Blog: 28 November 2019Infrastructure and Placemaking

Iain Painting

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Iain Painting

Senior Partner

London office

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In my preparation for a panel slot at this today’s Home UK event in London, I’ve been thinking about the role of infrastructure in placemaking on a few different levels.

As a planner, one of the strongest complaints or concerns we face amongst existing communities, when proposing development, is the effect it is going to have on their existing infrastructure. Particularly the burden already carried by their local, stretched health service. Infrastructure in the broadest sense is the physical built form – roads and streets, squares and greenspaces, as well as civic buildings, health and education. Some of these we can provide directly as part of the scheme or development, but for others we rely upon local or central government. Despite the industries efforts to enhance communication throughout the design process however, an understanding of the relationship between development and infrastructure contribution amongst local communities, still frequently eludes us. Sadly this relationship, has been no further aided by the Community Infrastructure Regime (CIL).

I think it’s also important to consider our role in placemaking. I would suggest we are not placemakers. Through development, we make physical interventions that create a platform for the creation or establishment of a place, but it is surely the people who occupy the spaces and buildings we provide, that really make a place. There are however interventions we can make to support this.  I would suggest the core component parts of a place include:

  • Character
  • Interaction
  • Sense of ownership and belonging
  • Pride

Not every scheme can contribute everything, but there is no doubt that a considered approach to infrastructure -  physical and social - can contribute to all the above.

So where do we go wrong?

Planning by numbers remains one of the biggest threats to placemaking. By getting hung up on space standards, turning circles and value engineering we can undermine the integrity of our buildings, streets and open spaces. Character and individuality come from responding to specific local need and in turn this generates a sense of ownership and pride. We need to understand the places we work within and build on what exists.

Civic architecture has long been a means for driving pride in our places. The Victorians and Edwardians understood how towns were defined by their civic buildings, and we need to find a way to drive this approach again, focusing on the linchpins of our communities such as schools, doctors and community facilities fit for the 21st century communities.

But it is in urban greenspace there seems to be a particularly significant opportunity for our intensifying towns and cities. In our work to develop Greenkeeper – a tool to comprehensively value urban greenspace – this is exactly what we are seeking to support. By providing a better understanding of urban greenspace, and its inherent value, not only on from an environmental perspective but critically also a social perspective, in terms of local physical health and wellbeing, is critical if we are going to assess merit, functionality and usability rather than the rigid application of numeric space standards.

In my experience, Healthy New Towns and the collaborative approach they are pioneering, are a means for bringing it all together.

Posted with the following keywords:
Placemaking, Infrastructure, Communities