Spring 2020 will be one for the history books as Covid-19 takes hold across the globe. But we need to start the thinking about what we could be facing on the other side, and take advantage of the opportunities where they exist, says placemaking consultant BEN STEPHENSON.
The rolling news cycle is both excruciating and addictive, with small, incremental developments about the spread of coronavirus available at every page-refresh. It’s exhausting and unhealthy to fixate on the immediate problem without also looking beyond, to how we plan for the recovery.
This is the second and last part of the blog post on the epidemics behind urban planning, Part 1 examined the origins of urban planning in the 19th century, and how the fear of epidemics and the social unrest which would ensue from them, shaped cities in Western Europe and North America. You can read Part 1 following this link.
By the early twentieth century, housing conditions for people of the working classes had once again become appalling in most cities of the industrialized north. In 1902 the Dutch government decided to pass a housing act containing several provisions to address this crisis. Among others, city authorities were to develop building codes setting quality standards for construction, while cities with over 10,000 inhabitants were to develop an expansion plan indicating different housing zones. In terms of housing provision, the act gave municipalities the right to provide financial support to non-for-profit housing associations that worked in the field of public housing. Following the act, Amsterdam’s social-democratic government commissioned the architect Hendrik Berlage with the design for an expansion plan of Amsterdam’s South (Amsterdam Zuid) and provided subsidies to housing associations even into World War I, when private construction had come to a halt. The plan for Amsterdam Zuid is for a city where green permeates everything, the vast courtyards, the streets and squares. Housing and retail are largely separated and – underpinning the form – there is a political conviction that even lower classes deserve adequate, affordable housing and the role of the state is to provide it.
The ongoing project titled “Making and managing Ljubljana’s
urban squats: inclusive and participatory practices” (funded by the
BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants and supported by the Department for
Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), investigates the way Ljubljana’s
squatted areas Metelkova and Tovarna ROG are used and managed by both the official
institutions and the communities of their respective users. It aims to appreciate
the power dynamics that emerge in their everyday running and to critically
evaluate the role that institutions play and the influence that they have
vis-à-vis these particular urban settings. In this post, we wish to offer a
brief elaboration on the spatial particularities surrounding ROG, namely its
recent recognition by the Slovenian legal system as a “quasi-public” place.
An arcade is “a glass covered passageway which connects two
busy streets and is lined on both sides with shops”. First developed in Paris in the late
eighteenth century, arcades were a key element of the European retail and urban
environment by the mid-nineteenth century. They were regarded as symbols of
modernity and vitality because of their innovative use of architectural design,
building materials and techniques, and they contributed to a wider process of
civic boosterism of the Victorian city.
However, according to MacKeith, by the start of the twentieth century, the
arcade’s heyday was already passing, with those constructed in the early
twentieth century being smaller and less architecturally ambitious than their
nineteenth century predecessors, and furthermore, arcades were often
marginalised in new post-war shopping development schemes.
Whilst the current political and economic
uncertainty surrounding Brexit is generating division and negativity at a
national level, there have been a lot of new policy announcements recently that
are, paradoxically, good news for local town centres and high streets.
The Budget of October 2018 promised to cut
the business rate bills of small retailers by one-third; a package that is
worth nearly £1bn. At the same time, the £675m Future High
Streets Fund was launched to support the transformation of England’s high
streets, from mono-functional retail centres to multifunctional community hubs.
The October 2018 Budget also announced the creation of a High Streets Task
Force, to provide much-needed expertise, training, data and insight to the
place leaders and partnerships that are reinventing their local areas, with a
budget of just over £8.6m for 5 years. The Institute of Place Management is
leading a consortium of partners to run the High Street Task Force, which will
be fully operational by July 2020.
Collecting, analysing and sharing Best Practices, i.e. examples of projects, policies, cases, etc. that have worked out in one place and could be applied to others, is a very common practice in Place Management. It is argued that people and organizations in one place can learn from the experiences of their counterparts in another and that, after considering their adaptability, can apply similar techniques in their own context. This seems like a reasonable assumption: while we mostly learn from our own experiences, and psychologists have demonstrated the validity of this argument, we do take into consideration what other people have experienced elsewhere, albeit marginally.
Urban stakeholders are increasingly realising the importance
of collective action in attempts to ‘future proof’ town and city centres, to
ensure that ‘their’ centre retains an important role in the economic and social
life of associated communities. Such
collective actions, often implemented under the aegis of urban management
partnerships (UMPs), raise some key questions for these organisations: what
type(s) of collective interventions are the most effective; and how to create
sufficient support for them?
In 2017-18, a research project, led by the Amsterdam
University of Applied Sciences and funded by Shopping Tomorrow (a Dutch retail and e-commerce think-tank), which
comprised an expert group containing a number of IPM researchers and members,
tried to answer these questions.
Specifically, the research – which analysed a variety of different types
of interventions in 21 towns and cities across the Netherlands, Belgium and the
UK – sought to identify and illustrate the factors that underpin successful
collective interventions aimed at ’future-proofing’ town and city centres.
Area Based Collaborative Enterprise concerns the ways in which local entrepreneurs join forces and form collectives to stimulate business growth and innovation, and to create a more attractive business environment. A clear example in a UK context would be a Business Improvement District.
The project ABCities is funded by INTERREG, a programme aims to help regional and local government to develop and deliver better policy by creating opportunities for sharing solutions to ensure government investment, innovation and interventions lead to integrated and sustainable impact for people and place, by embedding new guidance and measures within existing policy for area based economic development.
The challenge, therefore, is not necessarily poor policy,
but a concern about the mechanisms and techniques used by state institutions to
deliver place based policy.
concern about global inequality, there has been an international resurgence of
co-operative and community-focused projects and initiatives. The UK, however, offers
a particularly interesting context.
Subject to prolonged austerity measures, the capacity of local
government to intervene in local development has been drastically undermined. With
growing inequality and a pressing need to fill the gaps in under-served
communities, local authorities in many places are beginning to abandon their
paternalistic top-down approach, and to experiment with new and alternative
organisational forms of place management.
Business Improvement Districts are taking over responsibility for town and city
management, with over 300 now established. There are 471,000 social enterprises
across the country, employing 1.44 million people,
and a network of 26 designated social enterprise places,
whereas Scotland is advocating Community Improvement Districts. Most celebrated, perhaps, is The Preston
developed by Preston City Council and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES),
which has reformed local government procurement to enable key locally embedded
“anchor” institutions to run local services. The model is designed to recapture
investment and circulate local wealth within the local economy. Where gaps in
provision remain, CLES suggests the formation of new worker co-operatives.
I have been researching Citizen Participation in urban development in Berlin, since 2016, when the new Berlin state government coalition signed a contract, introducing participation as one of its leading principles. When I started, I was trying to understand what the provisions of the contract were and how that could be conceptualized. Conceptualization is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is that, too): it implicitly or explicitly guides the way we think, talk and act – and also the way we design policy.