Words by Young Urbanists
Annual Congress X – Health, Happiness & Wellbeing:
The Seven Pillars of Well-being, Prof Peter Roberts – Vice-Chairman, Northern Ireland Housing Executive
Prof Roberts talked about the principles and thinking behind achieving a healthy place through sustainable place-making, and how this has been implemented in Northern Ireland.
Birmingham is a good place for this meeting as it is easy to forget sometimes that the approaches we take for granted – public waterways, for example – were ground-breaking ideas promoted by Joseph Chamberlain when he was in charge of this city. For Prof Roberts, Chamberlain was a Ken Livingstone of his day – he put into practice a revolutionary way of thinking. Nowadays, issues are put into silos – we don’t deal with places in England holistically. We slice issues and create health and wellbeing boards, which only further the disconnectedness between providers and government. We are offered the health and wellbeing equivalent of McDonald’s: everyone gets the same rubbish. We must not fall into this trap.
There needs to be a shift away from the idea that we can ‘fix a place’, as we have seen that it doesn’t work. People like Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Geddes pioneered a concept of regional places and regional design. The UN habitat Program is currently taking a similar approach. There is a sustainable formula appearing which includes both equity and response to environmental progress. We need to pay more attention to inter-generational equity – we tend to segregate people by age groups. Hugh Barton AoU and his colleagues have been dealing with these issues for many years, creating a Health Map – people are the centre of the model not the artifact. Why is a sustainable place important? It recognises that people do not live in departmental locations and silos but they are holistic. This is one of the big problems for governments – ‘people are a bit of nuisance’. Railway studies are an example of where the real problem often is quoted as ‘too many people using the trains’. People are very irrational, in macroeconomics you have to deal with this reality – people make different choices. Sustainable development brings together all series of factors. You need to think over time, not only spatially. You cannot think just one or two dimensionally.
In Northern Ireland we are trying to not work in silos – from 26 councils, we have reduced to 11. They keep a link with lots of agencies bringing together different elements of intervention. Similarly to Chamberlain, we think is not people’s fault, it is in fact poor design – the living environment is important not only cost wise. We bring together elements of place shaping and place managing. They think it is not about regeneration but management of places in the TCPA. They work around the Seven Pillars – such as long-term thinking, social dimension, places as a whole, economic development, and more. There are plenty of case studies we have researched – Dundee Partnership, Bristol SHINE project, Krowseley Park, Bluebell Park, Central Lincolnshire Joint Core Strategy. In the Kirklees Economic strategy, we consider places as a whole while Manchester shows a bottom-up approach of integrated planning and management. Public Health England shows how using NHS money we can create places where you emphasise healthy people. The idea of ‘do what you know about’ is relevant as local issues can impose different parameters on evidence-based case studies. We try to engage with other professions and measure our influence, understand policy and interact between planners and architects. Aneurin Bevan was (UK) minister of Health and Housing who almost refused the portfolio unless the two elements were joined up. There is a need to return to the principle of thinking jointly about issues and to look at places holistically.