This blog piece was partially inspired by another blog post written by Peter Mathews, a lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Stirling. For me, his words and insight, prompted me to summarise my journey towards my decision, and, to give folks a flavour of the aftermath I experience right now.

Before reading my blog post, you must read Peter’s first. Hopefully you will see in his excellent article, why it compelled me to respond to him, and then to post my response onto my own site. Here is the link to Peter’s blog:



NO THANKS! (reluctantly)

And here is my journey:

Thankyou for this. I was searching for this. I could not agree more with everything Peter has said. I found what he says and captures, echos my journey.
Like Peter to an extent, I too have background in history (Scots) and degree in social policy. I started as an instinctive No, left it on the shelf for a while. I then knew I owed it to my fellow Scots and our UK, to research, to think, to keep my heid, to see through the jingoism and pundits of both camps, and then I gave myself a deadline of 1 week prior to the day. As I set myself the deadline, I found myself drifting to the YES. I then drifted, hard, to the YES, even going to a campaign rally in Glasgow to see Sturgeon. I wanted to see it and smell it. I felt lost. Because that is where the BT were. Anyway, I shook Sturgeon’s hand. She leant over and kissed my cheek. I went home and felt good I had seen it. But…

As I moved from a passive bystander on Twitter, (I deliberately stayed off FB – not wanting to bother my ‘friends’ with my ramblings) to a Yes, I wanted it out there, I then got the bashing. The bashing that I could be YES and still extoil the wonders of what makes us Scottish and British. Of the many thousands that fought and died as Scots part of the Union. I could not believe it. I was hurt. I was so hurt. I then realised something very important about myself: that I should have stuck with my instincts. They were right all along. You see, I learned that I had already gave so much thought to who, we, Scotland are as a nation: where we had come from is as important as knowing where we are going. I switched before GB made that ‘finest hour’ speech. After watching it, I realised I was, and had been, a NO all along. I flirted with Yes, but I didn’t want a relationship with them. I had the choice of a one night stand and I enjoyed it – but only for a few hours. I realised if Scotland is so great (which she is – and so is the UK), then we ought to go bigger. Be more ambitious. More progressive. I cried when I switched. I cried because I know I had to deal with the Yes taunts – if – I was going to come out as a No on my FB.

Armed with the knowledge of the ill informed Yes camp and their claim to represent all Scots, I decided to do my little research study. This is when a Scots history degree comes in well handy ;). I got ready. I looked out my Saltire flag, stringed a bootlace in the holes, and tied it around my neck like a Caledonian Fairy ready to cast her spell to the wind. I thought, hey, if there are millions voting today, I’d like to be noticed! So, I drove down, my flag getting caught in the shuffles of my steps as I warily entered the Govan polling station (a beautiful new school campus built under a Labour government).

As I entered the civic space outside, a group of YES canvassers approached my steps and exclaimed, with delight and victory in their eyes, ‘Oh, well, we don’t need to worry about who you’re voting, well done’. I just looked, walked past them, but as I did, I saw the young policeman who was guarding the entrance, look at me, as if expecting me to respond. He and I just gave a nod to each other.

It took me a while to actually put my cross down. The staff were there. We had a mini national conversation! They were only to keen to hear snippets of my journey, as I wanted to give them it, they had no choice! but I didn’t declare. I got emotional when I held the paper and they saw it. They said so many did the same. I exclaimed, ‘it is an honour and a privelege to vote’. They agreed. I took a deep breath and went into the booth. I looked at the paper in almost awe. A sense of overwhelm came over me. I had made my decision. Quick. Mark your cross I remember thinking. Don’t waste time or you’ll do the wrong thing. I marked it in the No box.

On leaving the hall, and going outside, I remember wanting to mingle, to loom at the paraphanelia of an Independence vote polling station. My nerdyness was curious. But what I was really doing, was really hoping to delay what I knew all along was going to be confirmed, that I hoped I would be wrong about: that the YES would congratulate me. But what were they congratulating on, hopefully, just for voting. But no.
As I nodded to the young policeman, I set about walking past them fast, praying they would not say, what I knew they would say, and what I really hoped they wouldn’t because I knew how I would respond:

‘Thanks, so many thanks, thank you, thank you’.

I said as I walked past, ‘Thanks, but the Saltire does not belong to you, it belongs to me and Scotland, No Thanks’.

I left, heavy in heart, as I looked back at their faces, staring at me, in disbelief. I didn’t want to say it. After all this was only a week after I sat outside drinking a coffee with my sister in a Shawlands cafe turned on by the Yes rally we had just been too: my 7 yr old son running up and down the street waving his Saltire flag.

And so, I remained away from FB until the day dawned and the result was in. I knew the hearts were broken. I kept quiet. I conveyed a view of impartiality and of looking forward and being positive. Because what Scotland had achieved was bigger than independence.

Peter Mathew’s article sums the Reluctant No voter up. I have found the whole process brilliant but like him, disappointed. It has been great. Scotland loves an audience. We thrive on being told, ‘keep it civil folks’, ‘do us proud’. Both camps, to an extent, complied – just.

Finally, today, as the Shipyards voted No, and as I drink another coffee from my flat that overlooks them, the Orange Walk has just banged their bass drums, some playing Rule Britannia. Others, with the Saltire and Union Jack in equal first place at the front carried by the banner boy. It made me realise my choice was right. Scotland must sort its own house first, before we portend to the world we are where we want to be, that Scandinavian model that so many of us aspire and indeed, recognise.

But my heart knows we are not there. I also know that Scotland has what it takes to deliver something much bigger and which addresses all that is wrong with the UK.

I am glad of my contribution. What I cannot come to terms with is the astounding accusations I have faced from people on FB. ‘you abandoned us’, ‘you support our imperialist overlords’ ‘you traitor’ ‘you are not a patriot’. ‘thanks for leaving 1 in 4 children in poverty in Glasgow’. Twitter feeds from old colleagues who I know despise my views. What they conveniently forget, is that my whole life has been about helping the disadvantaged. But I know no known cure for poverty. Noone does and if I did, I would be a bulti-trillionaire the world over. Why do I stand accused of this? It is this ignorance that divides us, not the Nos in their selection. And they seem utterly oblivious to the Nos reasoning. Like they just want want want all the time and attack attack attack. They have been left wanting. And blame is the game.

Funny. I learned about all this in my degree. What is amazing is that I now have first hand experience of living in the time to have actually been part of it.

But I am steadfast. I feel more confident than ever that I know quite a lot about history, but only a little something about politics. But combined, I felt I made the right decision for Scotland, for now anyway. And it was the right decision as a woman, as a single parent who has just got on her feet after cancer, after divorce, after court battles. We all have our reasons.

Scotland will become independent. Just not now. 10-15 years? Who knows. By then I hope more Scots will take the time to understand the No voters, who in fact are, almost half of them I’d say, reluctant No voters for the time being.

Planning for Outcomes

I am worried about outcomes as both the barometer and the benchmark for basing and measuring success. Is this a question of semantics here: the challenge of planning as activity or the challenge for planning’s contribution. If there is one thing we ought to learn, is that our measures and thus indicators are only as good as the inputs that we devise. Garbage in, garbage out as any statistician would argue. Specifically, this shift towards an outcome-based approach is certainly not new if we look not too far back in history. We had to measure outputs/measured against the amount of the inputs (e.g. success was measured by how many were coming in through the door regardless of the end state) whereas outcomes focuses on the desired end state, (a resilient place, a liveable place etc) which is different to outputs: what was the resultant end state, without knowing or at least taking cognisance of where in the process or line of activity the attributory and contributory factors to that state was/were. Confusion can often arise in the failure to adequately understand the distinction between these terms and so the selection of measures (what is it we want to know/test: how liveable?) and then indicators of these measures (often have to be derived and subject to what can be measured/is available/data needs and limitations: what is liveable?) become crucial if we are to assess planning’s contribution, and more importantly, challenge. Not withstanding my reluctance to spoil the party, the strategic/local spatial focus will pose significant challenges to how we ‘backcast’, from outcome, to indicator, to policy. My fear is that where outcomes are not achieved, apportion of blame ensues in any given spatial context, that is, the place, rather than the wider structural mechanisms at play, and that could be global/regional/metropolitan level. That is, the place-based approach and the outcomes-focused conjoined is an acceptance that because the ‘problem’ lies within the area, then the solution also lies within the area. But when outcomes are not achieved, the failure also rests with that area and not beyond it. Where does this leave process justice if outcomes is the turn? I allude to this here because I feel this is important.
Given the global context, the geographic scale at which places are best prepared for and can adapt to these different problems present ambitious challenges for policymakers across the spectrum of disciplines and specialisms. In efforts to counteract the social, spatial and physical manifestation these problems (or challenges), invite, these efforts are significant to a place context because they serve to underline the importance of local circumstances in gauging how places can respond positively to change, how places are enabled to respond, and the nature of the interventions these responses will acquire in and over time. From a policy perspective, Scotland’s existing economic, planning, and regeneration activity and policy contexts shows the growing attachment to the importance of place. These interdependent domains which underpin place as something we make, as something we create and as something we sustain therefore, appeals to the need for a more holistic, collaborative policy agenda (and indeed, skills), approach to continue the momentum of placemaking as place policy at any and every level: both strategic and local not strategic versus local. Can planning eek its out its place by making its contribution and deliver the outcomes? I think it can and will. It can be the coordinating vehicle and the galviniser. But it needs resourced, funded and supported to make its rightful contribution. And I’m not even a planner. I’ve maybe opened the closet though…

Places Do Need Leaders: the impending Scottish Government’s Architecture and Placemaking Policy

The first days of school are often the best

The first days of school are often the best: where leadership is derived and nurtured

d304 golspie street_17483 et9

The Scottish Government are about to publish their policy statement on the impending architecture and place-making policy. It’s been a long time coming. I’m writing today in response to a though-provoking blog by Craig McLaren, National Director of the RTPI here in Scotland, where he argues for the need for the importance of placemaking and design to go beyond the usual: the housebuilders, the developers and the politicians. I agree with much of what Craig sets out and wanted to add my general thoughts, from a professional and personal perspective and where I feel we are in the debate and progress. So, this blog is more an addition, but is also a bit of a whine…

What we need is employment drives, full on to give young grads, young policy professionals and planners, designers, social and public welfare grads, the chance to develop by giving them some hope that their talent is needed. Planning, development and the design of great places is also about welfare of place and people. Time is needed to allow people to occupy and use space in a place. Is it not the case that often the greatest places in Europe just happen to have more generous welfare, particularly in relation to the support of family policies and working mothers for instance? In terms of the new planners, designers and urbanists who want to shape places, the problem is not in attracting them, they are already attracted through genuine passion and desire to offer, but giving them a sense and purpose that they are valued, are an asset and are not only needed for our future, but are essential for the future development of places. By not doing that, we run the risk of the same old ideas, and to some extent, approaches to tackling the design of place challenges with disparate professional competencies that do not serve the imperative to link up the need for a whole place approach to places: planning needs good design and designers, good design and designers need to understand planning as the delivery, not the obstacle, and delivery of a great idea for a place, a vision, is key to ensuring leadership will be fermented, championed and supported throughout from inception, to plan, to delivery of great places. And it is more than that. It is about influence and charisma, to get buy in for the idea, an idea about what a good high quality place is: the development of great and not mediocre places is more than win-win in development economics, it is about long term thinking of how a place can sustain and be re-invested in, over time by the commercial interests, by the residents and by the public agencies. Resilient places take time, care, nurture and stewardship from beginning to end – if there is ever an end. Everyone with a stake in a place, needs to know what good design looks like, feels like. Excellent, high quality places will pay for themselves – in the long run. But where do these new, fresh talents go? They go elsewhere to other professions, they retrain, they leave the country. 6800_places-need-leaders-part-1-summary6801. We lose them. Can we have an academy of place-making here in Scotland? Why not? Let’s train our new generation of graduates in the multi-competencies that great places need to be successful. There is a mismatch, somewhere along the line, that doesn’t bore well for the reconstruction of place. That is my concern. We need to listen more.

photo 5Brain drain is talent lost, and it’s that talent that could collectively challenge, stand up and be willing to overwrite the mediocre thinking that besets public offices. Why, when much regeneration and investment over the previous decades do we find lessons not being learned? Is this about development control rather than development management? Why do we find so much new development that still seems to ignore great design of what makes places work, thrive and attractive? Is it the case that there are too many professionals who seek only to take the monthly salary, but with little desire to do more than the minimum possible for as much as possible because too many see it as too much work (and perhaps justifiably?) to champion and influence over and beyond the 9-5. Ideas and creative thinking is feared, rejected and played out as if one is stupid, unrealistic or naive. When one has great ideas, is one is often thought of as ‘mad’ which I suppose is better than appearing ‘stupid’. It’s that mindset and attitude that dilutes the confidence needed. And isn’t it the case that so many of us have been banging on about being honest, about the need to ‘admit it’, to ‘get violent’ about and in discussion? Tick box, take the salary, and I’m alright prevails. And back scratching. Where I go, its the same faces, great people doing great work but often confined to their silos, to meet the criteria, the tick-box culture of getting things done, and done on time, to budget, to policy. 

If we think about the UK high street and decline of viability and vibrancy in a place context, we have towns conferences, skills development, seminars and the like, and noone from community development management is there. They are principal in the story if community empowerment for e.g. is to be the vehicle to realise change and ownership of high streets and assets. Nobody from youth clubs. Nobody from artists groups who work with pre-school, teenagers etc or who represent those of us who use our streets, buildings, daily in the community. Sorry, but if I am becoming disheartened by it all, what are the ordinary feeling? And it is about feeling, attachment to and development of places is more than family or kinship ties, it’s much more. These are the people we need as these are the ones that can offer the prescription and challenge the type of medicine that is offered. And I would go beyond the developers, the house builders and the like: the usual suspects. It’s more than politicians and political support. It’s endemic: we all have a stake now and for the future of places. I recall an old Native American proverb:  We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. 6801_places-need-leaders-part-2-places-and-leaders

photo 4

And it stinks when you have an artist practically begging me that he represents 50 artists who are desperate to get into an old building, any old building to inspire them, to create, to produce, for example, to see if I can help. They go through the traditional channels and its the usual story they face. Yet, everywhere I look I see empty premises, boarded up, abandoned and disconnected from the place. Communities get behind those that want to be in a place, even if there is only a little opportunity or inspiration to be had. It is like beads on a string. It connects up eventually at the end and it is kept in place because there is a pathway. We have yet to understand that, or should I say, a lot of so-called professionals and politicians have. We must guide the ordinary to get to the exceptional, the best and that the ordinary will flourish and pay for and re-invest itself, slowly, but it will. We don’t do slow. We want returns quick. This is another issue…I sound frustrated…maybe I am.

But it’s difficult not to. I met a ‘civic officer’ whom I’ll be training with for a marathon the other night in my local public gym and he argued the same story that I’ve been hearing from others in my community. We are being let down. 6802_places-need-leaders-part-3-better-leadership.

For far too long, we put up with, and accept, filthy streets, filthy, poor street furniture, abandoned roads



vements, under-used buildings, invisible public spaces, a Police service that won’t respond to calls of theft and damage, trees are cut down (for health and safety reasons), and we monoblock the space, and it goes on and on and on….! The pendulum needs a VERY strong wind to swing it back the other way: an environment that is not bereft of the qualities that allow people to be social, to be safe, to enjoy, and to live in harmony with their surroundings; but most of all, with each 3

And I’ve decided I am frustrated. Having been invited to attend public meetings in my local area only 6 weeks ago, I was waiting to get the email, the follow-up from people who seemed really keen to get me on board. I’ve waited. So I email the person, and, yes, there is a meeting this week. I mean, I sent them my CV just so they could see how I could help my local community; I said I was on board, but no-one seemed to get back to me, despite their enthusiasm, despite my enthusiasm…and herein lies the problem. There is plenty of goodwill, plenty of actors, but noone is directing the play or the stage. We need the stage to direct and put on the performance because without the stage there is no performance – and no play, and no audience that wants to come along with us.

FOI on the High Street

Originally posted on Stirlingretail:

I must have been one of the very first people to use the Freedom of Information Act, submitting my request to the Cabinet Office on the very first day possible. OK, it took me several years and a ruling from the Information Commissioner after appeal to get the information I wanted, but we got there in the end.

I was trying to track down details of a curious meeting between government and Wal-Mart, ahead of the latter bidding for Asda. This meeting was the subject of obfuscation, mis-leading information and denial – including to Parliament – and it is difficult to see why or what people felt they had to hide. The full story is told in a subsequent Environment and Planning A article “When Tony met Bobby” available from our depository.

I recall this as last week my interest was piqued by the use of the FOI Act…

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Britain’s housing crisis is deepening

Originally posted on Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate blog:

professor glen bramleyBritain’s housing crisis appears to be deepening, and attracting widespread comment in the media. Professor Glen Bramley, Director of IHURER, explains what policies could promote greater housing supply.

Britain has a serious housing shortage. My colleague Colin Jones blogged on this topic a few weeks ago. This week I had the opportunity to speak at a seminar in Bristol, sponsored by the South West Observatory, on planning for new housing, sharing a platform with among others the Minister for Planning and the newly elected Mayor of Bristol.

Bristol and the South West of England generally are in the front line of this hot issue. As someone who previously lived in Bristol for 21 years and has undertaken a number of studies of housing markets and housing needs in this region, I feel moved to offer some comments. You can find my presentation here.

In my opening contribution to this…

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Proceedings of Scotland’s Towns Conference 2012: Creating New Stories for Scotland’s Towns… (Wednesday 7th November 2012 in Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Scotland)

Scotland’s Towns Conference 2012: Creating New Stories for Scotland’s Towns…

(Wednesday 7th November 2012 in Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Scotland)

The Scottish Government’s National Review of Town Centres was formally announced on the 9th September 2012. The announcement builds on a growing body of research and debate about Scotland’s town centres, how they are changing and the need to ensure our towns are equipped well in the future to support the economic and social aspirations of communities. This involves addressing the problems that some town centres face, alongside encouraging individuality and diversity – embracing the opportunities that can exist.  The aims of the review is to scope out potential solutions to the issues faced by Scotland’s town centres and to enable a measured, long-term approach to town centre regeneration by targeting these issues. The review will be undertaken in five phases and will be developed and implemented in partnership with local authorities, communities and other key sectors and will be action and solution focussed.

To shape and drive the review forward, an External Advisory Group (EAG) was formed to move the debate on to the next level and to spearhead action on the future for Scotland’s town centres. The EAG pulls together a range of people from diverse backgrounds with differing views on what town centres should look like and what solutions need to be put in place to manage change. To open the review, a two-day Scottish Towns Review Symposium was held in Kilmarnock on 25-26th September 2012 bringing together the newly-established EAG, as well as town centre experts to focus on agreeing priority areas for action as part of Phases 3 and 4 of the review.

Scotland’s Towns conference sought to build on these recent major milestones for Scotland’s national debate on our towns and town centres. The conference brought together a range of speakers and participants from across Scotland to embrace the diversity and enthusiasm required to bring the change needed in Scotland’s places. Participants were welcomed to the conference by the conference Chair, Ross Martin, of the Center for Scottish Public Policy (CSPP) and Board Member of the recently formed Scottish Towns Partnership (STP).

In addressing The Town Story So Far, the opening address was led by Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Local Government and Planning. Derek spoke about how local communities hold the ‘trigger’ to unlock the tools to make better use of, to adapt and to capitalise on, the opportunities that community assets have in helping to shape the design of their local communities and town centre revitalisation. Some of the main themes, ideas, exemplar projects and policy thinking that have been emerging within recent debates and policy development proposals to support the desired change within Scotland’s towns were then highlighted. These included the need for local solutions to better connect people and place such as Business Improvement Districts (BIDS)the growing evidence-base underpinning the context for the Towns Review e.g. the Fresh Start Initiative and how this can be utilised and adapted within local communities; how the planning system in Scotland is principally about enabling development to bring about economic benefit and how to use this benefit to generate activity within communities; and, finally, the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill which seeks a transferral of power to communities to allow communities greater decision-making powers on issues that affect their own communities.

Following the Minister’s opening address, questions were then invited from the audience and a number of important points were tabled for the Minister to respond. In relation to the Towns Review and the ongoing review of Scotland’s planning system for instance, mention was made of the planning system’s new performance indicators and that whilst over the past five years Scotland’s planning system has changed dramatically, planning for wind farm developments and redundant listed buildings remained outstanding issues for Scotland’s towns and require further attention by the Scottish Government. Economic benefit to towns in these contexts is regarded as a ‘material’ consideration and that the policy direction in this context has yet to be determined. For instance, it was suggested that planning policy ‘technical guidance’ is less subjected to the scrutiny that policy often dictates and requires to evaluate and measure economic benefit to places. A key question then was whether the Scottish Government were planning to improve these different elements of the planning system that would constitute an economic benefit to places.

Economic development in towns needs to be harnessed by planning authorities. They will be measured on their ability to meet performance and the Better Regulation Bill aims to challenge performance through reduced planning fees if performance is not met. To this end, two specific actions that can be taken include processing agreements and a pre-application discussion. The crucial point is that the Scottish Government’s role in planning is that is provides clarity, priority and intention in order to guide planning performance absolving the need for a ‘moratorium’. For instance, the current hierarchy for locating retail development will be sustained as reusing existing land for development should be preferred option for ‘out-of-town’ shopping centres.

Planning needs to approve applications on merit and this should be linked to what genuine economic growth comes from these. Guidance has been reduced from over 400 pages to fifty-five in recognising that Scotland’s planning system – and in relation to towns, needs to be clear, focused and succinct in purpose; and, that this purpose is closely aligned to sustainable economic growth in towns. In this context, the ‘Empty Property’ rates relief will need closely monitored to ensure that this proposal is not counter-productive to what towns genuinely need to be economically sustainable – private sector investment. The Scottish Government are not convinced that this sector will be paying more in rates as a result of this proposal.

We then heard from Daniel McKendry of East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) who talked about ERC’s engagement with key issues affecting the growth and sustainability of towns: scale and leadership. Three different approaches to regeneration initiatives were highlighted: in Barrhead (investment-led), Neilston (community establishment of a Town Charter, ‘a charter for change’), and, Clarkston BID (business-led). An innovative and stimulating approach underpinning these initiatives has been ‘branding’ through promoting each of the towns’ initiatives under the overarching umbrella as ‘Places to Grow’ sustainably.

Each town has common threads involving place and pride in identifying that confidence and imagination as well as flexibility and learning from mistakes are key to sustainable regeneration. Understanding and recognising that towns have very different scale and leadership challenges – challenges that are a crucial ingredient for place-based town solutions will allow towns to determine their future. The ability of towns to leverage opportunities happens in phases exemplified and achieved through, for example, using BID funding to lever in finance from the Greener Transport and the Cycling Scotland fund. Partnerships in Clarkston illustrate that it is businesses that look after the town centre, not the local authority. In Neilston, the development of the Town Charter emerged from a process that was particularly unique in Scotland involving a combined process of consultation methods (i.e. Charrette), establishing Neilston Development Trust and a Town Team to drive and deliver the change in Neilston that local people wanted. The Charter will be adopted within the LDP and supplemented by SPG. In Barrhead, opportunities were created from investment-led solutions tapping into both European and the Town Centre Regeneration Fund (TCRF)Barrhead’s masterplan and investment-led approach was underpinned by an urban design framework which aimed to tackle the multiple reasons why the town required a regeneration initiative to capture the challenges and provide the solutions the town required. Delivery of Barrhead’s regeneration illustrates the importance of partnership involving many partners including the town’s Regeneration Board; its business community; the Community Council and genuine engagement with all the town’s communities and other stakeholder involvement.

We then heard some inspiring short provocations from participants of the Towns Review Group Symposium who were invited to share and update the conference from their perspectives on the social, cultural and enterprise experience of the ‘town context’. John Lord, Director of Yellowbook (social), emphasised that we must recognise that the ‘chosen community’ of towns consists of citizens and not consumers and that active engagement within towns is alive but is not stimulated from a town’s locality but from surrounding locales. There is decreasing demand to fill a towns spaces and consolidation and concentration has to emerge so different communities of interest make town centres the chosen community for a towns surrounding locales to engage. The sole purpose of policy and practice should be to ensure this happens to allow communities to come together and that this goes beyond the scope of traditional planning and conventional practice. Echoing Derek Mackay’s emphasis on communities being the trigger, this can only emerge organically. Key questions to address are whether we are brave enough to allow this happen and what is the least we can do make this a reality.

Maggie Broadly, artist and Creative Director of Craft Town Scotland (cultural) and, an exemplar of the West Kilbride Community Initiative scheme, outlined some reservations about the community being at the heart of a town. Wider connections and engagement must be achieved with other town representatives to ensure that individuals’ visions for their towns are listened to by the planning process thereby avoiding the disenfranchisement and disconnection often alluded to in their experience of the process. Emphasis also needs to be reversed from the view that business and regeneration experts (in their capacity to advise organisations) towards emphasising that it is the community that benefits this expertise. Key questions are how we measure success; what does success look like beyond our standard economic impact assessments; and, how do we measure how communities feel about their town. Do we really mean it when we want communities to take the risks whilst at the same time recognising that local authorities are risk averse in delivering greater control to communities.

Iain Scott, one of the UK’s foremost ‘intrapreneurship’ gurus talked about ‘intrapreneurship’, a concept he has developed which allows individuals to be enterprising with an organisation. Essentially, this captures a growing consensus that we need to allow failure to happen in order that we can learn what success is and is not. Two perspectives were alluded to in relation to current approaches: the strategic sites approach to towns (masterplanning, (infra)/structural context and the public realm); and, the responsive approach which involves capturing the ideas from the ground level, that is, from people who live in towns. Town centres for instance, are unique in that they signify a ‘meeting of people’ but that the approach needs to ensure we allow a town’s existing space for this creativity to emerge. This will allow a town’s entrepreneurial spirit to come to the fore and with this, capture and share the learning that is needed to understand and accept that the ‘allowing failure’ concept is acceptable. Key questions is whether we need to get personal if our approach is to make it personal by bringing the various interested parties (planning, public sector and public realm) to allow and achieve the space needed for this to happen.

Understanding and building the potential of towns requires identifying the Key Ingredients for Successful Towns. These are important and necessary to towns’ services, facilities and assets. Part two of the conference invited discussants to agree on what these were under the broad theme of ‘towns’ futures’ in creating new stories for our towns.  Robert Rae (3rd Horizons) outlined his ‘framework for mess’ by stating that a ‘town’s story’ and ‘horizons’ are unpredictable. In introducing this idea, he felt this was analogous with the GB Olympic Cycling Team who achieved success by widening their horizons on the basis of what level of importance was attached to achieving success based on scenarios. Three scenarios (or models) were described and involved a Horizon 1 (a business as usual approach); a Horizon 2 (breaking the mould) and, a Horizon 3 (developing new ways for a new world). Key to the GB team’s Olympic success was adopting Horizon 3 in their efforts to improve and increase in and over time their ‘margins for success’. Different levels of importance therefore are attached to each Horizon illustrating that both pessimistic and optimistic views of an uncertain future are unrealistic. In other words, the future is ultimately unpredictable.

Implementing Alternative Futures was led by Professor Diarmaid Lawlor, (Head of Urbanism at Architecture and Design Scotland). Diarmaid addressed how we implement alternative futures within our town centres using ten key ingredients identified by conference participants. Ten things towns need to do involve considering something different to the retail offer. To implement a town’s future, and reflecting the story so far, towns need to be open in that individuals from a town’s communities have to be involved in decision-making from the start of the process; this is about permission to do something different. Towns and individuals need to be allowed to ‘give it a go’ and that this will create the learning and innovation infrastructure that will sustain a town’s progress in the future. Towns need to be responsive in understanding the needs of its citizens and the individuality of people and they also need to be accountable if they are to be open. In other words, places need to make their own decisions. It is not impossible to create the right conditions for thriving, socially sustainable town centres for example, could towns pay loads of money to ‘go to people’ in town centres or can towns champion ambassadors of town centres?

Building on participant’s feedback in this open space session, 10 Key Ingredients are listed here:

  • Safety and security
  • Culture: local history and community
  • Youth engagement: opening up spaces – allowing change in opening times of facilities/premises.
  • Transport – parking in towns
  • Multifunctional – the qualities of a town and sense of ownership
  • Arts and leisure – personal services and pop-up cafes
  • Environmentally friendly – weather proofing our towns
  • The Town Experience – pleasurable, vibrant and a night time economy to match
  • Creating the right environment for knowledge exchange and sharing
  • Political consensus

Developing this, 10 things that towns needed to do to deliver those ingredients were then grouped into three broad themes for participants to identify, agree and feedback to the conference. These themes were behavioural and cultural, strategic and community. A key objective of this activity for participants was to also consider the ‘stress test’ of towns in delivering these ingredients, the ‘what if’ in a town’s attempt at delivering the key ingredients. Some of this feedback is captured below mainly posed as questions that were raised as part of the open space session feedback.

Behavioural-cultural: as a start we need to prevent failure by creating trust, understand roles and values. Could towns employ ‘town welcomers’ by recruiting local people? Strategically, what can towns agree upon? Should we bring back the TCRF and can we really persuade local authorities to take a step back and what if they don’t? Town center co-ordinators are enablers of the town. How do we finance this when budgets and resources are declining further? We need to understand people’s values better. Towns need to lobby government to be more flexible and towns should be allowed to keep money that is spent within local areas. How does all this get governed and financed? Communities within towns require less legislation but communities also need to be seen to be aware that they must be within the rules. Communities need to have rootedness, that is, what are their values and what do they value about their town and their place? What can the community do to deliver these ingredients within their town. Communities need to take responsibility, as part of their citizenship. Can communities establish a Community Development Trust (CDT) and if this does not work, can communities go for chaos instead? CDT are fragmented so do we need to have refresh of the Community Development Network (CDN) working alongside community activists, a community ‘infrastructure’?

Joost Beunderman (Architecture 00) and civic economy expert, introduced Putting in Place the Conditions to Scale It Up. Joost described research findings published in his book, ‘Compendium for the Civic Economy’ by describing private-public funding within areas and towns. Drawing upon evidence from 25 trailblazers examined, he defined ‘public spaces that are edible spaces’, by highlighting how there are many mechanisms at play within a civic economy and identified what it was that had underpinned success. His research identified that new forms of collaboration emerged which unlocked the different roles across the public, private and third sectors and citizens at large and, through combining commercial and social exchange, this had created a different kind of economy, community, resilience and experience in places. Key to this exchange requires ‘intrapreneurship’ as much as entrepreneurship. For Joost, people with passion, creativity and drive, exist within our towns and places, despite the challenging economic context. Key questions Joost addressed in his work were how do established organisations respond and how do we make it better? In answering these questions, 7 key issues with real world examples were then highlighted by Joost, again drawing from his research on what defined and was identified as a civic economy within different places across the world.

  • Towns need to recognise civic entrepreneurs as people with networks and with ideas and they need to consider what this may imply for policy. An example he described in this context was a small knitting business, ‘Granny’s Finest’ from The Netherlands. This model of civic economy in practice contained three key elements: social production + high value products + social networks. Another example alluded to by Joost, was the ‘Superhero Supply Store’. This example of a civic economy model in practice consisted of one where retail meets learning + zoning rules ‘in the way’ + a vital social infrastructure. Another example cited was Brixton Village in London where links were established between social entrepreneurs and local landowners.  These are the new types of social business models and are, what Joost describes, ‘answer the vulnerabilities of our societies’, for example, old people. But how do we enable this to flourish within our towns?
  • For a civic economy to flourish, we need to invite co-production through building collaborative products. An example here is the ‘People’s Supermarket’ which was a model based on membership ownership + membership operated where 60% of the membership were local citizens from the area. But what are the tactics of unlocking co-production? An example would be match funds where the example of Seattle’s Department of Neighbourhoods in the USA testified that this particular civic economy model was not just about better community engagement for instance.
  • Towns need to unlock latent assets – beyond buildings. Economic and community development must become one and the same and both need to be invested in. This allows trading spaces to emerge, going beyond the ‘cut throat competitive’ tradition we are used to. For Joost, this is the compendium for the civic economy.
  • Towns need to provide and act as the platform for the civic economy. There are good ideas everywhere. For example, the ‘Fablab’ was a DIY invention, testing and production enterprise that involved businesses and hobbyists together with young people which brought about a new network. In this particular example, the shop space needed to establish and develop this business was only 4 square meters.
  • Towns need to provide the critical enthusiasm and interrogation needed. Change-makers for instance want more than just change in places and their economies. Initiatives are still not being linked up and there is a need to create sharing.
  • Towns require outcome-based development management. An example here was the Tubingen French Quarter in Germany. This model consisted of a mission-driven vision + translation into a development approach + stronger partner management.
  • Towns must, as an imperative for their civic economies, embrace open-endedness. In other words, a civic economy needs to move from regulation beyond de-regulation towards self-regulation.

Chris Wade then…..

The conference closed with a short presentation from Jen Minchin of Horsecross Arts Creative Learning, based in Perth and a summary of the day’s events was then provided by Malcom Fraser, Chair of the Scottish Government’s Towns Review. Malcolm described what he referred to as the ‘Social High Street’ of towns and provided a short talk of what this consisted of. A ‘social high street’ is about:

  • Living on the high street
  • Community assets
  • Streamlining the planning system and apparatus
  • Addressing the issue of empty shops
  • Accessibility – public services
  • Digital towns
  • Town transport and accessibility
  • Leadership and mentoring
  • Leadership and masterplanning and,
  • Valuations


Off to Naples on Sunday to work with city authorities, experts and public in assessing the city’s new TOD infrastructure. It’s a summer school for a new Research Network funded by the EU COST programme.


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