This book, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) looks back at fifty years of community led design and planning practice. It is based on the premise that community engagement always creates better results than top down planning and design. That voting is not enough and proper democracy requires engagement and involvement in the decisions that are made. This is amply demonstrated by the times we live in and the results that follow from years of politicians ignoring the public, with Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK.
At the heart of the book is the concept of the “charrette” – an interactive, intensive dialogue between developers, planners and the local community, usually carried out over a small number of days with professional people helping the process rather than leading it – architects, engineers and planners “on hand” rather than “on top”. The process engages the inherent local knowledge that people who live in an area have and seeks to create a shared vision for how the area could be in the future. Creating “places” rather than more of the same!
The book includes twenty case studies of real life planning and design exercises across the globe that have used the charrette process, but including 11 British examples, ranging from Belfast’s Crumlin Road to the redevelopment of Alder Hay Children’s Hospital, which recently won the Civic Voice Design award. Each case study looks at the pre-cursors to the initiative (Foresight), the Vision and the outcomes (Hindsight). A further chapter looks at the overall lessons from the twenty case studies.
I find it rather surprising that no mention is made of “Planning for Real”, the example that most British planners would be familiar with but the process is much the same.
The book also includes an updated version of Shelley Arnstein’s “Ladder of Participation”. This described in ascending order the different levels of community engagement from information giving to dialogue, education, knowledge, deciding, managing, owning and self-developing at the top. Today in Coventry we seldom get to the first rung of the ladder, with little effort made to even tell people what is going on in the city. Long gone are the days of John McGuigan going round the city with his projector showing us plans for the ill-fated Jerde development.
Gone too are the days of Stella Manzie with her vision of engaging citizens in the future of the city though Area Co-ordination and Neighbourhood Management. We have even lost Ward Forums, that last vestige of the desire to tell people what the Council is up to!
Consider what a fantastic development could have been created at the canal side site that used to be the City Engineer’s depot if the community had been involved in designing it, instead of just selling it to a bulk housing developer. Perhaps it’s not too late to put the charrette process into use for the City Centre South development – the current scheme is dead in the water and we need a new vision for a city centre for the 21st century, now that major retailers won’t be leading things.
The book is 144 pages, well-illustrated with photographs and architect’s sketches and sells for £32 from the RIBA, Amazon and all good bookshops.