Letter to the Editor of the Guardian

guardian-logoThe feature on the Prince of Wales’ ‘big society’ role (Guardian 27 November) identified a set of opportunities, as well as risks, in the way a participatory democracy might take planning and design issues forward. There is clearly a need for more local participation and arguably less top-down direction from Whitehall, especially on matters of detail.

In our recent Academy of Urbanism Awards celebrating the best places in the UK, Ireland and continental Europe, many of the key winners, such as  Hebden Bridge and Tobermory Harbour, highlighted collaborative efforts of individuals and organisations working to create a positive place over a long period.  Public, private and voluntary players focused on the overall sense of place and vitality, and not narrowly on design or development aspects.

Our findings are that creating and nurturing great places and neighbourhoods is about much more than just design, embracing as it does events, activities, leisure and community facilities, and of course transport.

Having led Enquiry by Design engagement events myself, I know that we also need to employ a range of equally valid, but less intensive, approaches that can fit different community circumstances using a variety of facilitators, enablers and mediators. The Academy of Urbanism’s role includes sharing its members’ expertise on urban design, planning and architecture so we can all learn from successes and mistakes, both past and present.

We would do our communities a huge disservice to reduce things to a style spat between so called traditionalists and Will Alsop, or to promote a single methodology. Most communities do not want to be confronted by some stark ideological choice. They want grown up discussion about the future of their place, and trusted people to help them shape it.

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