It is an understatement to say that quite a few urban planners and architects would like to keep local communities at bay during the process of developing the urban. Main reasons? Fear of NIMBY-behavior, fear of delays, fear of less-than-progressive ideas about what should be done and, in some cases, fear of people who are not part of the cozy inner-circle of architects, planners and designers. Occasionally, this attitude changes and officials then try to get in touch with people living in a neighborhood or urban area to listen to their ideas rather than just decide-announce-defend their own ideas. Such meetings between officialdom and community may result in unforeseen favorable results. Sometimes a dialogue of the deaf is the only result. One of my recent experiences (documented in great detail here and here) taught me that the problems with developing urban projects were rooted in the municipal organization itself and not in the community, as was always assumed in this case. On the contrary, the farmers and citizens in a mostly rural area generated ideas about nature development, luxury housing and recreation beyond the ambitions of the officials. In the end, the project was killed because of internal struggles within the municipality. Such a waste of time and effort.
However, initiatives such as the one described here are becoming more common, if only because officials experience an increasing inability to design and execute projects. Yet another step is to let go of own ideas and to facilitate community initiatives without imposing one’s own designs. The Peckham Vision (UK) is an example where things went differently but with favorable results, as even architects in the Architects’ Journal acknowledge. Peckham Vision is a communal gathering in order to generate new ideas about the future of the Peckham town centre and its buildings.
The stakeholder group who initiated this consists of citizens, artists, business owners and so on. A while ago I met one of the instigators, Ms. Eileen Conn. She works tirelessly and fearlessly to get things done and to prove that communities can come up with good ideas for urban regeneration that actually work. It requires unorthodox approaches, with an emphasis on horizontal information processes that interact with the formal hierarchical system in which Peckham is embedded. I’m impressed with the results that seem to generate a lot of praise, not only locally but also nationally as testified in the Architect’s Journal article above. The first tangible results are now appearing after much preparatory work, including the restoration of the Peckham Rye Station and the establishment of artists’ workshops. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that all everything runs smooth. Government sometimes still gets in the way. But lets quote the Architects Journal here: “Localism can, and does, improve the quality of the built environment by enabling professional skills and community ideas to coalesce. For example, Peckham Vision, a consortium of residents, artists, businesses and The Peckham Society, campaigns for a renewed Peckham town centre. The consortium is an important force for change. Its main focus is the improvement of the public realm in Rye Lane, making it more amenable to a wider demographic.” Public officials: take note. There is no need to elaborate endlessly on Richard Florida. The key is around the corner, literally.