The Montagu Evans and NLA NextGen networks recently collaborated on a roundtable discussion to understand the changes we want to see happen in the towns of tomorrow so we can realise positive change. Some of our key take aways are highlighted below.
What do the next generation want to see change in town and city centres over the next ten years, and what tools are at our disposal to realise these changes?
A core focus will revolve around safeguarding the uniqueness of our town centres, a goal to be realised through cross-generational collaboration. These places must be full of happy people that feel emotionally and physically connected to the places in which they live and work. To this end, it becomes important to establish a minimum standard for conserving the intrinsic features of the built environment in our towns.
As future industry leaders, we must alter future design to safeguard the built environment for the Next Generation. Net-zero policies will be integral and should be woven into the fabric of all obligatory design frameworks to ensure preservation. A more robust commitment to responsible and sustainable practices is essential, specifically with valuations, which must consider ESG (including also, diversity, equity and inclusion and social value) factors as a fundamental aspect integrated into traditional property services. The planning process also has a fundamental responsibility to facilitate innovation and ensure that developments promote holistic and sustainable growth. As developers design their projects, they must prioritise social aspects, as they play a crucial role in fostering positive social impact within the communities they operate. This journey can ensure a laser focus on achieving net-zero social equity, creating a synergy between environmental and social elements.
Collaboration & Innovation
It is imperative that we put the community at the heart of the decision-making process; whether it’s related to climate resilience, designing spaces, or considering social aspects. This involves community engagement, collaborating with stakeholders and working in partnerships with planners. We can learn from individuals' experiences and harness this to drive the design of places that benefit us all. As part of this, engagement from the younger generation needs to be prioritised throughout the development cycle as they will contend with issues arising tomorrow from decisions made today. We need to remove obstacles to ensure there is inclusive decision-making and representation, for example, more D/deaf consultants to reflect the needs of the D/deaf community. The utilisation of technology and innovation will be essential in this and can be used to address inequalities and structural barriers to success within our society.
How do we ensure that leadership across the built environment is diverse, inclusive, and able to implement meaningful change?
- Inclusivity: We need to start by looking inside our own organisations and understand who is not ‘at the table’. It is crucial that there is the ability for all individuals to participate to foster holistic perspectives within a psychologically safe working environment.
- Training: Leadership must invest in training for diversity, equity and inclusivity, as it is an investment in future success and the sustainability of an organisation. It goes beyond compliance with legal requirements and reflects a commitment to creating a positive, innovative, and ethical work environment where all individuals can thrive and contribute their unique perspectives.
- Recruitment: Incorporating diversity into hiring practices has a multitude of benefits for both the organisation and its employees, fostering innovation, reciprocal empathy, and equitable outcomes. It is imperative that firms start the employment journey by being open and honest about the culture and inviting people to be their authentic selves at work.
- Corporate ambition: As an industry we must ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are built into the corporate ambition and purpose, for example, as a form of KPI and strategic imperative which aligns with our respective values.
How can our cohort of emerging leaders work together to implement these changes?
Collaborative efforts can lead to more resources, expertise, and support for certain initiatives. We need to work together to foster a culture that is open to doing things differently; one that is willing to keep up, constantly innovate, and one that recognises the importance of divergence. We need to acknowledge the impact that young people make and provide them with opportunity for representation. This involves elevating young people’s voices and allowing them to find their space in organisations and projects, ensuring they have the resources, ability, and rights to contribute and feel heard. Reverse mentoring is a key tactic to employ here which facilitates knowledge exchange, emphasising the fresh perspective of a less senior person within a learning dynamic that helps to foster a more inclusive, equitable and progressive environment.
It is crucial that we work with other emerging leaders and organisations both locally and globally, specifically learning from international best practice and ensuring we break the habit of designing the same thing repeatedly for ease and with critical reflection on how we might approach design differently.
We also need to acknowledge the importance of allyship to support and advocate for marginalised or underrepresented communities, by actively challenging and addressing systemic inequalities and biases, to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive society.