Today we publish Developing Socially Productive Places, which explores the relationship between the physical and social aspects of community-building and place-making. We want to challenge and support local authorities, developers, communities and businesses to deepen their understanding of what makes places good for people in the long term. (Social productivity is defined as the additional social value that can be created through better relationships between citizens, society, business and public services.)
During a period when property values are rising in most parts of the UK and development activity is picking up, a key concern of local authorities and other accountable bodies is that economic growth must benefit residents while improving public finances. Many areas face population pressures and ageing infrastructure, and new development is a key driver of change.
Development is one of the most powerful drivers of local political engagement, and therefore the planning process represents a significant gateway to stronger community relations and dialogue on a range of issues.
In the report, the RSA draws on the keynote address made to April’s conference by former housing minister Mark Prisk MP. Mark Prisk outlined the challenge to provide dense development while balancing the need for long-term flexibility and public and private interests. Several examples in the report illustrate how progressive approaches can support socially and economically valuable outcomes at different stages of the development process – from engaging communities in planning to evaluating impact on well-being.
The financial crisis of 2008 led to a stalling of many development projects across the UK and highlighted the fragility of relying on corporate financing to change the physical assets in a place. From a tumultuous period of recent economic history, new approaches to placemaking are beginning to emerge, often led or catalysed by community groups, and based on a clear expression of values and outcomes.
Creativity, appropriation, and a rediscovery of the ability of citizens to shape their everyday spaces are highlighting the benefits of emergent and adaptive approaches – with ‘pop-up’ and ‘meanwhile’ temporary uses becoming more common in the mainstream landscape.
We argue transition should be considered a structural feature of the way places will be built, with a new set of tools that deal with this uncertainty.
The report highlights that developing places involves initiatives big and small, temporary and long-lasting. Development does not always have to come from developers. A plurality of approaches is needed. While community-led development approaches can be nimble, large corporate developers can bring significant value, leveraging money, resources and expertise beyond that available locally, and having the ability to operate at speed and scale. This means all types of developers will require a wide range of new competencies: successful place-making requires an understanding of how people, households and community networks respond to and use the opportunities afforded by the built environment.
Socially productive places are neighbourhoods and districts where people are enabled individually and collectively to meet their own needs and achieve their aspirations for issues which matter to them.
Policymakers need to do more to develop frameworks in which communities, developers and councils can sustain long term partnerships. Long-term property value is driven by the long-term economic relevance of an asset. Remaining relevant in the long-term requires places to be adaptable. Managing the forces and harnessing the potential of development through planning requires resources, capacity and coordination. Local authorities therefore have a crucial role in using planning and development to reinforce wider social and economic objectives.
Ultimately the success of a development should be judged by its impact on those who use it, and its ability to contribute to a broader set of social and economic outcomes. Planning is a frontline public service, which doesn’t exist in isolation from other public sector roles which influence how a place functions. Investing in planning can bring value to other public sector objectives, and pro-actively strengthen relationships between developers, incoming people and businesses and existing communities.
Progress will only be made if both public and private sectors, individuals and community groups, collaborate in new ways. We want today’s report to stimulate conversations up and down the UK about how we can best develop socially productive places.
When I first heard the term ‘power to create’ I was more than a little lost as to where it was coming from and, perhaps more to the point, where it was going. It was my first day at the RSA and I mainly put this down to my own ignorance. I didn’t manage to make Matthew Taylor’s recent talk but I downloaded it and listened to it later. The key moment for me was when he quoted AI Wei Wei – “Creativity is the power to act”.
In this sense the power to create is the power to manifest change, to act and to have impact in the world – in short, to have agency. Agency is a commonly used word in Sociology and Anthropology, where there has been a constant theoretical discussion on the role of individual choice (agency) and social determinism (structure). Recent work with systems theory has its own solution to the debate and one that understands structure and agency together. Systems theory, originally developed in the 50s, was heavily criticised for being too focused on equilibrium and structural determinism, but since then the theory has been greatly developed and one of the most important aspects of the theory now lies in its analysis of the relationships between parts and how those parts can manifest change to the system as a whole. More recently, systems theorists have coined the term ‘complex adaptive systems’ (CAS) to explain loosely connected parts whose relationships cannot be explained purely through reduction to the parts alone but instead form a system that demonstrates highly adaptable behaviour at both the individual and collective levels. Within systems theory, if we say that a system is adaptable we mean that the parts of the system have the ability to affect the resilience of the system as a whole. Here is where agency, or the power to create, comes in.
In short, it depends – but if you’re a woman in the UK, the odds aren’t in your favour.
Earlier today, Ed Miliband unveiled plans to beef up vocational education by introducing new technical degrees if Labour wins the election in 2015. His aim is to increase the number of people in higher level apprenticeships by at least 100,000 and raise the profile of vocational education among young people aged 16-19.
Miliband isn’t exactly treading in unchartered waters – apprenticeships are already central to skills strategies across the UK’s cities. Employers have steadily warmed to the idea of taking on apprentices as the evidence demonstrates returns in terms of productivity and long-term value for money. For example, trainees in British Telecom’s apprenticeship scheme were found to be 7.5 percent more productive than non-apprenticeship trainees. The company also reported it made a profit of £1300 per apprentice per year.
However, there is reason to be cautious about the current vogue of apprenticeships being seen as a panacea, given their poor returns for those hoping to progress while in work. Read more
This week I have been mostly… reading about fiscal devolution.
The narrative of centralization appears to have had its day. Of course the benefits of collective buying power, influence and singular leadership are being drowned out by cries for decentralization. Yet despite these conversations having happened for many years now there continues to be little understanding on how it will work.
In the summer of 1984, the industrial dispute between striking miners and the national coal and steel firms came to a head in violent clashes at Orgreave, outside Sheffield. For many, the defeat of the unions signified the inevitability of de-industrialisation, and Britain’s service industries – from financial professionals to burger-flippers – have led employment growth since.
Despite frequent reforms from government, the way we consider skills policy for the modern economy has changed little in a generation. While politicians and media reports diligently track monthly unemployment figures, 43% of the workforce, 13 million people in the UK, report that they aren’t using their potential and skills at work. As the economic landscape evolves, the nature of work is changing too.
Algorithms are everywhere. You may not be able to see them, can’t touch them, and don’t know what they taste like; but they see you and likely know both what you’d like to touch/own/buy and what your tastes are. Go onto Amazon and it will recommend purchases based on your browsing history. Go onto twitter and it’ll recommend people based on who you’re already connected to. Ask an investment banker a questions and it’ll be the algorithms doing all of the answers.
But what could that look like? Here’s an example of algorithms ‘for good’, complete with user’s testimonials and a brand new video!
Presenting: Social Mirror, the cuddly algorithm machine.
My one ask is: Ask Better Questions.
1. Local-level practitioners should be using our 5 community rules.
For example, when you go to see a GP, they should be asking about your social connections. Do you have any? Can they link you to local groups? Do the connections you have already have the capacities to help you?
2. When local authorities make service allocation decisions, they should be informed by a holistic understanding of impact.
Jobs for an intern: make tea, edit references, keep your head down and do the grunt work. Perhaps, but not at the RSA – here they encourage you to speak up, to blog and to generally make your voice heard. It is both refreshing and a little intimidating. So when I got invited to attend a meeting at the start of this week I managed to do what I perhaps should not have done: I took a lot of notes and kept my mouth shut, but my ears open. There is much to condemn this strategy but I tell you something, you tend to learn a lot that way. As one might expect from a meeting between think tanks, there was some general confusion as to who was meant to be facilitating who but if anything this seemed to lead to a very productive meeting. The subject of the meeting: How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future.
How can local government help communities be more resilient despite devastating flooding in the UK – especially since the climate change models seem to suggest this is is going to be a more regular occurrence in the future.
Using health and social care as a key example, I will finish off with two (and a half!) caveats and One Ask (coming Friday).
Two and a half Caveats:
- Change can be painful.
- Never forget the fun vs. need continuum.
2½. Have an offer and be patient with it.