In June 2014 KMA was engaged by Aberdeen City Council to facilitate the community engagement element of the Aberdeen city centre masterplan, to be prepared by a BDP-led consortium of international specialists. The work was one of the most intensive and closely scrutinised that we had been involved in.
The city centre was seen to have suffered from a lack of public and private investment in the recent past, especially Union Street. Retailers and consumers perceived a reduction in the quality of the retail offer, recognising a transition from once-prestigious department stores to more basic budget-focused brands. Union Street itself is heavily trafficked and the public realm would clearly benefit from some upgrading. Given the recent controversies surrounding the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens and Marischal Square, community interest was heightened and creative engagement needed to be a key component of the project.
Our response to the brief was to develop an open, constructive dialogue with the public, businesses and community groups, in order to generate positive synergies between different interests, such as residents, visitors and businesses. The engagement process also contributed an ongoing sequence of briefing stages for the design team.
The consultation was planned and staged in a progressive way over 6 months with key stages in September 2014, November 2014 and March – April 2015, providing participants with the opportunity to influence the emerging masterplan as it developed. This enabled contributors to be a central part of the process, contributing to an evolving vision and approach, as well as themes and objectives, rather than simply commenting on a finalised masterplan.
In addition to addressing the particular requirements of the city centre, the engagement methodology included a series of City Talks, which sought to share learning from other cities to help inform the debate about Aberdeen’s future. Eminent guest speakers were invited to share their experiences of city centre transformation in Gothenburg, Manchester and Calgary in order to stimulate ideas and provide a wider perspective and reference point. The feedback was that these talks extremely helpful and well received; more can be read on these talks here.
Over the course of the project, almost 3,200 participants helped frame the vision and goals, for instance for more than just development and retail, towards a much more people-friendly, distinctive place. At the second stage, the participants supported the key themes and objectives to a range between 46 – 68%, depending on the topic. When it eventually came to the detailed masterplan and specific projects, the support levels – from over 1500 responses – were in the range of 71 – 93%, which is extremely high given earlier controversies.
This was only possible by having a method of phased positive engagement, a responsive design team, and positive Council officer and member support, all helping to stimulate and translate ideas from the diverse Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire public.
The masterplan was unanimously backed by Aberdeen City Council in June 2015. The masterplan and all the background documentation has been made available on the City’s website.