Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Advice from Tom Campbell, author of The Planner to advocates

The Planner is a book authored by Tom Campbell, based in part on his experience working on arts and culture planning related issues in London, but in government more generally, not specifically as a planner.  Book review, Independent.

From one of the presentations at Making the City Playable conference in Bristol, UK. This is from my notes, so the words aren't exact.

Presentation by Tom Campbell:

As much as everyone has been talking about ground up, guerrilla type actions, there is a lot to be said for taking that energy and working with government.  Here is advice/thinking about five things that advocates should do in order to help cities become more playable.

1. Advocates need to get better at talking to planners and officials on their terms, in terms of questions like market failure, policy, and the economic benefits from various actions.  [Note that I make this point a lot. While we can't expect citizens to think like planners, they do need to be better able to communicate and think about both neighborhood and citywide goals and objectives simultaneously.]

Planners have limited resources, strong fiscal pressures,and they have to make tough choices. E.g., artist works spaces. I used to advocate for creating such spaces.  Planners would counter with data about affordable housing targets, the need for housing for key workers (like doctors, emergency workers, etc.)  We need to have better appreciation for what's at stake in government.

2.  Advocates need to be better at producing evidence in support of our positions, atlhough it can be hard to produce data and sound evaluations, The Playing Outside project here in Bristol was fortunate to get Bristol University to do an evaluation.  And it's true that many straight up quantitative evaluations miss the subtlety of what we doing.

But for example, when I was working in London, once we did an economic impact study of the Notting Hill Carnival, the thinking started to change from it being thought of as a massive policing and environmentally impactful event, but it also brings employment and visitors to the community and it changed the ability of the Carnival to raise funding.  The same goes for Film London.  Once we had good data on the economic impact of filing television programs and movies in the city, it was easier to get support.

3.  Advocates should participate in planning consultation meetings.  Lots of times, people don't go. The standard person who comes out is older and has strong views.  It's likely that the people coming out to meetings have limited perspectives and aren't representing a broader range of community interest and opinion on the issue.  Planners are often accused of not getting community input.  That's not the reality.  People aren't coming to the meetings.  [This is probably somewhat less of an issue in the US in terms of getting people out, but true in terms of a circumscribed range of opinion being presented by residents.]

4.  When it comes to making projects and cities more playable, I think there is too much focus on producing one-off events (anarchic fun, guerrilla acts).  Don't go for one offs.  Create programs and precedents [aimed at achieving structural change].  

I can think of many initiatives that started out as one off events, but were leveraged into broader projects.  Like the city's Open House initiatives, where cultural spaces are open on a particular weekend for free, or how making spaces available to special events, etc. have been regularized.

It didn't happen this way10 years ago.  For example, again with film, London used to have a notorious reputation with film makers.  Now it's easier.  All 33 boroughs agreed to a common system of permitting and rules.  But that didn't happen because of a few filmakers going out and shooting on their own, shooting a film without permission.  Instead, hard work was done to create a set of principles that people could work with, that had lasting impact and change.

5. People in the arts should get involved in local government.  In the last couple decades, there has been the increased professionalization and specialization of planning (geography and planning, but 40-50 years ago, there was a range of different backgrounds on the part of people involved.  We need to broaden the range of people doing planning.

Before funding cutbacks, the Arts Council used to fund artists and put them on regeneration planning projects. By getting more people involved in government, we can better  break down the boundaries between citizens and government and move away from adversarial relationships.

Instead of seeing city hall as "the place that says no," let's work to change the perception and action so that city hall is a place where people can work together, and where artists can work.

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