Nikola Miller, Planning Policy and Practice Officer at RTPI Scotland shares thoughts and experiences of chairing a discussion on achieving a creative vision through placemaking.
Picture the scene…a panel of four planners, designers and architects in a vault. No, I’m not setting up the start of a kind of “Scotsman, Englishman and Irishman” joke…but I am sure I heard one attendee suggesting locking the door and throwing away the key. Rather, I’m setting the scene for a discussion event held at the start of April as part of the recent Hidden Door Festival using the disused Market Street vaults in Edinburgh from 28 March to 5 April 2014.
The organisers of Hidden Door were keen to provoke and encourage discussion on planning, design and architecture as art forms as part of this independent arts festival in amongst the art installations, live music, theatre, film, poetry and more, particularly given the location of the festival within disused vaults in Edinburgh…sparking the imagination on what could be achieved with these types of spaces.
The panel for the evening included architects Suzanne Ewing and Malcolm Fraser, planner and urban designer Richard Heggie, and City of Edinburgh Council planner David Givan, all brought together with an audience in a dark vault with an audience to discuss:
“How can planning and design help develop an idea of placemaking as a creative vision for the city of Edinburgh?”
Whilst only a short discussion over the course of an hour, with attendees sitting on a tiered seating arrangement made up of old pianos, this event sparked a lot of interesting ideas. David Givan started by emphasising that placemaking is rising on the agenda and is at the heart of planning and decision making for Edinburgh. Malcolm Fraser suggested that planning needs to bring the joy, newness and architecture back into the process to get back to really planning, and achieving a creative vision. Suzanne challenged us to really think about who the client is. What if we saw the city as a client? After all at the heart of what architecture and planning is trying to achieve is caring for our cities, about enhancing and evolving our cities. And more than this, Suzanne recognised that to achieve a creative vision for place, we need to understand who we are designing places for. Is it for the planners? The citizens, or the developers? Or is it for tourists, students or festival goers?
Richard Heggie took us through a five step plan to use place to create a vision for the city:
- Urbanise the city – the capacity of a city is greater than we currently make use of, there is more opportunity for creativity within the city;
- Urbanise the suburbs – increasing density and moving away from homogeneous single use areas with poor connections;
- Halt the Weatherspoon’s and the like – the single use mega pub is sucking the life out of the creative potential of the city – this involves collaborative working;
- Take a holiday in Scandinavia – Stockholm is an example of developing a city from the outside in; Copenhagen is a place for people embedding creativity and high quality design with real life; and
- Engage in the new phase of political engagement and enlightenment – looking at how we put places together, and driving change.
For me, the thoughts that stayed with me for the remainder of that week and beyond were that of planning, design and architecture needing to be truly ambitious and visionary; of moving beyond thoughts of the regulatory function of planning and seeing the wider spatial vision that planning can and does provide; of planning and placemaking as a positive driver of economic recovery for Scotland’s cities, towns and rural areas, with an emphasis on being proactive, visionary and delivery focussed.
David acknowledged that we have some fantastic buildings in Edinburgh. There will always be fierce debate over the future of gap sites within the city centre but we shouldn’t feel too negative; yes there’s room for improvement but planning can and does deliver great places for people. And like David, I feel that there is a lot to be positive about in Edinburgh and Scotland. As a nation, and particularly as a profession, we don’t shout about the great things we achieve. Let’s celebrate our successes and the great places that we’ve created. We might not all like and agree with every bit of these places, but that just makes places, spaces and placemaking more interesting.
As part of the RTPI’s Centenary in 2014, we’ve launched the Scotland’s Best Places initiative and you can vote now, until 7th May for your top three out of our ten nominated places. Join in with the celebration and vote now!