My Castle Gateway 2: Connecting systemic issues and specific design decisions

Throughout the My Castle Gateway and My York Central project it has been clear that any specific decision always has much wider contexts. Often when we are looking at a specific issue in either area what we are often talking about are highly complex, large scale and systemic issues.

A systemic issue is one made up of lots of different factors interacting, rather than any one factor.

For example, if we are talking about the design of a road in York Central or a junction in Castle Gateway what are talking about includes:
• The 1000s of small decisions made every day about whether or not to drive or to walk, cycle or use the park and ride
• The 100s of small things that make a walk or cycle ride on a certain route feel safe and pleasurable
• The future of personal transport (driverless cars; electric cars)
• Price and availability of fossil fuels
• The expertise and assumptions that lie behind transport modelling projections
• Public appetite for restricting cars or charging for congestion

So this means it just isn’t useful to see any part of Castle Gateway in isolation. We also want to approach systemic issues in ways which respect and work with their complexity.

Complexity means recognising that there is no linear and causal straight-line between an intervention and an effect. Rather than lots of interacting factors lead to unintended consequences. Lots of small decisions made by people everyday can accumulate to create effects or can create surprising tipping points (both positive and negative).

And that many of the issues in York – and any place – are actually made up of all of us living here, working here, doing things, sharing ideas and make everyday decisions, it means that the best way of understanding any of these systemic issues better and creating positive change is by involving as many people as possible, from as many different perspectives as possible.

So addressing systemic and complex issues needs active and ongoing public involvement. It is the active involvement of lots of different people’s local knowledge and creativity – and all of us exploring the issues together – that makes (whole system) positive change possible. We need this bigger systemic picture in order to make good specific decisions in developing Castle Gateway.

Approaching My Castle Gateway 2
Take this kind of approach which sees all issues as connected and seeks to link systemic issues to particular design decisions in Castle Gateway poses some challenges for developing a structure for the My Castle Gateway 2 process.

In My Castle Gateway 1 we identified four challenges: Public Space, Movement, Living well with water; Ownership and Values. They helped us locate the open community brief within wider debates. Yet the challenges also had the effect of creating separation between things which are very much connected. Public space is always connected to movement to and through it; ownership and publics space are crucially linked issues; living well with the rivers needs to shape both the movement and public space approaches.

So in beginning My Castle Gateway 2 we are going to try and think holistically across issues and create meaningful connection between the systemic and the specific. There are two approaches we are going to try to help us do this.

Ask questions that help us understand systemic connections
In early February we will kick off My Castle Gateway Phase 2 with a Castle Gateway Catch Up with Andy Kerr, who is managing the project for the council. Andy will share everything that’s happened with the project since approval of the masterplan and explore the timetable and deliverability issues which have arisen (see also his blog). We will ask everyone there to note the questions they have. We will then use these questions to help kick off some lines of inquiries that will help shape the My Castle Gateway 2 events.

Pan between the systemic and the specific
In every single event we will explore how to seamlessly and productively pan – like a film camera on wheels – between whatever specific area, issues or design question we are exploring and the wider systemic issues. From what makes a good bench to what defines public space; from a cycle path design to climate change. So to every event bring your everyday practical expertise that comes from living in York and also bring the biggest questions facing humanity! We’ll collectively need both to create the best possible Castle Gateway.

Find out more about the My Castle Gateway events.

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