Director's View - September Newsletter

Traditionally in the sector August seems to be a quiet month – a time to reflect on previous events and to plan the year ahead; a time to catch up on emails, correspondence, and event to take or plan a quiet summer holiday. This period of quietude extends beyond the sector, too. August holidays. Lazy summer sun, gentle days, less stress. But not so this year. People are still reeling from the riots. What on earth happened? Where was the Big Society? HTF were in Derry and Belfast planning next year’s summer conference with partners when it all kicked off, and the irony wasn’t lost on us. At a time when the 2012 Games are so close, when domestic and international tourism are so important to us, when the plight of our high street retail has never been so marked, how do we respond and recover from the sudden and unexpected horror and violence that erupted in our towns and cities?

While Social Media has been largely blamed for the phenomenon (as well as praised for the clean-up operation) it has also been a hotbed of discussion around the complicated and perplexing events of recent days. Several discussions have centred on the role of our historic built environment in benefitting communities and reducing similar behaviour, while others have looked at strategic investment into inner cities – timely comments while the growth vs. conservation argument heats up around the NPPF and when the second tranche of Enterprise Zones has just been announced. Here in the office we are still scratching our heads in wonder and but can advise that if you have been affected by the riots you can seek compensation, and if you are looking for advice on safer, more vibrant night time economies, you could do worse than engage with our Purple Flag event.

Leaving you with an interesting and salient point gleaned from a recent Linked In discussion - that in the design of the ideal city we need to work with the city itself, rather than using it as a tool to achieve political, cultural, economic and environmental goals. That we need to consider it as an ‘ecosystem... [with] a multiplicity of drivers... social dynamics being the greatest one’ – that as designers and planners we should work with the inhabitants of a place rather than imposing design on the inhabitants. And isn’t the irony of that that it takes us right back to the Localism debate within the aegis of the Big Society? That a whole swathe of people supposed to be empowered by the Bill have been completely bypassed by it? Is it already time to go back to the drawing board? It’s difficult to see the positives but this is surely the wake-up call the Government needed. And a wake-up call for the sector. Let’s continue to seize the opportunities and engage. Now is not a time for cynicism. It is a time for civic action.

Noël James
HTF Director
23 August 2011