Our car turned right into the new development and the driver said “I don’t know what to do!” Precisely. The absence of familiar tarmac roads and two metre wide pavements created an immediate impression of something different and exciting for our arriving tour.
The West of Scotland Chapter in collaboration with the RTPI Urban Design Network, organised an evening tour of the completed first phase of Polnoon in July. Susie Stirling (Head of Placemaking & Design, Scottish Government) and Craig Ormond (Land Manager, Mactaggart & Mickel) lead the tour and provided insights into the projects inception, purpose and progress.
The first words of the tour were spoken from what would normally be the middle of a road. The usual habit of constantly turning and looking for oncoming traffic was replaced by a confidence that our group had the right to be there.
In very simple terms, the purpose of the project was to turn policy words contained in PAN 76 New Residential Streets (now revoked and replaced by Designing Streets) and PAN 83 Masterplanning into action to prove that a safe and attractive place can be created. The first phase has delivered upon the ambition.
The arrival space is centred on a play area equipped with carefully considered elements that suit both the materials palette and the informal atmosphere of the development. This was in use during our tour and other children were cycling in a casual manner around the streets in a way that would not be possible in a standard residential layout. In an era that has seen the typical distance a child will play from the house shrink by 90% this was good to see.
Setting the architectural taste debate aside, the layout of built form and streets does act to naturally calm traffic speeds. The arrangement focusses views towards buildings and creates a series of spaces rather than streets. After a little while, the group noticed something was missing, no street clutter. The majority of street lights are fixed to the sides of the buildings, helping to open up more space.
The key aspect of the design process was the collaborative effort and definition of key project principles that bound the team together. Having an experienced and high calibre design team helps but setting up a structure to enable conversations between the different disciplines and the Local Authority was more critical.
The technical aspects of the street layout are certainly worth studying. More importantly, the development we see today represents the collaborative efforts of everyone engaged in the project, both public and private. The mistake would be to simply copy and paste the layout. The lesson for everyone is that good design stems from good, positive collaboration both within the Local Authority and between the design team.
The effectiveness of the design was demonstrated to the group by the simple actions of a parent deciding the street outside their front door was safe enough to teach their child to ride a bike. Encouraging people to get outside is a key outcome and one that design supports. The future phases of Polnoon are awaited with great interest.