Daniel Goodwin

Place shaping?

The challenge of responding to the changes being wrought by the coalition government and the prospect of serious budget reductions in the forthcoming spending review, together with the inevitable shifts in the policy lexicon, means that we have heard little on the subject of place shaping in recent weeks. However it would be a pity if the idea, if not the term, were to fade from view because it is central to the purpose of localism and local government.

That purpose, I believe, is to help local people to determine what their life is like and their aspirations for where they live. Done well it fulfils the requirements of ‘Big Society’ and/or community development, in which there is a key role for elected members in fostering community engagement, developing the community’s vision for the area and determining the right things to do at the right spatial level.

This requires a certain understanding of the role and links to the need to refresh the public sector ethos as hinted at elsewhere in this blog. For example, some politicians I have spoken to are concerned about the term ‘community leader’, because they see themselves as servants or facilitators. Good for them. Similarly many officers see themselves as being enablers of communities, not constrainers or herders of activity.

There are some very real challenges in this work, aside from the usual questions of value for money. It is a labour of love to develop good community planning and neighbourhood development. Some administrative areas are effectively a bureaucratic fiction and a means must be found to build on the strengths of self identifying communities within them. This can equally well apply to London Boroughs, Counties or large Districts, where the strength of local feeling of neighbourhoods or parishes is ignored at one’s peril.

There are some limitations in the current community planning framework which has seen thought by policy makers of both the left and the right, relating in particular to the development of thought on community capital planning as well as activities funded by revenue. What are the particular community assets and are they being used effectively, is there sufficient return on investment and what are the opportunity costs and levels of redundancy involved?

In this context of change and community engagement, it will be interesting to see what the impact is of looser economic development arrangements, particularly as the Local Economic Partnerships come into being. For many of the infrastructure and cultural underpinnings of place will be driven by these.

At the moment I am trying to think about the distinctions between personal, universal and environmental service provision as it impacts on this vision for a place. It’s relatively easy to see how public realm policy has a bearing on how a particular place discovers itself, but what is the impact of the provision and leadership of personal services for the elderly, or the methods adopted for child protection? What constitutes a coherent approach and does it matter? These are questions for further thought and consideration at the moment, but I am certain that the answer will based on the underlying principle of establishing the right thing to do for the people and places we serve.

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2 comments on “Place shaping?

  1. jonathanflowers
    September 3, 2010

    The linkage between place and services normally associated with a more strategic level such as care services, and dare I say, Health, is a really interesting one. Apart from a limited extent to which the physical geography and travel networks of a place may influence service availability or need, I suspect the main element will be to look at the population of the place – its culture, education, norms, working and living patterns, adjusting service levels, access, information provision accordingly. That could, of course, lead to some quite controversial outcomes but for personal services, the “place” is its people and so a differentiated proposition is going to be based on the differences in the population, maybe we have to face up to that?

    • Daniel Goodwin
      September 5, 2010

      What I was thinking of was perhaps more the interaction of personal service provision with the place. An example might be the relationship between a community and a cottage hospital which closes because, in health terms, it is not viable. Or where there may be an economic attraction for individuals or families to live in a certain place, because their personal needs are met for example through a particular day care provision. Or possibly the other way round,and transport related, the presence of personal services in a village or town. A doctor’s surgery or day care centre, makes it viable for a broader range of people to live in a particular area, or at the very least changes their interactions and dependencies on others. A lack of provision increasing the need for interdependence of the community. Maybe that’s the sort of thing you had in mind?

      Perhaps it’s a question of scale. Once there are enough recipients of a personal service it begins to behave, in the minds of the community, as a universal, place shaping one.

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This entry was posted on August 17, 2010 by in Community and culture, Local Government Futures and tagged , , .
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