Category Archives: design quality

Why is robust evidence a placemaking holy grail?

We hear a lot about informed decision-making in relation to place and movement. Yet this week, the press has been full of challenges to supposedly well-researched Government positions. There’s HS2: with the Institute of Directors (among others) now calling the proposal madness. There was the Virgin Rail challenge to the numbers underlying the East Coast line. Can’t we ‘do’ robust evidence, the way medical researchers do?

We’ll be addressing these issues in PLACEmaking 2013/14. Email us if you have any ideas or comments.

Urbanists have long been the poor relations in their quest to demonstrate, and communicate, the value of investment in the urban realm: As John Dales writes in our sister publication Local Transport Today: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts; and what really counts can often not be counted’. Funding for urban realm and public space improvements has long been justified as an ‘add on’ to the hard case of transport investment. As Martina Juvara of SKM says: ‘We need to create a connection between the policy aspirations (by definition broad and flexible) and the hard justification of transport investment, strictly based on demand forecasts and transport efficiency, and to ‘speak multiple languages’ until a common ground of shared objectives is identified and supported by all parties, finding transport justifications for urban design improvements, and an economic and delivery framework for place-making.’

There is, thankfully, a growing realisation that the ‘value’ of key elements such as smarter travel, links between place, movement and investment potential, and the quality of the urban realm must be taken into consideration of we are to create places that people like, and that are resilient to ongoing change. The UK Government’s recent reports on road transport, however, seem to fly in the face of taking such an holistic approach. Where will it end? Here’s sample of some RUDI content on these issues to set the scene. Let us know what you think…

Infrastructure to be fast tracked: why not housing and mixed use?

The Growth and Infrastructure Bill, currently plodding going through Parliament, had a second reading this week. The planning lobbyists and press are beginning to why mixed-use projects, including major residential or retail schemes, offices, factories, warehouses, and conference and exhibition centres (measuring more than 40,000 square metres) cannot also choose the fast-track system if the so wish.

The RTPI has suggested that the fast track list should include housing, provided it is part of a mixed-use scheme. If the Government is so keen to boost housing, why are these schemes excluded from fast tracking?

For example,says the RTPI, developments including ‘substantial volumes of housing’, such as King’s Cross regeneration scheme, could be good examples of schemes that have ‘achieved substantial regeneration but only with the inclusion of a major housing element’.

With the current confusion surrounding ways to boost the delivery of new communities, isn’t this worth a look?

Kick-starting a housing design and delivery revolution


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 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

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 and

Creating the streets we want…

Back when started out, few people were ever heard discussing street use and town planning in public. Yet today, the state of our streets, our high streets, our town centres and our communities in general seems rarely to be out of the news or out of the pub.

Perhaps the promise of localism, along with the dire job the so-called professionals seem to be doing, has inspired us to have a go. After all, we can’t do any worse, surely?? It is in this spirit that has bravely undertaken to make sure that its event in November, Better Streets – what really works, will candidly dig through the myths and fluff and sacred cows of street design and explore what is good and what is not – and yes, that means that you can come along and have a say! There are always places available at our events for informed and interested volunteers, campaigners and community groups: contact us on [email protected] to find out more…

‘Planning in England is being so thoroughly gutted that it is, in effect, being shut down altogether’

So says George Monbiot, as the row and banderblast over the new draft planning framework and its ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ (a presumption without a definition) continues to rumble. ‘If councils aren’t given proper guidance about sustainable development how can they encourage the type of schemes that should be built – and refuse to allow those that shouldn’t?’ asks Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director for Friends of the Earth. A very, very good question.
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Designers take note: public are voting with their feet and voices for their favourite streets…

As the importance, and understanding, of placemaking rises alongside the rise of localism, the public are getting increasingly involved in their streetscapes and how they work. This week, the BBC reported that the UK’s favourite street, at least according to BBC listeners, is Gloucester Street close to the an area known as the People’s Republic of Stoke’s Cross, a Community Interest Company dedicated to preserving the unique spirit of quirky independence that makes the area so beloved to locals. What makes Gloucester Street so special, says Elizabeth Winkler of the People’s Republic of Stoke’s Cross, is the look and feel of the many independent shops on the high street; the stock, the painted facades, the innovation.

Watch other RUDI’s videos on great integrated streets

Many of these issues will be explored in a RUDI-supported event on 29 November in London about shared public spaces, which will re-visit and explore many of urban design’s ‘sacred cows’: is integration is better than segregation, and what mix of uses works best for our streets?…. Continue reading

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

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