The relevance of the public realm in knitting together the ground plane of our post-pandemic cities stimulated some varied and interesting debate at the first meeting of the freshly appointed NLA Public Realm Expert Panel.
The aim of the group is to provide thought-leadership, inform NLA’s continuing programme of events, respond to new policies and all with the collective goal of informing a New London Agenda. The plan is to contribute to key objectives that will see London resilient and sustainable in the future.
A diverse range of individuals make up the panel and bring with them expertise in community, diversity, infrastructure, development, landscape, architecture, planning, urban design and collective placemaking from both public and private sectors. The need for a collaborative approach of developer and council in competing demands of public realm underpinned the discussions as all members acknowledged the role of funding in the viability and quality of delivery.
The panel discussed the definition of public realm and the requirement for flexibility of use together with the associated health and wellbeing benefits. From temporary to phased delivery, we went on to start thinking of the different types of space and the user experience including how the individual feels to be there, from individual streets to nodal squares.
The role of public realm was further explored in terms of the overall community, sense of ownership and ability to shape local pride and civic life. A couple of compelling take-aways were made with reference to “Palaces for the People” by Eric Klinenberg - a book questioning how social infrastructure can bring people together; likewise with the analogy of visiting a National Trust property and feeling arguably more nourished and rewarded by the experience of the quality outdoor space than the building itself. The ability of the space between buildings to influence the regeneration of areas through built form re-purposing has been proven in the past.
The journey of co-production and life cycle was also discussed. The importance of commissioning and co-design with the community, inclusivity, collaborative funding, material choice considerations, decluttering, stewardship, gender safety, maintenance, curation, cultural programming and climate adaptation. This ran parallel with the need to ensure there are no barriers to creating “space for everyone" whilst accommodating modern society and environmental requirements from flood management to greening to Uber bikes!
We’ll be preparing for our second meeting with some distinct areas to explore further but with the resounding appreciation that creation of quality public realm is collaborative, movement through public realm is a fifth mode of transport and dwelling in public realm should bring benefits for all.
The latest expert panel really has to embrace the fact that the ground plane is the glue to urban life and a platform for economic recovery! In a post pandemic world with increased alfresco activity there is also a larger than ever aspiration and expectation of public realm from society; all of which requires an integrated funding and delivery model and equitable future.
Stay posted for meeting two!