How art can help vulnerable adults
By Sylvie Fourcin,
Buildings can conjure an image of a city, but public space defines its character. Public realm - the communal space between buildings - is a canvas for history, customs, activity and interactions. It is not a decorative trimming to urban development, but an intrinsic element in its own right, which should be promoted and implemented as such.
"Cities, and the communities within them, have always found ways to create equitable spaces that reflect their needs from the bottom up" - Alpa Depani, Fellow
In London, new public realm is prevailingly introduced top-down as a component of large-scale development. In this scenario, it becomes a discrete entity scaled and orientated to its supporting structures rather than its surrounding neighbourhood, and it presents uneasy questions about ownership, permissions and use.
But cities, and the communities within them, have always found ways to create equitable spaces that reflect their needs from the bottom up: spaces that emphasise the situational, the quotidian, the local, and weave into the existing urban fabric; spaces that reflect people through a human scale. In London, these spaces are challenged by diminished public funding and a dominant perception of land as commodity, but the study of other dense global cities could identify approaches to tilt the balance.
New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong are all geographically constrained metropoles where development is commercially driven and underscored by rising land value and population increase. But they are also singular cities. Taking account of shared challenges and differing contexts, the aim of my Fellowship was to visit each one and study successful public realm and community-driven public space initiatives.
In New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong, I visited a range of spaces and met with designers, policy makers, academics, community groups and activists, to discuss the challenges in and opportunities for the provision of public space.
In each city, a dominant thread would emerge. In New York, the focus was the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) Plaza Program, in Tokyo it was about perceptions of public space and play, and in Hong Kong it related to the relatively new emergence of young designers with an interest in community projects and the interface of private and public which was not so easily drawn across obvious lines (eg private: bad, public: good).
During my travels, I learned of the limitations of public realm delivered purely through private means, but also discovered how communities can create and maintain public realm to enhance their neighbourhoods. I discovered that bottom-up initiatives were most successful when endorsed by some element of top-down infrastructure, meaning public realm strategies should place equal emphasis on private companies, municipal powers and community organisations. In travelling to the three cities, I realised that London has a great variety of public space (unlike Hong Kong where residents get an average of just 2.7m sq of open space per person, or Tokyo which has far fewer street trees or benches). In processing my findings, it became clear that recommendations for the UK capital should focus on engaging with communities to improve these abundant existing spaces rather than creating new ones. With that in mind, I have the following recommendations.
Since undertaking my Fellowship I have moved into local government and, as Head of Strategic Planning and Design, I have an active role in writing planning policy that relates to urban design and public space and have been able to directly implement some of the recommendations above. Specifically, my team at Waltham Forest Council is currently working on a Green Network Strategy, a policy document for achieving a network of connected and publicly accessible green spaces that are evenly distributed across the borough and are in proportion to the number of existing and new homes that will be built. The Strategy examines land ownership and community use and identifies projects for enhancement across a range of spaces from parks to verges and traffic islands and including tree planting, improved signage and new walking trails - ensuring all residents can benefit from a truly public realm.
Read more about Alpa's ideas in The Architectural Review.
The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.
By Sylvie Fourcin,
By Katherine Taylor,