Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ordinary places 'Ordinary places do not have to be mediocre' say CABE in a new pamphlet. CABE want to start a debate about 'creating the culture and conditions to help ordinary places to become valued and valuable'. Part of the problem, I suspect, is that 'ordinary people' don't feel that the built environment comes anywhere near their sphere of influence. Even street reps, with their eyes and ears attuned to order and disorder in their neighbourhoods, don't think of the buildings and spaces as being something they can do anything about. They're ready to try to influence what gets dumped on it, or what people do while they occupy it, but that understandably tends to be the limit of ambition or expectation. CABE however are characteristically upbeat, placing a welcome emphasis on treating streets as places: The quality of neighbourhoods is largely determined by the quality of streets. Too few streets are walkable, lively and sociable. It is almost impossible to imagine ordinary streets now without ugly clutter: guardrails, signs, more signs, rubbish bins, grit bins, parking meters and bollards. Most streets are still designed to separate people from cars, despite evidence that this leads to higher speeds. Research has shown that guardrails increase the likelihood of accidents. Department for Transport demonstration projects show that busy urban streets can be made safer by designing for everyone including elderly, blind and sight impaired people. Among the proposals, a large-scale programme of walkabouts (not unlike the community street audits run by Living Streets for years): professionally facilitated visits to give councillors, developers and local people the chance to view and debate successful schemes together. They can see what locally distinctive design means, with a strong response to existing buildings, landscape and topography, and use of local building materials and vegetation. They can hear about its appeal to residents and homebuyers, and the idea will start to become accepted, and expected. Then local distinctiveness can become the norm. And yes of course, as the pamphlet says, 'quality of place should feature in the national indicator set for local authorities and in the comprehensive area assessment'.

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