Collaborative Place Development Projects – Comparisons with My Castle Gateway

At the core of the My Castle Gateway project is a commitment to shaping city development through conversations and ongoing collaborations – with the City of York Council, with the masterplanners and with the local community.

It is one of a growing number of projects where public engagement is substantially integrated into plans for urban regeneration. Here, I want to highlight a few other projects that share this focus. The aim is to find useful points of comparison with My Castle Gateway, making it possible to identify similarities and differences in their approaches. Projects I’ve compiled that work with these approaches have incorporated public engagement in several different ways, described below.

Thanks to Phil Bixby for his excellent Twitter research, and to the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), who identified some of the organisations on this list. PPS is a nonprofit planning, design and educational organisation committed to the creation and maintenance of public spaces and strong communities.

Projects that were funded by UK Research Councils include ‘Newcastle City Futures’ (2014-present), ‘High Street UK 2020’ (2014-2015) and ‘History, Heritage, and Urban Regeneration: The Global and Local Worlds of Welsh Copper’ (2010-2011).

‘Newcastle City Futures’ (NCF) began in 2014 with the aim of developing a collaborative platform for addressing development and urban regeneration in the city. Many of its early public engagement activities took place through workshops and exhibitions, notably the NCF exhibition and events at the Guildhall in 2014. This approach was designed to make planning and urban change issues accessible to a wider audience, for example, by presenting oral histories from community members, linking personal stories to previously unseen photographs, showing historic films and artefacts from living memory, and presenting models of built, unbuilt, demolished and imagined development and city plans for Newcastle and Gateshead. Recently the project received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as an Urban Living Partnership pilot project. NCF was also featured in the Government Office for Science’s report ‘Future of Cities: Foresight for Cities’, published last year.

‘High Street UK 2020’ covered several locations across the UK, including Alsager, Altrincham, Ballymena, Barnsley, Bristol, Congleton, Holmfirth, Market Rasen, Morley and Wrexham. The project was designed to come up with sustainable plans for town high streets in 2020, based around the objectives of ‘repositioning’, ‘reinventing’, ‘rebranding’ and ‘restructuring’. Public consultation meetings were the means by which the project engaged with the public, which fed back into the Action Plans for each town. An online resource, forecasting the landscape of town high streets, was also developed that was accessible during the project.

Finally, ‘History, Heritage, and Urban Regeneration’, a project to highlight interconnected local and global processes of economic change, was more thematically orientated around the topic of Welsh copper. Therefore, its public engagement activities tended to focus on awareness-raising, including a travelling exhibition and public events. The project also coordinated a public policy forum on heritage and urban regeneration.

Moving away from research-led projects, greenspace scotland operates as an independent charity and social enterprise. Its goal is to ensure easy access to quality greenspace for people living and working in urban Scotland. Increasingly, it uses community placemaking as a public engagement tool in many of its projects; this involves working with people who live in and/or use a particular place, in order to discover their needs and create an agreed place vision and action plan, focusing on people and function, rather than design-led solutions.

greenspace scotland also provides support and training on the placemaking process, which includes systematic observations, interviews, surveys and place evaluation workshops with local communities and their partners. There is an emphasis on making both short term and long term changes. Some of its community placemaking studies can be found here.

Another Scotland-based initiative is the Place Standard tool, a framework to structure conversations about place, developed jointly between the Scottish Government, Architecture and Design Scotland and NHS Health Scotland. It has been designed to support communities and the public and private sectors to work together to deliver quality, sustainable places. Its case studies working with community groups are available to view here.

Living Space Project  is an urban place making and green space consultancy and think tank that operates as a social enterprise. It is interested in connecting people through urban places and green spaces. Example projects include ‘SuSCit’, an EPSRC-funded investigation to work with socially and economically excluded communities to have a greater say in neighbourhood space design and sustainability research, and ‘Better Cities’, which works on getting children and young people involved in urban regeneration through decision making and design activities. The process is complimented by workshops with community leaders, policy makers and decision makers from urban areas in which the young people live. Living Space Project’s director, Maria Adebowale-Schwarte has published a book on the subject of place making, The Place Making Factor.

CLEAR VILLAGE is a London-based charity that helps communities build towards the future through creative regeneration. Drawing from the philosophy of Recoded City: Co-Creating Urban Futures, it aims to facilitate the development of ‘Commons’, understood as the underused spaces within communities that can be collaboratively brought to life. Many of CLEAR VILLAGE’s projects are centred on promoting public engagement such as ‘Bedfords Park Walled Garden’, a community food growing space in London, which has developed a partnership between Havering Council and Friends of Bedfords Park, and conducted participatory design labs with the community. Or ‘The Community Bench Project’, a 2015 initiative to involve the local community in Islington in a bench up-cycling project, through a series of woodworking, designing and painting workshops.

The Institute of Place Management is an international professional body that supports people committed to developing, managing and improving places. Formed in 2006 by Manchester Metropolitan University and the UK Association of Town Centre Management, the Institute was initiated with the intention of developing and supporting the creation of sustainable formal structures of place management. The Institute has a Making Places Special Interest Group, which offers professional training on planning and regeneration and community development.

Lastly, Hank Dittmar Associates is a consultancy firm focused on making cities and towns more liveable and resilient for urban futures. It specialises in walkable communities connected by public transport, in heritage-led revitalisation, in small-scale lean urbanism and in planning for a wireless, interconnected future. Examples of the firm’s previous work  include ‘Lean Urbanism in the UK’, a case study advocating small-scale, entrepreneurial development rather than large-scale corporate projects and ‘Continuity and Context’, a town centre strategy for Lincoln, based on the principle of future development expressing continuity with the past.

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