think this is important...


...or at least as important as any piece of academic pampleteering:

Public places play a key role in building community and placemaking can empower local communities to create a sense of "belonging" through place. A new report by a DUSP research team, led by Susan Silberberg, examines the interactions between placemaking, community participation, and the expanding ways communities are collaborating to make great public places.

It's not all perfect - there's still too much that suggests grand magicians will wave wands to create great places - but the general thrust is right. As Project for Public Spaces said (OK, gushed):

Places in the Making highlights the importance of people in defining place, a critical aspect that is all too often forgotten by those in architecture, planning, and other related disciplines. “The intense focus on place has caused us to miss the opportunity to discuss community, process, and the act of making,” the paper asserts. “The importance of the Placemaking process itself is a key factor that has often been overlooked in working toward many of these noble goals. As illustrated by the ten cases highlighted here, the most successful Placemaking initiatives transcend the ‘place’ to forefront the ‘making.’”

This is the antithesis of the 'field of dreams' regeneration model beloved of those planners and urban designers - great places are more about the people in them than they are about the architecture, the swishness of the 'shopping experience' or the presence of the great institutions (public funded natch) of art.

I fear that too many people - those regeneration experts and so forth that litter local councils - won't read this or worse will read it and misunderstand. This is what happened in Bradford when we got an anti-development masterplan - instead of going with the idea of removing stuff and making spaces we tried instead to translate it into a 'shiny regeneration' strategy, a grand city plan.

As Bradford pays consultants a few more tens of thousands extracted from the council taxes of local folk to produce another grand 'city plan', perhaps we should hesitate and ask whether we're headed in the wrong direction again. And rather than have lots of great plans to spoil the city again, we should read this research from MIT, take down the Alsop plan that's gathering a thick layer of dust and try again to create of city for people - to remind ourselves that:

...many of the best, most authentic and enduring destinations in a city, the places that keep locals and tourists coming back again and again and that anchor quality, local jobs,  were born out of a series of incremental, locally-based improvements. One by one, these interventions built places that were more than the sum of their parts.


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