BIG were recently asked to contribute to
Thinkpiece series in response to the question
'Does practice make perfect in Place?'.
A summary of the article is published here or for our thoughts in full read on.....
This article aims contextualise the issues of our experiences at Bridgend Inspiring Growth, within the framework of broader issues of placemaking and community-led development. It supports the concept of people as instrumental to effective use of places and space. In this way, it can help shed light on a more holistic view of place.
What is Placemaking?
Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. Placemaking, both as a process and a philosophy, capitalizes on a local community's assets. This includes a project’s wider inspiration, and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. It is political due to the nature of place identity.
There is a shift in our emphasis today to involve communities in the process of deciding what they want and need and often with local people taking responsibility for delivering the end results themselves. Community empowerment, asset transfer and land reform are slowly influencing how places are created and/or regenerated; through consultation and consensus local decisions are arrived at and implemented.
What are the aims of, and issues faced by Bridgend Inspiring Growth?
Bridgend Inspiring Growth (BIG) is a local voluntary group supported by contracted professionals working towards the development and restoration of Bridgend farmhouse, Edinburgh, to become a community-owned and led multi-purpose space to promote sustainable living practices and outdoor learning. These dual allied aims help root the development of the project in social and socially sustainable aims and outcomes.
The path faced by community-led development teams is seldom a smooth one, though issues like the recent advent of the Community Empowerment Bill in Scotland and Community Asset Transfer mechanisms are helping change the landscape for the better. Regards BIG’s journey, in the Spring of this year councillors at City of Edinburgh Council Economy Committee overturned a previous recommendation and voted unanimously to lease Bridgend Farmhouse to BIG for 12 months, and agreed to sell the farmhouse to BIG after that period, on confirmation of BIG Lottery Growing Community Assets Stage 2 funding.
BIG is now at the stage of appointing an architect as lead building professional to take the project to statutory planning approval, alongside Business plan development work by a Project Management team. This means the project will be both financially viable as a build and economically sustainable as a built project, as it continues to the construction of capital build stage, pending submission of a successful Stage 2 Lottery funding bid.
How does BIG specifically engage the community in placemaking?
BIG has been drawing on community input as a generation for ideas for the built environment and landscape for the development project, as well as the securing of the property, from the start of the project. In this way, the on-going process of the making of the place has had the community element embedded into its design philosophy and evolution.
An initial design feasibility study by Malcolm Fraser architects built on the core values of the place from the project visioning, as founded on the three core functions of learning, eating and exercise. These will be used as a foundation for informing the programmatic use of spaces within the detailed design brief in the concept design stages.
Aspirations regard the building end-uses and users have been much more than words from the outset. BIG has engaged the community in a series of participatory design workshops as well as over a dozen publically-funded extra-curricular classes based around all these core activities, run by a dedicated community development worker. BIG’s project is at an interim stage in its development, and the role of the community will be central at all stages.
What conclusions can be drawn for the role of community groups in placemaking and strengthening communities and their assets?
Given the complexities inherent in placemaking as an ideology and practice, it is inevitable that testing is necessary to get it right. Housing developments and town centres tend to have little community input to their design and operation, and token processes to engage local people and potential users.
In BIG’s case, rather than tick-box exercise or afterthought, community engagement is an integral part to shaping the place via its input into both the design process and the eventual function and use of the building. Considered use of the community as a resource for both the process and philosophy of a build project is key to its establishment as a successful, socially sustainable place.
Short-termism, quick fixes and the satisfaction of short-term goals or financial rewards are barriers to holistic thinking. There are arguments that communities, often generating their own financial resources, are more sustainable custodians of the future of their local places in that they will be there for the duration rather than the next political term or priority.
Written by Sandra Macaskill (CaskieCo) and Yasmin Ali 26.10.2014
The writers are working on BIG’s project as part of the Business Development Project Management Team led by CaskieCo. CaskieCo is a community development agency that works with community groups to acquire assets and develop community enterprises. Yasmin Ali is a freelance architectural & urban designer and journalist.