Here & Now 9: Who knows best?


1. Welcome
2. Editorial

8. Smarter urbanisation for valuing local capital
Should the AoU make more room for quantitative data? Asks Nicholas Falk AoU

11. Foresight for cities
Eleri Jones AoU and Rachel Cooper AoU report on the government’s long-term thinking on cities

14. A mug’s guide to place leadership
Stuart Gulliver lays out his top tips

17. Heart in the Right Street – beauty, happiness and health in designing the modern city
Nicholas Boys Smith AoU offers a glimpse of Create Streets’ new report

20. Lux LED!
By all means light up your cities, but do it tastefully and respectfully, argues Steven Bee AoU

22. From San Sebastián to the world: a journey through culture
Mayor Eneko Goia reflects on his city’s year in the limelight

26. Living Danishly: Interview with Aarhus City Mayor
James Gross AoU interviews Jacob Bundsgaard

30. People take back control in Puerto Rico
Line Algoed on community land trusts that have transformed informal settlements

34. From Occupy to occupation
Kathryn Firth AoU speaks to some young practices making urbanism more democratic

37. Making space for children and young people in placemaking
Our future but also our present; Sophia de Sousa AoU and Louise Dredge

40. Localism and the battle over sites
Tim White on the issues affecting Gypsy and Traveller site provision

43. Square pegs and round holes
Can academia engage with its community? Lucy Montague AoU reports

46. Does the community always know best?
Simon Bayliss AoU on his up and down experience of engagement

56. Bottom-up planning
Urban idiocy: Brilliant but flawed ideas for the city

58. Book Review: Rethinking Masterplanning

59. My own view is…Give to get
John Worthington on the power of generosity


When did people get so angry?

Those of us who engage with the tricky business of public consultation will have noticed a change in recent years. Running a workshop or charrette, or even just standing next to exhibition boards, has always included an element of risk and we all have stories to tell and scars to show. At URBED – my day-job – our nadir was a public meeting of 400 angry people in Rochdale where we did at one point fear for our safety. However this level of anger has multiplied in the age of social media and it is no longer just the result of professionals getting things wrong (as we did in Kirkholt – sorry about that).

Today even proposals that should be relatively uncontentious can blow up into a major confrontation. A handful of objectors who might have been disruptive but outnumbered in a workshop can now set up a Facebook page that quickly becomes a focus for opposition. This opposition is fuelled by posts to the site, some of which are simply untrue, but all of which are unmediated by the sort of human interaction that you get in face-to-face consultation. Pretty soon you have a baying mob who have written off your carefully designed sensitive piece of urbanism as the work of greedy capitalist developers and their metropolitan elite designers (those jeans aren’t fooling anyone!).

This may not be on the scale of Brexit or Trump but it is part of the same process and it asks difficult questions of The Academy of Urbanism. We were going to call this issue ‘does the community always know best?’ but opted for the slightly less contentious ‘who knows best?’ Nevertheless, in a world where certain voices are amplified in the echo chamber of social media while others are drowned out, it is a question that we need to ask.

In many of our discussions about urbanism the Academy can sometimes retreat to rather glib responses that suggest that all we need to do is ask the community. We should be co-creating places with the communities that live and work there, who are the real place experts. This is something that the Academy still believes and which is explored in a number of articles in this issue. But, as the articles suggest, we should not pretend that this is easy, or doesn’t sometimes involve disagreements and difficult choices. As those of us who are consultants know, just as our clients sometimes get things wrong, so do the communities that we work with. The response to both needs to be framed with equal care and probably isn’t going to happen via the internet.

People may have become angrier and consultation and participation may have become more difficult but it is more important than ever. We shouldn’t allow this anger to persuade us to farm out consultation to community relations consultants or to close down dialogue for fear of a backlash. In my experience we need to engage with social media to counter ‘fake news’, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, a discussion bestrewn with humans who may disagree but are still willing to engage and to understand each other’s view. Hopefully this issue of Here & Now gives some pointers to how we might continue to do this.

David Rudlin AoU


I wrote the first draft of this editorial the morning after the London Bridge Borough Market terrorist attack. Most of us will have watched in horror the television pictures and eyewitness accounts. Our heartfelt sympathy and thoughts going to the victims and their families and friends.

Yet again safety and security on our streets is under the spotlight. This was the third attack in Britain in as many months and the second which targeted people on our streets. Let us also not forget Nice. People are justifiably concerned about how to make places safer. The streets, market places and squares form the arteries of towns and cities and we as urbanists must continue to reappraise how we can contribute to making and keeping these valuable spaces safe.

While this edition of the Journal does not specifically cover safe places, the issues discussed will relate.

In My own view…“Give to get” John Worthington MBE AoU makes an apposite point “Generosity distinguishes collaborative urbanists and successful cities.” He notes the shift in public disquiet towards the integrity of our political systems 10 years on from the global financial crisis. Civil society, he argues has an important role to play in improving livelihoods by working collaboratively.

Separately, Eleri Jones AoU and Rachel Cooper OBE AoU reflect on how the UK Government Foresight project on the Future of Cities can offer a way forward through engagement.

Effective place leadership is key argues Stuart Gulliver, former chief executive of the Glasgow Development Agency. Although his piece focuses on development projects, the four underpinning principles are more widely applicable, from choosing the right people in the development team, creating a delivery culture, project passion and visits to other similar projects.

But how can we know whether all this will lead to better places? The empirical evidence-base for links between urban form, design and wellbeing as Nicholas Boys Smith AoU points out is developing as he looks at correlations between elements of built form and measurable wellbeing. It may be intuitively obvious that scale, greenery and well-connected streets are important, but it’s nice to have the empirical evidence to say so. Indeed, perhaps such evidence might answer Nicholas Falk AoU’s invitation to use quantitative data to support the qualitative assessments of places that the Academy carries out, in his review of the AoU’s latest publication Urbanism.

Alastair Blyth AoU

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