Category Archives: Uncategorized

Resilience and regeneration: ‘resilience’ may be a sharper placemaking policy focus than the wider concept of sustainability

Many place-focused professionals, notably economists from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, are suggesting that ‘resilience’ may be a sharper placemaking policy focus than the wider concept of sustainability. New insight and evidence is coming from each sector of the complex network of disciplines involved in making better places, and one thing is alarmingly clear: that if we don’t get more effective at working together then progress may be limited.

We need the social scientists and planners working on changing behaviour patterns, very difficult to pin down in terms of hard evidence, to be listened to by those tasked with investing in our transit systems. We have some useful strategies and theories of placemaking could and should deliver, but good placemaking is messy. We need to go the extra mile and involve and represent all sections of the community. Involvement and buy-in and the ability to have imapct on your own environment is the key to building resilience.

The upcoming Future of CIties Forum in September 2013 is bringing together just the right kind of mix, including RUDI team members, to really get ‘down and dirty’ in pushing the collaborative agenda forward.

Read mote about the Forum on RUDI. Here’s an extract…

‘Transforming urban infrastructure into regenerative systems consequently requires an integrated approach, coordinated action and policy dialogue. It requires straddling the public, private and civil society spheres as well as a cross-sectoral approach among authorities. While urban planning used to be the exclusive realm of specialised experts, today public participation is understood as a prerequisite in transformation processes. Multi-stakeholder dialogues that ensure representation of a diversity of voices from those concerned in the development process are therefore inevitable.’

Citywash: what can the smart city offer us?

No blog is complete this month without creative comment on smart cities.
But separating the wheat from the chaff is getting complex. Two blogs this week outline the where
Paul Bevan from Eurocities argues that people have to come first, as does Rick Robinson, the Urban Technologist, who has blooged about his Smarter City myths and misconceptions. But focusing on the technology is unnerving some researchers who feel that cities are outsourcing their brains…

Better housing development, better placemaking and better community outcomes

Ugly rubbish: that’s what planning minister Nick Boles called most modern housing designs a few weeks back. But there are more important concerns too: Chris Brown from developer Igloo summed up housing issues nicely on his blog recently: ‘There is huge consensus that we need more homes and (with the exception of some, but not all, house builders) that they should be better designed. There is not yet consensus that this is more about the money than the planning system, or about where these homes need to be built. But perhaps if we can achieve a consensus that design quality is best determined by neighbourhood design panels and custom builders, and that we need to shift the basis of competition in house building to favour design quality, then we can focus on the real challenge of delivery.’

That’s exactly what we at RUDI, along with our partners, are aiming to do with our Start Small, Think Big initiative. We’re exploring new housing supply and delivery options in the context of a plot-based approach to placemaking.

Nick Boles picked up on the understanding that design quality is key to reducing the resistance many local communities feel towards new housing development, says Brown. ‘Housing isn’t just an Englishman’s castle, it is also the background against which we all live our lives and it affects our happiness and well-being.’

The planning system has proved itself excruciatingly poor at making such decisions, adds Brown. This perhaps is the biggest recommendation for delivering more, and better, housing. Create the environment where a custom build approach, with multiple home manufacturers customising homes on individual plots on each site, is the norm – as it is in most of the rest of the world.

People who design their own homes either individually or in groups, seem to achieve a vastly higher quality of design, of both homes and the spaces around them, than volume house builders, he says. Where these people are also from the local community their neighbours are also likely to be much happier with the result, and much more likely to encourage new development.

‘And this doesn’t just apply to those who can afford to buy their own homes. This approach is fundamental to organisations like Community Land Trusts (CLTs) where local people work together to deliver affordable housing for themselves and their neighbours. We should, advises Brown, seriously consider the statistics that show that small (2000 – 5000 home), neighbourhood-concentrated, housing associations outperform their larger rivals on service quality, along with the possibility that  CLTs might produce a better development, better placemaking and a better community outcome.

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…

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

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…

Big issues: how do we share our streets equitably?

Streets are, by definition, about a great deal more than the movement of motor vehicles; and that ‘great deal more’ mustn’t be confined just to the pedestrian environment. More equitable sharing, says John Dales, might mean reducing traffic speeds and/or volumes; it might mean separate cycle tracks; it might mean new bus lanes; it might mean pedestrianisation; it might mean a complex mix of many changes. But, whatever any given street needs, it’s less likely to get it if one user group simply trades insults with another.

How can you understand different perspectives better and work out how the streets you care for can be better shared? Well, you could do worse than attend (or follow on Twitter) the monthly Street Talks organised by the Movement for Liveable London. I’d also strongly advise you to put the next LTT Better Streets Conference in your diary now: Tuesday 29th November. See you there?

Are we vulnerable to speculation (again) under a new planning system?

There has been much comment lately on the potential impacts of changes to the planning system due to come into force by April next year – the point at which the new measures in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) come into play (see some of the latest developments on RUDI.net).

It has been widely reported in the press that developers are lining up to take advantage of the new presumption in favour of development…a report in Building claimed that it has spoken to lawyers who estimate that as many as 95 per cent of councils will be vulnerable to speculative applications.

The Guardian is also concerned: The coalition has announced plans to hack back the ‘thicket’ of planning regulations that, at the moment, govern construction in the UK, ity suggests, heralding a development free-for-all, and Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. ‘The proposals would encourage decision takers at every level to assume that the default answer to development proposals is yes’. So, placemakers, what is to be done before we have no option other than to ‘look back in anger’ at what we have allowed to happen? How can we balance necessary development with the creation of quality places for people? Tell us what’s going on out there…surely it can’t be all doom and gloom? Continue reading

What happened to the reality of integrated transport and land use planning?

As reported by RUDI.net’s sister organisation TransportXtra, major changes to transport and land-use policy in England are set to be signalled by the Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Environmental groups and transport planners are already voicing fears about the transport implications of the document’s pro-growth emphasis which is based on a framework set, says worried planners, to open the door for car-based development.

‘The document overall is a manifesto for sprawl and congestion, rather than supporting the creation of sustainable communities,” said the Campaign for Better Transport. ‘It will be very difficult to turn down a planning application that results in higher traffic levels and congestion.

And with groups such as pteg releasing reports (see the RUDI news pages) that ‘set out the stark choices ahead in new planning reforms on whether transport and land use planning will be integrated or fragmented’, is there something going on here that we should be getting really concerned about? Continue reading