Statutory planning documents and design guidance often refer to the requirement for new development to create a particular type or sense of ‘place’ and yet, throughout the construction sector, there remains a degree of uncertainty about how this translates to a physical project.
This is largely because placemaking, much like urban design itself, brings together many interrelated disciplines from architecture, landscape architecture, planning and infrastructure design to environment, ecology, socioeconomics and engagement. As a result, the phrase is just as likely to appear in a transport statement as it might in a landscape appraisal, drainage strategy or a heritage assessment.
A few years ago, we were looking for a new office that the practice could grow into. A young company, we (reluctantly) accepted that the dream studio would be unlikely for our budget. However, in London’s melting pot of space and activity, we were still optimistic of finding somewhere with light and security that would be close to shops, similar businesses and transport links. From a base that was then in Muswell Hill, North London (N10), the search began locally and quickly widened through the travel zones until it became apparent that either our budget or expectations needed review.
Urban design is a strange discipline. A sweeping statement, I know – and certainly one that does not come close to justifying its complexity or significance. Definitions vary greatly, often focusing on a particular scale, activity or specialism. Paradoxically, the most accurate descriptions are perhaps those that are more general, such as; ‘the art of creating and shaping cities and towns’ (urbandesign.org) or, ‘the design of towns and cities, streets and spaces… it is the collaborative and multi-disciplinary process of shaping the physical setting for life in cities, towns and villages; the art of making places’ (Urban Design Group).
The benefit of focussing new development around built-up areas is clear - towns and cities are platforms for change, expansion and diversity, areas of natural beauty can be preserved and from the perspective of an urbanist, it would be nice to see some life brought back to those boarded-up infill sites.
As one year closes and another begins, it is probably an apt time for reflections, forecasts and resolutions. According to the Office for National Statistics, 2017 brought a modest uplift in growth and productivity in the construction industry before slowing in Q2 and Q3. Indeed, in January, 2017, construction output was 29% higher than the lowest point of the last five years and despite falling back again, output in Q3 was still 25.7% above January, 2013 levels.
In July, 2017, the DCLG and the HCA launched the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) – an initiative aimed at releasing up to 100,000 new homes through £2.3 billion of government funding for new and improved infrastructure in potential growth zones.