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Future placemaking: it’s time for a shared story

 

I was delighted to be part of the recent Institute of Economic Development webinar on ‘Our High Streets and Town Centres: what’s the story?’ focusing on an issue that affects us all – and my contribution was centred on the following thoughts.

All our places are in the midst of a massive change programme, not of their making but with profound implications. They are facing a perfect storm of the pandemic: online shopping, Brexit, changes in working patterns, climate change and more. The successful places will be those that do not just passively let these things play out but which are proactive and do things differently.

As you see, my thoughts are guided by ‘shun’ words, or rather more correctly the suffix ‘ion’!

The pandemic immediately created dislocation as workplaces and routines were abandoned, then came connection as people discovered or rediscovered their place and locality, which quickly turned into affection. And this was often for little things: a park or green space, the friendly shop they had never been in or that walk into the country. Whilst this was alright for the here and now, many are asking what does the future hold?

To influence this, you have to plot your way forward and do it together as a place. That is where a shared story comes in: what is your place going to be for, how is it distinct, what are its assets and opportunities? This is a way of making sense of the future for stakeholders, by them being part of determining it; creating the story.

This is time for shared, stakeholder-inspired places. Surely we have to have more and more in- depth engagement than people voting every so often in different elections and then just getting on with their job and life.

The best we have at the moment, and here’s another ‘shun’ word, is consultation: a one-off about a development, a plan, through a Business Improvement District or because we have to. There has to be a model that harnesses the talent, ideas, energy, contacts and passion of stakeholders in an ongoing way; you should not have to be elected to be engaged.

This leads you to a really empowering ‘shun’ – collaboration. We had it during the crisis, and we need it again, proactively to help places rebuild and grow, but to think and act differently. As a result, you can widen place leadership and create ambassadors for your place who will tell your story. A true (and here comes a ‘shun’) celebration of your assets, opportunities, talent and potential; making the most of what you’ve got.

And so, my final ‘shun’ – in every place there is the chance to create a different but attractive place sensation through storytelling, animation, colour, events; focusing on the space between the buildings; bringing the community together for music, food and to meet; to focus on fun, not just living and working.

So don’t let stakeholders shun (dreadful pun!) your place; this is a real opportunity – well actually an imperative – to do something different in your Town Centres and High Streets.

If you missed the webinar then you can catch up with the recording here. Our next webinar exploring the importance of place perspectives is on Thursday 15th July at 10am and is entitled ‘Place: what’s the future?’ On the occasion of our 15th birthday, we are delighted to invite you to this inaugural annual Place Perspective event when we look to address the key issues facing our places today alongside two of the leading thinkers and practitioners of all things place: Professor Martin Reeves, CEO of Coventry City Council and Professor Cathy Parker, Co-Chair of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University and Research Lead for the High Streets Task Force.

You can now register your place at:

https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_FRgfQJuUTx2Y2D0EaJgbPA

John Till is Director of thinkingplace, a member of the Institute of Economic Development.

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