There are two policies in the Scottish Government ‘Creating Places’ statement on architecture and place that seem not to be about the tangible aspects of place making, rather they deal with the crux of the process of delivery - 'engagement and empowerment' - that is working with and for people, and 'investment decisions informed by place' - which represents the necessary resource which is needed to shape our environment. As a crude synopsis, we might dream about making new places and environments, but it is only with people and money that you make the dreams a meaningful reality.
Drilling down into the polices, the documentation suggests communities and places benefit from investment decisions that consider all impacts – that is societal, environmental and economics. Working with this triumvirate you can begin to make what we aspire to, in their words - ‘sustainable settings’. That in itself is not enough, so the policy goes on to suggest that meaningful and sustained community participation in the design process is also crucial to achieving these relevant and high quality outcomes, with a caveat that community led regeneration can help to create long lasting change in Scotland's disadvantaged communities.
They seem like good words, but how do they bear out in reality? A straw poll around the office showed that the take-up in neighbourhood consultation events had proved generally low when part of the statutory process i.e. part of a major planning application requiring a 12 week pre-planning application period. Whilst there was acceptance that having discussions was good to inform the subtlety of a planning submission, it seems we struggle in many cases to create 'a true and meaningful engagement' with a broad sector of the community.
We began to reflect that perhaps it is not the idea of the consultation that is the problem but our collective attitude to it. Generally we consider the consultation as a defensive mechanism to draw out antagonism rather than a creative opportunity to reach higher standards of ambition and achievement. The low turnouts are perhaps symptomatic of an acceptance that the process is generally dull. We maybe need to look to ourselves, be more inquisitive, enquiring and generally more interesting in how we present what we are doing and thinking.
Not something to be achieved overnight but something to engage with in the longer term.