Placemaking must be framed by fairness and equity

In many ways it is not surprising that the business of creating good places to live has at its heart strong human rights ethics. What people ultimately want to do is create places that are not just pretty and functional but fair.

In the run up to United Nations Habitat conference on housing and sustainability (Habitat III), which will set the goals and pace for place making in developed and developing countries, the business of ethics is about the future of how we create inclusive and resilient public places and urban commons. It is about having a system whose sweet spot between economics, society and environment is equality. And, as the UN Habitat III preparation papers suggest, this ‘involves a systematic (re)distribution of the benefits of growth or development with the legal frameworks that ensure a level playing field’. This is especially true at a time when public spaces are becoming market commodities, replacing public with private and connected people and cities with divided people and cities.

Sat in the recent Future of Places conference, listening to speakers and attending workshops with companies, organisations, academics and individuals from all over the world, it yet again struck me that a key motivator for progressive placemakers is how we negotiate the participation of communities and individuals in the development of streets in the cities they live, work or play in. The evidence is also illustrated in the draft 11th goal for the 2016-2030 Sustainable Development Goals ‘to provide by 2030 universal access to universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green spaces and public spaces’.

This is not an easy goal to realise, but it can happen. Success lies in the art, form and process of participation and equally in protecting ordinary people’s human rights.

Whether they are trying to protect the rights to housing or challenging the loss of public and urban green space, written human rights are a safeguard for providing the rules and ethics of the genuine development of humane, smarter and greener cities. They are crucial to ensuring the inclusion of people and communities, who are often disenfranchised from placemaking.

‘Successful placemaking is based on a clear understanding that equity and rights are crucial for good governance’

Rights offer values and principles that recognise placemaking is not only about spaces. It is about embedding principles of engagement in the placemaking process that shape just decisions and actions in how places around and between buildings are developed and whom they are provided to. And it safeguards the central premise that any one from the 90 year old grandma, to the local entrepreneur, or the ten year old school girl need to be included in the process of making places.

Tackling the how we design, govern, own and live through the spaces we use is a fundamental part of effective, fair and long-term placemaking. And beyond the ethics of equitable placemaking, it means that in practice we all, especially those who are often disenfranchised, have a civil and political framework that best protects people and place.

Successful placemaking is based on a clear understanding that equity and rights are crucial for good governance and they come about by ensuring the three As: access to participation, access to information, and access to decision-making. This applies as much to a discussion on a local pocket park as it does to strategic thinking on global urbanisation.

There are few businesses, developers, local authorities, communities, architects or planners that will come to a table that is meant to create a neighbourhood prosperity and benefits for all if they already know that one group gets to make the final decision. Why? Because well-designed places and streets need to be co-created in a fair and equitable way. And if they are not, we end up making places people do not feel connected to, leaving space for higher rates of crime, segregation and the loss of economic vibrancy.

If we give a fig about people and the future then we need to hold on tightly to the ethos and practice of rights based equitable placemaking.



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9 years ago

OK, fine. But in a planning system which is increasingly centralised (‘localism’ in most of its forms being a shibboleth – although sometimes, when it comes to the provision of housing numbers this is not necessarily a bad thing) issues of participation and local democratic decision making are being jettisoned in favour of technocracy. The author should direct her views to George Osborne and see what he makes of “how we negotiate the participation” because, as a consummate politician focussed on the next election he clearly doesn’t “give a fig about people and the future”. The issue of ‘fairness’ is so hackneyed that Osborne can twist it to mean that it’s fair to shave inheritance tax while butchering tax credits. The author’s view of what’s fair isn’t a great feature of planning policy making at the moment IMHO.

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