Sense of Place advocates ‘humbler approach’ to regeneration

24dash recently reported on the Sense of Place event in Birmingham.

An innovative six-month scheme designed to uncover people’s aims and aspirations for their neighbourhood is set to benefit future regeneration plans in the Midlands.

The Sense of Place (SoP) Project, which was piloted in the Dudley and Soho Road areas of North West Birmingham, was delivered by a consortium of practitioners specially commissioned by Midlands-based housing market renewal Pathfinder Urban Living.

Designed to help residents understand how they can influence the content of masterplans by getting involved at the outset, the project used a variety of art forms including storytelling to capture people’s feelings about where they live.

Four local people were employed as ‘community researchers’ to help deliver activities and develop a ‘toolkit’ containing case studies and examples of how to use specific techniques to empower other local communities.

Community Researcher and Handsworth resident, Raymond Brown, explained: “This has been a great experience for the community researchers as the project gave us the opportunity to get to grips with local issues and start to work up plans for the future.”

Commenting on the success of the project, Nick Corbett, Urban Living’s director of urban design and enterprise said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and volume of ideas we’ve received in the last six months.

“Critically, people have told us that they would prefer we work with them to improve their existing homes and streets, rather than introducing the wholesale change they associate with masterplans.”

To mark the end of the six month pilot project, partnership practitioners including representatives from Multistory, MADE, CUDOS, Architecture Sans Frontières, OO:/ Architecture, the Digital Native Academy and local authority neighbourhood managers met recently in Birmingham at a conference entitled ‘Is the Masterplan dead?’.

The aim was to share best practice and highlight how SoP has reinforced the vital role residents can play in shaping and delivering plans for their area.

Over 100 participants attended the sell-out event including local authority representatives from across the Midlands, architects, developers, housing associations, residents and community action groups.

Professor Nabeel Hamdi, emeritus professor of housing and urban development at Oxford Brookes university was the keynote speaker, delivering an engaging speech about UK and international community action plans that have helped inform masterplans.

He said: “Planning should stimulate social and economic change with targeted interventions rather than wholesale redevelopment, and with the participation of all stakeholders. Building relationships through existing networks, stitching things together and investing in public space are just some of the key ingredients”

Presentations were also made by various groups involved in on-the-ground, creative activities carried out as part of the six month project.

These included encouraging residents to put forward ideas and get involved via the ‘Do, Dream, Pledge’ campaign, setting up an outdoor ‘living room’ and creating a map of the Dudley Road area which was placed in several locations and used to spark conversation.

Children were also invited to participate in a ‘sight and sound workshop’. This involved getting year four primary school children to create and perform an aspirational piece of original music about their area.

The Sense of Place Project contributes towards Urban Living’s Design Strategy objective for creating an authentic sense of place, and it will help to ensure that housing growth is delivered in a way that meets the aspirations and choices of local people.

Nick Corbett concluded: “This project has taught us that a humbler approach to neighbourhood planning is needed.

“People’s memories, stories and emotional attachment to places can inform masterplanning decisions and ensure that local knowledge is reflected.

“The Sense of Place Project captures subjective information in a practical way so that it can inform decision making and we hope others will benefit from our findings.”

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