Placemaking is a multifaceted term, all too easily overshadowed by notions of Best Value or national policy drivers.
Future of London brought a group of senior practitioners together on 23 February to explore what is/can be measured, notable gaps (and reasons why), and the tools and strategies that could drive a more consistent and holistic evaluation of placemaking. The roundtable was hosted by London Communications Agency.
What is the sector good at measuring?
There was general agreement that the sector has many of the tools and guidance required to measure the economic aspects of placemaking – from the recently updated Treasury Green Book to the GLA’s evaluation guidance for recipients of regeneration funding.
Similarly, developers are adept at measuring the commercial value of placemaking, through land value uplift. In 2016 research, Savills highlighted that early investment in placemaking maximises this return. This isn’t necessarily the norm, but becoming more recognised.
On the question of why these aspects are measured (beyond developer profit or intrinsic value), one participant pointed out that, theoretically, placemaking supports any built environment policy driver; for example, placemaking as a tool for addressing the housing crisis as people will buy more homes in places that work.
What do we find more challenging to measure?
Socioeconomic aspects are less ‘hard’ and more complex to put a value on. However, some parties look to deliver ‘social return on investment’, i.e. socioeconomic outcomes through regeneration. For a developer, the motivation is engaging boroughs and communities, and ultimately winning more work.
There are clear challenges in capturing more subjective responses to place, such as how people interact with a space or how networks are formed, and ‘esteem value’, i.e. the value of a community having positive feelings towards a place.
The sector tends to seek reassurance in frameworks and models, which fail to reflect differences in localities.
Valuing smaller organic change can be forgotten. The placemaking potential of small, community-led initiatives could be as significant as long-term, interventionist schemes.
The question of measuring over time was raised. Regeneration doesn’t stop with the physical aspects; one housing association participant linked valuation and long-term management – how a place benefits its community will affect how it is managed. It is only possible to know if a place is successful after monitoring frequently over many years.
Quantitative or qualitative?
On one hand, it was felt that obsessing over monetising every element of placemaking can become counterproductive. One participant suggested that qualitative data – the stories and opinions of communities – can tell a lot more.
However, one participant pointed out that finance directors and strategy people need numbers for an investment case to be proven; for example, offering business rates relief to SMEs because of their contribution to placemaking.
What is local authorities’ role in valuing placemaking?
This question brought out wider tensions between public and private sectors. One developer said that local authorities haven’t usually shown interest in measuring improved community involvement, civic pride, safety or security; while one local authority officer admitted that they were not expected to demonstrate the softer side of placemaking, though felt that they would increasingly be asked to.
Best Value responsibilities on local authorities are subject to interpretation. In all cases, boroughs face tension with procurement and the drive to get a contract signed, which could lead to earlier placemaking aspirations being forgotten. In theory, local authorities can influence developers’ commitment to placemaking through the weighting of their tenders (best value should include social and environmental as well as financial). In reality, financial assessment tends to dominate, even if weighting states otherwise.
Planning frameworks are another place that the authority can show leadership. One person remarked that creating the framework is more important than its contents.
How can the sector improve?
The role of mobile data was discussed. Boroughs and TfL use mobile data for transport models already, but it’s early days using it for placemaking. One borough is using mobile data to understand pedestrian movement and clustering; along with sunlight, wind and noise modelling, this will help understand comfort levels throughout the public realm.
On the question of a greater degree of standardisation being a help or hindrance, one participant thought that small and largescale projects are incomparable and would benefit from different standards or guidelines.
One participant saw a role for local authorities as conveners of collaboration between developers and small groups, as one could benefit the other. Another felt that this could require long-term cultural change – guidelines could be a useful intermediary step. Could the landowner require groups to work together?
In general, it was felt that capturing local context thorough targeted measures that reflect an area, is critical; as is valuing the right things at the right time, using both traditional and higher-tech measures.
This roundtable was part of our 2017 Making the Case for Place programme, supported by Lendlease, Countryside, Mount Anvil, Pollard Thomas Edwards and Regeneris.
- Maria Adebowale-Schwarte – Director, Living Space
- Paul Augarde – Director of Placemaking, Poplar HARCA
- Sara Bailey – Head of Real Estate, Trowers & Hamlins
- John Baker – Project Director, Meridian Water, LB Enfield
- Helena Carrie – Account Manager, London Communications Agency
- Bhakti Depala – Senior Planning Officer, City of London
- Lyn Garner – Director, Regeneration, Planning & Development, LB Haringey
- Michael Hill – Director, Business Strategy, Countryside Properties
- Paul King – Managing Director, Sustainability & External Affairs, Lendlease Europe
- Alastair McMahon – Analytics Director, Telefonica
- Chris Paddock – Director, Regeneris
- Naomi Pomfret – Planning Policy Manager, LB Barking & Dagenham
- Paul Quinn – Director of Merton Regeneration, Clarion Housing Group
- Amanda Robinson – Research and Programme Manager, Future of London
- Hilary Satchwell – Director, Tibbalds
- Sophia de Sousa – Chief Executive, The Glass-House
- Lisa Taylor – Chief Executive, Future of London
- Tom Titherington – Director of Property and Growth, Catalyst Housing
- Andrew Turner – Project Director, Argent
- Jo Wilson – Head of Policy, Future of London