For many, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of local communities. Whether it be checking in on elderly neighbours, being out in the street to clap the NHS, or supporting cherished local businesses through tough times, coronavirus has helped to renew a sense of local pride.
Emerging from lockdown, and slowly returning to the high street, we might briefly marvel at the newfound café culture which has sprung up in towns and cities across the UK. Looking past that, we might also understand that the pandemic has accelerated long-term trends of structural decline in many of our urban centres. For many towns, and some cities, the vibrant places for people to meet, shop, work and enjoy, are now distant memories, and unlikely to return of their own accord.
"If we are to ensure longer term social, environmental and economic outcomes are met, then we need to ensure placemaking is at the heart of any local plans for post-pandemic recovery."
- Bob Blackman, MP, chairman APPG on Building Communities
With a very public political commitment to build back better, and to level up much of the UK, we need to ensure that we revitalise our urban centres and create flexible spaces that people can prosper in. Placemaking will have to be at the centre of these conversations, as it must be about regeneration, and not simply a return to now inappropriate pre-pandemic redevelopment schemes.
With many more working from home, there is now an opportunity to revitalise local areas to support small businesses, create open spaces for people to socialise and meet, revolutionise mobility by embedding active travel measures, increase public transport options and electric vehicle charging points, and deliver the infrastructure to ease access to local services through the creation of ‘community hubs.’
Put simply, if we want to ensure longer term social, environmental and economic outcomes are met, then we need to understand that placemaking should be at the heart of any local plans for a post-pandemic recovery.
Regeneration cannot be a one-size fits all process
Whether public or privately led, previous schemes have tended to focus on redevelopment rather than the revitalisation of the local area, with overdevelopment and ‘gentrification’ limiting the positive impact to only certain pockets of local communities, thus neglecting the real opportunities that locally led regeneration can bring to an area.
Readers of Planning will be all too aware of recent announcements, including the newly created National Infrastructure Bank and the Levelling Up Fund, to create the financial framework to accelerate local regeneration. When you add distinct political structures on top of very different populations in every town, city or community, regeneration simply cannot be a one-size fits all process.
The right level of public engagement will be needed, and the decision-making process must take place at a local level once funding and support has been approved. Only then will successful, locally led regeneration schemes deliver the longer-term outcomes associated with placemaking for the benefit of the wider community. And only then will we be able to speak of levelling-up.
Bob Blackman MP is chairman of the APPG on Building Communities, which brings together politicians and the industry to influence community building and placemaking. The Secretariat is provided by the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).
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