Author Archives: UrbanXtra

What is the truth about housing and community?

If these pages seem to be focusing, lately, on housing and the creation of new communities, that’s because there seems to be public and policy fixations on these related and important issues. As we enter 2013, two recent reports add to the housing confusion: one suggested that the abolition of spatial strategies back in 2010 has led to councils radically reducing their housing targets, and argues that the Government should focus on ensuring councils actually deliver the homes their targets propose. In December 2012, the Government suggested that housing planning permissions in England rose 36 per cent in Q3 2012 against the previous quarter, but admitted that the level of homes being delivered is still well below actual needs. It also transpired that two councils are being advised that their draft local plans for housing may not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework’s housing requirements.

The second report from labour union Unison claims that the Government’s New Homes Bonus Scheme is draining resources away from the recession-hit north, for example Newcastle and the north-east, to wealthier parts of the country in the south. Money for the new homes scheme is deducted from local council grants and then redistributed – not on the basis of need or population – but to areas where most new homes are built which largely depends on decisions made by private developers. Building firms meanwhile are unsurprisingly shying away from poorer areas that have been hit hardest by the recession and choosing to build in areas where the profit potential is greatest, suggests the report.

Add to this mix the apparent eagerness on the part of local communities to engage with neighbourhood planning, and we have a potential potboiler on our hands. Surely, what we need is a thorough examination of policy and performance to date, and a will to make space for new delivery community frameworks that are being successfully achieved elsewhere in Europe. Will 2013 be the year to that the UK can boldly go where others are already doing rather nicely, thank you?

Join us in London and Newcastle to help get the facts straight and the right options on the agenda…

Kick-starting a housing design and delivery revolution

Almere

Cohesive homes and community building at Almere

Homes and housing delivery is at the top of government agendas these days. A host of initiatives is maturing to provide an unusually fertile sector: funding from Government housing pots is coming on-stream, the first neighbourhood plan is moving to referendum (and councils are apparently ‘inundated’ with neighbourhood planning applications, according to the media), and CIL is finally beginning to yield revenues available to communities. Yet there are many challenges to overcome: not least that two councils are already being advised that their draft local plans for housing may not comply with the National Planning Policy Framework’s housing requirements, being insufficient to meet the full, objectively assessed local needs. NIMBYism is still rife, and the crisis encourages risk-averse behaviour.

Practitioners are responding by coalescing around a host of related new activities aimed at seeing new partners in place-making getting involved in housing alongside traditional volume housebuilders: an approach loosely described as plot-based urbanism, or ‘massive amounts of small’.

These fast-emerging new approaches to delivering large-scale resilient homes, neighbourhoods and communities through vastly increased amounts of smaller-scale activity will be thoroughly explored and discussed at a new RUDI initiative, Start Small: Think Big in London and Newcastle 2013

Read about the key issues here

And access free RUDI content on this subject here

Plot-based development approaches enable access to a much wider range of players wishing to get involved in home and community building. A simple framework, together with a set of design codes, can support and enable a wide range of development types and partners. The emerging communities involved will determine for themselves how their houses, businesses, and even the landscape will be designed and delivered.

In Almere, Holland, this is already happening. For the first time in Europe, on such a large scale, a range of players involved in custom-building will determine for themselves how their houses, businesses, and even the landscape will be designed and delivered. This includes not only the residential buildings and businesses, but the whole framework; local infrastructure, water storage, sanitation, energy supply, urban farming and public spaces.

The Almere strategy is far from a traditional planning approach; it represents the introduction of a new kind of development process, and an experiment in delivering cohesive place-making.

Back to the garden? Thinking Big about housing…

This November, Nick Clegg is encouraging us to ‘think big’ about housing – and it also advocating the rise of garden cities as solutions to future housing needs. Garden cities and suburbs were the development poster children of the 1900s, ending with Milton Keynes in 1967. There is a fair amount of support for this resurrection of policy, but also worry that until these new garden cities and suburbs can offer jobs and character, they’ll only be dormitories of big cities. Even the promised kick-start from a new government tax initiative, allowing local authorities to borrow against future business rate revenues to help them get building, doesn’t clinch it. The dark memory of eco towns is also casting a shadow over the notion of anything ‘garden’.

Join the UK’s most revolutionary practitioners to really Think Big about housing delivery…

Get up to speed with selected content from RUDI.net on this issue

Many housing practitioners and experts are already thinking big, and have come up with a huge – and much more radical – range of very smart ideas, plans, concepts and tools to revolutionise housing delivery, across cities, suburbs and rural spaces. Community and custom-build figures heavily, as does the idea of starting small, thinking about incremental development at all scales, from plot to street to block. These ideas are
Accutane

Re-booting smarter travel initiatives

The sustainable transport field is changing and there is a tremendous opportunity to develop new integration and networking. The Department for Transport has accepted that its draft guidance on appraising ‘smarter choices’ measures does not sufficiently mention the evidence of the impact of interventions to change behaviour.

The DfT draft guidance omits or downplays key evidence, such as from car clubs and cycling towns. It downplays the effect of smarter choices packages and combinations of packages and hard infrastructure.’

Keith Buchan, chair of the Transport Planning Society and Professor Phil Goodwin of the University of the West of England, are pioneering an alternative smarter choices guidance draft, which they refer to as the “expert version”.

Access a selection of RUDI.net’s content on related issues, including the advent of peak car, communications technology, ITS, urban design and planning, shared bikes and cars, and active travel

Plus, there’s lots of interesting new thoughts on marketing active travel, such as this piece (below) on cycling from Local Transport Today, written by Charlotte Welch, senior consultant at Steer Davies Gleave and a director of the Transport Planning Society.

Join us in Bristol, December, for a ground-breaking discussion on sustainable travel issues

Marketing cycling: Are we trying to reach the people who might actually listen to our message?

Recent campaigns to encourage people to cycle more have generally focussed on everyday cycling: pictures of people like you and me riding bikes in normal, everyday clothes. The thinking behind these sorts of campaigns is to be as inclusive as possible, not putting people off the idea of cycling because they don’t fit in with the image portrayed but, while this may seem like a good idea, is it possible that we are jumping ahead of ourselves?

Why might this be wrong?
In his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers proposed a theory about how new ideas spread over time, reaching different stages of the population at different times. The idea of cycling as an everyday mode of transport is not a new idea but it is an idea that hasn’t yet spread very far throughout our population. Despite increases in the number of cyclists in London following initiatives to get more people cycling, mode share in the capital is only 2%.

Rogers’ theory is that new ideas or innovations spread through parts of the population in sequence and that, in order to reach the mass market, we first need to get our idea adopted by the small proportion of the population who try things before everyone else.

The way that ideas spread can be plotted on a chart that takes the shape of a bell curve, with the people who try things first on the left, representing a small proportion of the population; the mass market in the centre; and the laggards, or people who it will always be a struggle to convert, on the right of the curve. What is important to note here is that the spread of a new idea is sequential: the mass market won’t adopt a new idea until someone else has tried it first. We’re all at different stages of this curve at different times and for different things. Just because someone you know was the first to adopt one new idea, doesn’t necessarily mean they will do this for all new ideas. Continue reading

Smart cities: real time data helps us to connect with urban activities

The availability of rich, real-time, and remote data has major implications for the ways in which urban planners visualise and predict the ‘smart city’ for investment and infrastructure planning.

Explore these issues and others in our free to download Data and Modelling publication

‘Giving people visual and tangible access to real-time information about their city enables them to take their decisions more in sync with their environment, with what is actually happening around them. It creates a feedback loop between people, their actions, and the city, says Kristian Kloeckl, project leader at SENSEable City Lab and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART). He’ll be talking about the Singapore experience at our Modelling World event on 11 and 12 July, 2012, at the Oval, London.

See what MIT are working on in Singapore

Join us at Modelling World 2012 to find out how leaders in the field from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, TfL and leading consultants are exploring ways to turn the data explosion into robust, strategic plans. For example, we’ll cover Singapore’s pioneering real-time city project using data from cameras, communication devices, microcontrollers and sensors to imagine, monitor, and understand how our cities move and live. Plus much more…

Transport & towns; parking and policy: it’s finally time to get it right

The current focus on re-vitalising our town centre and high streets has, intentionally or not, perfectly illuminated many vital flaws and contradictions at the heart of planning policy. The new measures aiming to boost town centres highlight the startling lack of robust evidence and consistent policy underpinning investment and policy approaches.

Three ways to help get it right:
View our handpicked content on these key issues
Join us at for a key debate on 26 April 2012 in London: the key people will all be there!
Meet the protagonists: challenge the status quo with us on July 11 and 12 2012

The issues currently exercising our network of urban, movement and parking professionals relate to this inconsistency and lack of rigour. The indications are everywhere: the DfT was this month urged to review its National Transport Model (NTM) by a leading traffic expert who claimed the model’s forecast of major road traffic growth in London, at least, is ‘implausible’. Transport Planning Society chairman Keith Buchan said the forecast was ‘so far away from reality that there must be an urgent review of how this has come about’. And as such potentially flawed forecasts underpin decisions on what transport infrastructure gets built, and what kinds of urban realm investment shape our towns and cities, this is more than merely worrying.

The transport profession has dominated the making of place for the past 50 years because it has counted and modelled. Measurement is power. Urban practice has much to learn from the transport industry if its legacy is truly to be one that is great.

Getting value for money, based on the best evidence, is what we need more than ever in this post-recession world. Our publication Local Transport Today has noted that a shift to smaller-scale transport schemes ‘could be a good thing’ in the spirit of recent thinking around the virtues of ‘smarter’, lower cost interventions. These may well fit in with other recent studies that clarify the drivers needed to support a move to healthier (and so desirable in social funding costs) cycling and walking behaviours, and with those that note how technological developments are increasingly influencing positive changes in living and movement patterns.
But, alas, several recent studies – some commissioned by the developers and investors who insist that they ‘know’ their market – suggest that many private car owners wish to drive and park their cars even when there are convenient and cost-effective alternatives. How can we begin to encourage more realistic behaviours across the board if we don’t begin with the easier targets?

Similarly, in hard times, parking is prioritised as a potentially juicy revenue stream by politicians and practitioners alike, in terms of both collecting and modelling future incomes. But how reliable are such models? Traffic- and car-choked high streets don’t appeal to anyone but those lucky enough to grab a spot while they pop into the chemist.
Yet with infrastructure development decisions, thanks to the lack of rigourous evidence underpinning them, being used to further political rather than social agendas, we still see the lion’s share of infrastructre funding going to private car-based transport modes.
And nor do new planning policy frameworks offer increased consistency. The new NPPF has been criticised for favouring car-based urban sprawl, and the localism agenda, which claims to place new emphasis on supporting accessibility and activity for a wider range of people and places, offers potential but no real resource. As the move to localism cries out for investment in placemaking support, it is, as Julian Dobson, co-author of the Business, Innovation and Skills report into the much-reported demise of the high street notes: ‘ironic that government has withdrawn from serious investment in placemaking at precisely the time when placemaking skills are most needed.’

The challenge for enlightened place and movement professionals is to work together to demonstrate how integrated spatial planning leads to quality of place, which in turn generates demonstrable economic and social value.

The tools and processes necessary to help us understand the real nature and needs of the world around us, and so generate robust evidence bases that support informed decion-making already exist: all we have to do is get (much) better at using them.

Shared space: the debate continues

Well, shared space is certainly getting it’s fair share of attention, even making it onto Radio 4 last week. But do wider ideas from the public serve to clarify or cloud the issues of what makes great streets? It seems to us at RUDI rather ironic that, just as designers and practitioners begin to feel comfortable with shared spaces – or rather aware that a suitable level of design/engineering compromise has been identified and documented – that a groundswell of opinion from the public urges practitioners to go further, or not to go anywhere at all.

Change liability laws; ban traffic outright from so-called streets (as opposed to roads) ; and step up parking penalties are some of the issues being raised – again – by anti car, pro cycling and pedestrian lobbyists. But surely there must be some better way to get everyone on the same page: regarding traffic flows, links and places, high street accessibility, mobility and, quite simply, reality?

Sample some of the recent ideas and suggestions on RUDI’s friend and participant As Easy as Riding a Bike blog, and let us know what you think?

High streets in crisis: great suggestions from the experts…

As Mary Portas delivers her review on the future of high streets, it’s positive to note that some of her ideas were similar to those suggested by the range of experts at the RUDI/LTT Better Streets event a week or so ago. But being the practical guys they are, our speakers went much further, outlining how they’d give our high streets a shot in the arm – and all for good value, too…and with great examples!

Get the background from RUDI

PLUS: There’s lots more information on these and related issues on our sister sites RUDI.net and TransportXtra.com

Accommodating cyclists: let’s not overreact

Cycling Jim, or Jim Davis, erstwhile cyclist and stand up comedian, is keen to better accommodate cyclists on UK roads. He knows, as do we at RUDI, that this is entirely possible, and he has formed The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to get things moving in the right direction.

As he writes on his blog: To many, ‘Going Dutch’ means having segregation everywhere! There are many British people, through no fault of their own, are not Dutch or are in any way conversant with the Dutch experience. Thus the very notion of segregation will instantly make people instantly think of their local high street, housing estate or country lane and try to mentally cram in a couple of with-flow cycle paths with separating kerbs. And then dismiss the idea as bunkum.

The fact is that ‘Going Dutch’ does mean having segregation everywhere! But there’s one fundamental caveat; The British assume segregation to mean ‘segregating cyclists from the road to ’improve traffic flow’ for motorised traffic’ whereas the Dutch mean ‘segregate motorised vehicles from people to improve movement for everyone’.

Jim will be elaborating on his many sensible ideas at our Better Streets event in November: join us for an entertaining and enlightening overview of the many hotly debated issues involved…