Category Archives: economic viability

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…

Confused approach to out of town retail: Government paying lip service to its own ideas, says high street ‘guru’ Portas

Last week in the press, headlines (albeit small ones) screamed: High street guru Mary Portas has blasted Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles in her fight to rescue the nation’s High Streets…

While the decision to make Portas the official ‘Queen of the High Street’ may have been a cynical stunt (why do we need a celebrity to enlighten us to what we already know? Sadly, because she gets her voice heard…), her policy suggestions (many provided by exhaustive consultant reports) were sound. In the future, she says, high streets could see a move away from retail.

But it transpires that Mary’s celebrity voice is not enough. Lately, Portas has accused the Government of paying little more than ‘lip service’ to the ideas she has put forward. She was highly critical of Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles recent support for the building of an 82,000 square foot supermarket on the seafront at Margate, one of the Portas Pilot towns chosen to be awarded a share of the Government’s high street innovation fund.

Access a selection of RUDI’s high street and town centre analysis

Portas has rightly said the Government needs to introduce clear policies and plans to save British high streets, describing them as the ‘heartbeats’ of each community, and claimed that more ‘joined-up thinking’ is needed. There certainly seems to be some confusion. Already this month, Communities secretary Eric Pickles has approved outline plans for a business park on the outskirts of Burbage in Leicestershire, after ruling that it would meet the need for office space in the area and would ‘not damage nearby town centres’.
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Paid in gold to lose weight in Dubai? Sure, because you can’t walk anywhere

I was listening to the radio the other day to a Dubai expat explaining how the state is paying residents in gold to lose weight. She chirpily said that we ‘drive everywhere, even to the neighbour, as there are no pavements and it’s really hard to walk….’

Why is road-centric planning creeping back up the UK agenda? Read our analysis on RUDI

I have lived in Dubai, and it is hard to walk in all but a few districts, even in the winter when heat is not an issue. The crazily looping fast freeways that slice up Dubai make a car a must-have. And although newer neighbourhoods are finally being planned with narrow shady streets and ‘walkable’ precincts, Dubai needs to realise that its growing obesity problem is planned right into its urban development policy: more malls, hotels and roads. But at least they can say that they are worth their (lost) wight in gold…

Urban food myths and moans: but we need to explore all the evidence

I’m an advocate of local food systems, and worked with CITIES to put together the Farming the City book which explores their potential, but I still believe we need to check out the arguments of the detractors, either so we can iron out problems and improve, or to tackle them on their misinformation. What is the opinion on these pieces from Spiked and SmartPlanet that, roughly speaking, take this view: ‘ ‘the available evidence convincingly demonstrates that long-distance trade and modern technologies have resulted in much greater food availability, lower prices, improved health and reduced environmental damage than if they had never materialised. Indeed, more trade and ever-improving technologies remain to this day the only proven ways to lift large numbers of people out of rural poverty and malnutrition.’

Agribusiness is greener than urban farming

When it comes to food, think global, act global

Local growth: we know what to do, so why don’t we do it?

As the date approaches (27 March 2013) for the National Planning Policy Framework to come into force, it transpires that councillors across the country are offering themselves for hire to property developers who are hoping to take advantage of the more relaxed post-NPPF regime.

Without a local plan, planning in the area will be determined in line with the NPPF’s much-heralded ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.

Local government politicians are trading on their inside knowledge of the planning system to receive fees of up to £20,000 for advice on how to get developments approved, according to the press.

This is just one instance of the mighty confusion brewing amongst local planning policy, especially as the first neighbourhood plan approval being broadly welcomed: but with provisos.

Steve Graham, Director of Civic Voice says: ‘Although this plan has gone through, Civic Voice can already see some referendums being extremely controversial. Other plans where significant site allocations may be required for housing or for particular development may prove to be more controversial. The real test for neighbourhood planning will come when being challenged by inappropriate development. We will then see what legal weight the plans have in practice’.

A High Court judge has already ruled that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) takes precedence over the Localism Act and out-of-date or incomplete local development plans.

Recent research by commercial property consultant GVA has revealed that the market is unable to deliver large scale housing schemes without greater support from the public sector.

With councils struggling to correct the gaping mismatch between resources, actual housing and growth need, planned housing and growth need, localism and other planning policy, surely something has to give.

Surely, as a sector, place-makers need to at least talk about this?

Those place pioneers and leaders that do think so are coming together in Newcastle on April 17 to explore real options and solutions for impact.

Do your own exploration with our selection of free RUDI content on these themes

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

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…