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6: Community Spirit


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Community Spirit. Do you love where you live?

Whether a park, a building, a town or city, people and communities thrive when the spaces they live, work and play in are designed to meet their changing needs.

This special episode was recorded in front of a live audience. Our guests Kat Hanna, Peter Hogg, Clare Wood and Andrew Tuck talk about what makes a great place. From historical places designed by and for able-bodied white men, to current trends of communal living – do we need to be riskier in designing and updating our spaces for the benefit of the whole of society?

Find out what Arcadis’ research shows about the five most important things to consider when creating a place in our recent report Liveable Places.

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Long Story Short

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Rachel Rzemieniecka

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Emma Nelson [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Long Story Short, the podcast from Arcadis UK, in which we explore the future of our cities.

Emma Nelson [00:00:16] I'm Emma Nelson and we have a special edition for you this time to coincide with the launch of Arcadis UK's latest report. It's called Liveable Places and it looks at what makes a great place to live, work and play.

Citizen [00:00:30] Somewhere that's got a great curry house. Obviously, that's the number one priority. Maybe a bit of green space so I can get out and exercise.

Emma Nelson [00:00:36] In front of a live audience, we'll look at what's important and how to make it work. We'll explore five themes around community, funding, design, collaboration and sustainability. And we'll ask who can make it happen?

Kat Hanna [00:00:52] I think our conversation has been a bit too nice so far. It's all been a bit cuddly.

Clare Wood [00:00:56] Let's be riskier for social benefit.

Emma Nelson [00:00:59] That's all ahead on Long Story Short, the future cities podcast from Arcadis UK. 

Emma Nelson [00:01:10] And a very warm welcome to St. Luke's, a converted church in the heart of London usually the location of the London Symphony Orchestra's rehearsals and smaller concerts. Tonight, my guests, I hope, will be making a different kind of music, but no less harmonious. Our panel: Peter Hogg is Arcadis UK's Cities Director. He's closely involved in their work on placemaking. Kat Hanna is an urbanist and researcher, she's currently a masterplan strategist for the Euston Project at LendLease. Clare Wood is Chief Executive of Reform Heritage, based up in Staffordshire. They restore old buildings at risk of decay and demolition, where bringing it back to its old use or finding a new life for it will benefit the local community. And Andrew Tuck is the editor of Monocle magazine. He presents The Urbanist, a weekly podcast on creating more interesting places to call home. He's also behind the book, The Monocle Guide to Making Better Cities. Your panel.

Emma Nelson [00:02:13] So before this evening, there's been quite a lot of talk at Arcadis ahead of their new report on liveable places about what placemaking really is. More often than not, it's to do with people. But is placemaking currently a genuine part of the way that we're doing our planning, designing and building. Or is placemaking still comparable to Winston Churchill's view on adding Vermouth to a gin martini - briefly glance in its direction, but enjoy an otherwise pure and strong double measure of meeting the budget. So first question to Peter: what's the one thing that makes a great place for you?

Peter Hogg [00:02:52] I think it really does have to be all about people. The difference that it's made to people's lives.

Emma Nelson [00:02:57] Clare, how about you? What makes a good place for you?

Clare Wood [00:03:00] You know you've got a good place if you've got a place that people want to care for and you have to create the quality for it to be worth caring for.

Emma Nelson [00:03:10] Andrew, one good thing that makes a great place.

Andrew Tuck [00:03:13] Softer sides of urbanism, the way that a park is built, the way that the streetscape is, that's the thing that makes people feel a bit of serendipity in a way that makes you feel connected.

Emma Nelson [00:03:24] And Kat?

Kat Hanna [00:03:25] One great phrase I've heard used before is thinking often about children, and are you seeing children around and the idea that actually they tend to be the kind of indicator species. You know, if this is the place where parents are happy to take their children or even young people voluntarily want to go, then it's a sign that you're getting something right.

Emma Nelson [00:03:40] The word placemaking is something that we only ever hear within urbanism circles. I mean, I asked a few people, what do you think peacemaking is? And people were genuinely surprised that we need a separate set of ideas to make sure that people are factored into the equation.

Emma Nelson [00:03:53] Kat, maybe you could answer this. When was it that we stopped building houses and started to deliver units?

Kat Hanna [00:04:00] Probably when we got a housing crisis, we became more focussed on delivering those units. I think we all know you can have development that takes place that is devoid of any sense of place as an outcome and we've all probably been to some of those places. Similarly, you can have placemaking that happens without there actually really needing to be any new development. You know, there's this idea that you can actually retrofit placemaking. People can make their own places. Actually, often you might not even need anyone like me, or a developer,  to go anywhere near somewhere to get a great placemaking outcome.

Emma Nelson [00:04:30] Andrew, who does it well, who hasn't got it lost?

Andrew Tuck [00:04:33] You rock up somewhere like Copenhagen and the number of people in the city and the ambition and there's a slightly homogenous desire about the direction of travel. So then it's easy to deliver good change and you see that in the housing stock, in the public realm that's built and the way that the street functions. We also have an office in Zurich and I just went to see a set up there called Mehr Als Wohnen, which means 'more than living', a great co-operative set up and they have the advantage because so many people in Swiss cities are part of co-operatives. Even there they said they struggle to get more than 20 percent of the people within that co-operative to participate in that conversation. So this outreach of bringing people in the community is great, but I always worry a little bit that you always bring in the same small group of people, the loudest group of people, and actually making about a community and getting their involvement is very difficult. So challenges everywhere.

Emma Nelson [00:05:29] Tell us a little bit more, Peter, about how you manage to connect with a community without imposing an external will. I don't know about you, but when people have wanted to change the shape of where I live, there's generally a meeting either in a pub or a bar, and then a group of people walk in with a laptop and they say that they're going to have a consultation and it will all be wonderful. And then that's the last we ever hear from them. And then the building starts - there's a disconnect, isn't there?

Peter Hogg [00:05:56] When the placemaking bus rolls into town and everybody gets off and starts doing the work of community engagement and outreach, there is going to be suspicion and a couple of town hall meetings in a draughty community centre at an inconvenient time in the evening isn't going to overcome that. It's how you continue that engagement and make it authentic and make it genuine and get to the point where you've built a level of trust, where you can have, you know, at times some really challenging and difficult conversations with people.

Emma Nelson [00:06:34] Let's bring in Clare on this, because this is what you do for a living, isn't it? Do we have this issue of people being questioning, suspicious and sometimes on the occasion hostile, or are some people rather glad that someone's paid them some attention?

Clare Wood [00:06:47] Well, if, you know, a group of people turn up with their suits on and everyone goes, what the hell do you want? You can totally understand that. You can absolutely see it, which is why we're very much about that long-term commitment to a community. So we work in different communities around the country, but it's absolutely for the long term, as far as I'm concerned, it's forever. And the point being that we've got to create that trust and it's almost the other way round. It's not me proving I'm trustworthy, it's us proving to that community that we care for it as much as the people that care for it. And as part of the preparation for this report, I was at the Birmingham discussion and somebody made an offhand comment of 'oh, this is like a kicking off meeting'. And my gut instinct was, please never let this be like a kicking off meeting, because the kicking off meeting needs to have all the people from the 12-year old in their tracksuit to the 87-year old to everybody, and the person who moved there six months ago to the person that's lived there for 50 years. That's the kicking off meeting.

Emma Nelson [00:07:58] Kat, does that always happen? Do you always have the kid in the tracksuit right through to grandma?

Kat Hanna [00:08:03] When you start looking at very large long-term infrastructure led regeneration, a lot of people tend to say actually, I haven't really got the time to think about what I want this place to be like in 20 years time. I'm actually more concerned about, you know, my job and my family and what's happening next week.

Andrew Tuck [00:08:19] Just one tiny example, we went to Aarhus in Denmark where they're redeveloping their Docklands and they went there and they realized, okay, let's map everybody who's here in the beginning - we will make sure we have conversations with all those people. They went to the extreme. They realized that lots people went there to take drugs at night. They even included those people in the conversation. And they made a health centre where they could get a needle exchange and they said to the community, okay, you can come into this space. But let's remember, the skateboarders were here first. These people need their assistance as well. And they don't have to come out to every meeting. But we will map these people into the community and they will be involved as we go along.

Emma Nelson [00:08:54] Let's move on to this wonderful report called Liveable Places. Peter, can I ask you first, why was it that you chose to divide the ideas into these into these five elements?

Peter Hogg [00:09:08] This report was a year in its gestation because we genuinely wanted to engage with a very wide range of people. And when we started boiling it down to what are the things that really matter, we kept coming back to these five buckets, if you will, or these five planets in your solar system.

Emma Nelson [00:09:28] I like the idea of buckets. Clare, tell us a bit more about what you thought of this report, because I mean, we're based in London, we're sitting in a beautiful, repurposed building, which is a cultural hub and has revived parts of this area. But your needs are very, very different aren't they. I mean, some people might say, well, I'm going to need a space to charge my electric car. The people who you work with, they're probably not that bothered about this. They just want something a little bit more fundamental.

Clare Wood [00:09:56] Absolutely, that's right. So Reform Heritage, our largest site is Middleport Pottery in Stoke-On-Trent, and that's sitting within a ward where you've got numbers of children living in poverty at twice the national average. Every day problems are big. You know, if you're ill, if you're hungry, if you're worried about your children being on the street because of the risk of grooming. Right, I feel really strongly that we need to demonstrate that we care for this place. So we do that through our heritage buildings and we demonstrate it through regenerating those buildings, but finding ways for that community to then engage with that site and that building. So whether that's volunteering, whether that's, you know, community events, whether that's the creation and the saving of jobs that people in that community do. That's really important.

Emma Nelson [00:10:47] So we hear about this idea of the long-term, but often we hear accusations that the UK is very victim of short-termism. Andrew, what are your thoughts about that? Are we too much in a rush here in the United Kingdom to solve this desperate housing crisis that we're going to forget, actually, that there might be some other problems throwing themselves up in a couple of decades.

Andrew Tuck [00:11:06] We need to be in a reasonable rush. There's a lot of people who need homes and need them reasonably fast. But as you say, we have to be careful that what we put up is flexible and changeable. But many of the buildings we're putting up still have the same templates that you would have put up 30, 40 years ago. And actually, the way we live together, the way that we work has changed really rapidly just in the last few years. You walk around here, every lobby of every building seems to be converted into a space for coworking. Those people don't want to be in traditional office space. What does that mean for developers? You can't guess what's going to happen in 10, 20 years, but that idea that all buildings should be able to adapt and change and move with people is important as well.

Kat Hanna [00:11:48] But I think our conversation has been a bit too nice so far. It's all been a bit cuddly! One of the things that, you know, talking about long-term is actually how much you respond to needs in the current term and then actually make sure you're not then precluding what you might need later on in the longer term. So, we know often when you speak to residents, not so much in central London, but often what do residents want, what's the most important thing they want to talk with you about when you're doing redevelopment? Any guesses?

Audience [00:12:12] Car parking.

Kat Hanna [00:12:16] Car parking - exactly. What's the thing we often want to lead with as our really positive story when we're talking about redevelopment? Sustainability. So already you're getting into, you know, or are we going to have autonomous vehicles, surely we won't actually even need parking? So you're getting into again, how do I balance what people are feeling is their absolute immediate need with where we want to get people in the longer term future as well. So, you know, there are trade-offs to be had. You do have to bring people with you.

Emma Nelson [00:12:41] There is always a budget. There is always a requirement either to maximise profit or to minimise cost. And sometimes placemaking becomes that thing that goes in the planning application and then sometimes it kind of falls away later on. Clare, what are your thoughts about that? Because you're in an area of the United Kingdom that often has to shout really loudly for money?

Clare Wood [00:13:03] Yes. Both having to shout loudly for money, and, you know, I give you a good example. Stoke has just, in the last few months, secured five million pounds of housing infrastructure fund money in order to incentivise development because the situation is that dreadful. Talking to one of those developers, talking about the type of houses that were going to be built, etc. we came to a discussion which was, this is going to be your absolute basic house. And my instinct was, hang on a second. If there is a community and a group of people who need, you know, green sustainability, who need a more efficient house, who need all of these technologies, that we have - they're right here. Actually, this is not the community to build your standard house. This is the community to build your exemplar, make these people's lives easier. Other people are in better situations and can afford, to some degree, to manage that themselves.

Emma Nelson [00:14:04] And as a developer Kat, but as a researcher, first and foremost, you're in an area of the world where money does talk extremely loudly. How difficult is it for you to say, actually, we need to make this a good place for people to live, work, play, travel?

Kat Hanna [00:14:20] You can see the financial model that is often behind development reflected in the quality of the development that has been delivered. So if you were looking often at a house building model that is very much built on, let us get them built, let's sell them, let's leave and move on to the next project. We're often not going to get the best quality products because it's not really in the interest, if people know they're going to sell those homes or units, it's not really in their interest to worry overly, have we got the schools? Have we got the green space we need? Actually, there had been no real consideration given to the kind of social infrastructure that you need to turn something from a collection of units into an actual place. So you need to get those fundamentals of place, right. Because, one, you're going to need people to actually continue to lease space there, but you're going to need that place to really stand the test of time.

Emma Nelson [00:15:09] So let's throw ourselves ahead a couple of decades, 20, 30 years. Andrew, who can be the Greta Thunberg in all this? Who holds everybody's feet to the fire and says 'Okay, placemaking is fantastic. Make it happen?'

Andrew Tuck [00:15:26] Well, for me, the Greta Thunberg's are probably the kids of these people sitting in this room and the people sitting in this room, they can make all that change, those are the people who want to leave some legacy. I was in Canada at a dinner sat next to a guy who is a big developer in Canada. And I always think it's amazing if you're in that role, that when you're not on this earth, you can think you've left something that's changed your city, your skyline, your community for the better. And I said to him, you know how amazing the legacy you will have. And he said, I'll be honest with you, the legacy I want to leave is wealth for my three children and I was quizzing him a bit more and he said, you know, let me stop you, let me assure you that the average person cannot tell the difference between a dollar brick and a three dollar brick. And that, unfortunately, is still how some people see value engineering around the kinds of housing that people like your community you get to live in. And until we challenge that and say that has to change and that's in the report, it's a harder thing to put a price on, but beauty, quality build, that makes a community, that makes you feel a sense of ownership and belonging.

Emma Nelson [00:16:38] Clare are you the Greta Thunberg of Stoke? Sorting people out, telling them to panic, telling them that they need to regenerate, rebuild, reinvest in order to make a place thrive?

Clare Wood [00:16:50] I hope that what I can be is a mechanism, an instrument to encourage people who live in Stoke to be more demanding. That's what I really want to see. And you know your question of who holds the feet to the fire, everybody in those communities should be going to those developers going 'sorry, not good enough. Not having it, not moving in'

Kat Hanna [00:17:13] The other thing I think that has been probably slightly underplayed this evening is climate change. You know, we are going to have, and we're seeing it now, a huge amount of targets to meet. And for us to sit in a room here, as a room full of quite a few developers and not feel that massive obligation given the amount of carbon that we produce as an industry, which is huge. And we are going to have that question of when we're not hitting those targets, who is going to be accountable? Is it the architect? Is it the engineer? Is it the developer? Is it the occupiers who kept all the windows open and didn't use the air conditioning sufficiently? Who is it that is going to be held accountable for that? I would never align myself with Greta Thunberg for many reasons in that I couldn't possibly put myself on a pedestal with her. But it is about thinking, you know, how can we actually start thinking long term like that and realizing we can talk about the aesthetics and how important community is. But actually the sustainability point is going to be hugely important.

Emma Nelson [00:18:07] So is there anybody here who has a question or a comment, if you would care to raise your hand and then give us your question?

Audience [00:18:15] I'm Anusha Shah I'm Arcadis' Director for Resilient Cities. I didn't hear the word inclusive, and inclusive design. So what are your views about it?

Kat Hanna [00:18:25] There is a reason we have a world that is designed for generally able-bodied white men, it's because we have a world that was designed by able-bodied white men. So the first part of it has to be changing the demographics of who is actually doing a lot of this designing. And, you know, we're getting hugely better as an industry. I do want to be positive about that. Doesn't mean we don't have some way to go. You know, Euston, we're talking to an organization in Camden who works specifically thinking about how for autistic people, they're affected by different aspects of the built environment.

Emma Nelson [00:19:00] Andrew, inclusive design.

Andrew Tuck [00:19:03] Well, most developers are still building one, two, three bedroom apartments, that's the template and that's how it works. Again, I go back to this project. I was talking about Mehr Als Wohnen, it was interesting when they built that they gave people who are going to live there lots of options about how they could live. And one of the options was that you wouldn't have so much of your own social space, you wouldn't have your own living room or kitchen but there would be a communal option. And lots of people voted for their parts of the building to be built around that. So, for example, you would get 10 single parents who would say, I would like to live in a space where the kids can play together and they're safe in the evening.

Andrew Tuck [00:19:38] And one other tiny thing is, when you go to the Nordic regions again and again and again, they're looking at how do you marry in the same places, young, old, all ages to share knowledge. And that's the bit we still haven't quite worked out here. Here you get that in London, but it's a kind of hipster thing to do that, you know, you've got a shared kitchen for a year and then you're off. But how do you make that a real thing that you think, this is my life.

Kat Hanna [00:20:01] And I think to join all that, there's also an equity point. You know, we know people most affected by air pollution are typically those from lower socio economic backgrounds. The amount of people I hear now say 'oh the air pollution in London is getting terrible. I must move to Norfolk.' That's fantastic for you. But you're leaving a hell of a lot of people behind and you're happy to still build houses for them. But actually, what are you doing to improve that air quality? So there is that equity impact.

Emma Nelson [00:20:25] Peter, how do you get your developers or the people you're living with to have that sense of social responsibility?

Peter Hogg [00:20:31] So what it's important to do is to find the ways in which you can demonstrate actually, you know, what is the real value and benefit of doing that. So I'll give you a real world example of this. I happen to be a community governor at a primary school in Camden, which is right bang on a main road (and Kat if you haven't already, you'll be engaging with it). You know, there is a direct correlation to be made between someone making a commitment to doing things that will improve the air quality for the children at that school and better educational and therefore life outcomes for those children that will have a long-term financial and economic and social benefit to that community. And I think one of the things that's incumbent on organizations like ours is to make that link between, you do these things and these are the benefits that will be delivered. So that's not just a piece of altruism. That's a cool, smart investment.

Emma Nelson [00:21:35] Thank you very much indeed. Well, finally, I did ask you for a little fix, something our audience can take away and use. So no need for big thinking stuff. Little changes. Who wants to go first, who's ready? Andrew, you smiled!

Andrew Tuck [00:21:48] Oh, god! The thing that makes place for me are the tiny things that people do that indicate there is social trust in the neighbourhood. It's the woman who dares to put the potted plants out in the street and puts some flowers around the base of a tree, and they don't get trampled on, they're there throughout the summer. In all the placemaking you do, these things are very difficult to encourage. But there are signs that people trust the people around them, believe in the people around them, and want to engage.

Emma Nelson [00:22:19] Kat, your fix?

Kat Hanna [00:22:20] Don't just keep doing things because it's how they've always been done. You know, if you're given you know, these are the targets you need to hit. This is the policy framework you need. These are the numbers you need. Actually think 'what if we could do it better' and actually thinking beyond that kind of business as usual, particularly when it comes, I think, to sustainability, also to think about the impact on the community as well.

Emma Nelson [00:22:39] Peter?

Peter Hogg [00:22:39] Try and make sure that the place you create is really, really flexible. I'll give you an example of that. One of the greatest pieces of placemaking that I can think of is right here in this city in London, it's Trafalgar Square.

Kat Hanna [00:22:55] I don't feel the same, people may have just realised, I think it's one of the worst maintained....

[00:23:03] Bear with me! 20 years ago Trafalgar Square was a godforsaken hellhole. It was full of stagnant ponds and pigeon guano and people scurried across it as quickly as they could to get somewhere else. It's now, potentially, a lively, flexible, adaptive event space and public realm.

Emma Nelson [00:23:21] Has that made you fall in love with Trafalgar Square Kat?

Kat Hanna [00:23:24] Not quite!  But I do think the point about, you know, they didn't overthink it, perhaps they could have thought about it a bit more. But I do think it has led to a degree of flexibility. So I will agree on that point.

Emma Nelson [00:23:35] Clare, round it off with your top tip for the evening.

Clare Wood [00:23:38] I suppose what my wish would be, a little less mitigating of risk. Let's be riskier for social benefit.

Emma Nelson [00:23:49] Thank you very much indeed. Well, that's all we have time for I'm afraid, the warmest of thanks to my guests, Peter Hogg, Kat Hanna, Andrew Tuck and Clare Wood. My thanks to everyone who's joined us here in the audience at St. Luke's here in London. And thank you for joining us. Goodbye.

Emma Nelson [00:24:11] And if you want to read more about Arcadis' report on Liveable Places, then head to our website Alternatively, search Arcadis Liveable Places.

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