We Make Places have just finished the second year of The Maverick City, an annual Cultural Symposium providing an inspiring insight into a growing movement of artists, designers and activists delivering grass-roots projects in communities across the globe.
This year the symposium was focused on community-led projects from cities around the world and framed in 3 main themes as art in public spaces, making and alternative housing models and from the speakers and audience alike, we discovered the common attitude of Doing Things Together and of taking action rather than continuing to just discuss plans for change.
We are feeling pretty inspired and fired up to be honest and a number of other events and outcomes from projects we are involved in have only added to this feeling of urgency. But it’s not just us…….
At the inaugural people’s powerhouse event Andy Burnham, the new city-regional mayor of Greater Manchester asserted that “people, not politicians or developers, make places” and in his hopes for public participation to radically alter the decision-making process that shape cities argued “if we put the same old politics into the new structures then we will not achieve the change we need to see” This amounts to a welcome and disruptive challenge to the pan-northern place-making community to be bolder and more radical.
Whilst a laudable view and one we share, there is a paucity of the levers and mechanisms that may make this a reality. Whilst focus on the post-2008 recession is natural, we and others we collaborate with, work in communities that never shared in the growth of the prior boom. We question the traditional approach to regeneration, which are defined by area and quantified by investment and sq footage of development, where citizens are ‘done-to’ .We seek more organic, embedded and authentic community development as a precursor to any urban development. We also see the potential of embedded neighbourhood working as a “quadruple-helix” where research-industry-society and public services meaningfully collaborate to co-create solutions appropriate to places. We are excited by the potential of citizen-led and doing it together approaches, and feel that social enterprises and crowd-funded solutions have now proven their worth and need to work at scale.
The recent history of top-down regeneration in this country (exemplified by Housing Market Renewal) has been destructive to communities and led to mistrust of the planning process and a breakdown of relationship between local authorities and citizens. Hard-pressed local authorities battling to balance the books seem to accept ‘development at any cost’ and communities are frequently attempting to challenge developments far too late in the process. Further the ongoing obscenity of Grenfell Tower where the lived experience of residents was invisible to those who made decisions about them must sharpen our intention to work very differently.
So what are we going to do?
We are aware of and collaborating with many networks of urban change agents and ‘mavericks’ and feel the time is right for this approach to be hi-lighted, examined and shared. We feel that we (citizens) deserve and are capable of better and are embarking on collaborative exploration of how new models and new thinking may be shared and grown in pursuit of better places. We have seen the transformative power of change-makers, from whichever background and are interested in the roles of the social enterprise sector working in neighbourhood settings and want to highlight role models, experimental projects, case studies and trailblazers from whom other communities may find inspiration as they face the challenge of post-austerity, post-regeneration underfunded deprived neighbourhoods.
We are supportive of the People’s Powerhouse initiative but are impatient to see the mechanisms though which we can work differently together flourish – and fast. This is a natural extension of The Maverick City symposium which we are being asked to replicate in other cities around the world to continue to inspire communities and share good practice.
When summing up at the end of one of the panel sessions We Make Places Chair Toria Buzza said
“Isn’t it interesting how in this world of very divided society, there is a parallel movement of
working together and tirelessly on a very small scale, which is actually creating all the change?”
It’s 40 years since the first White Paper on Regeneration and it’s time for a re-think! It shouldn’t be about bricks, square footage and profit, it needs to be about people, services and ownership.
So, We Make Places will be collaborating with our digital maverick friends at Red Ninja and with academic and general urban policy heroine Dr Nicola Headlam to research, test and document this new movement.
If you’d like to help us, find us on twitter @WeMakePlaces and tell us how we should do this work, with whom and what you have to offer.
Like with all truly exciting ideas we don’t have a bean – yet – but energy and experience and a tonne of maverick mentality. Will you join us? #maverickmentality #ripregeneration
Who We Are
We Make Places is a Community Interest Company, based in Liverpool, UK which is writing, living and delivering a manifesto for change across the built environment. Our purpose is to support communities (of interest, or locality) in bringing about positive change through regeneration projects which improve land or buildings, bringing them back into community use or creating homes for projects the community needs. This leaves communities more resilient and economically and socially viable.
The company was formed out of the Friends of the Flyover, a voluntary organisation which is working to deliver our first Provocation, a vision to turn the Churchill Way Flyover in Liverpool into a community space, tourist attraction and cultural venue see www.friendsoftheflyover.org.uk for more info.
This has led to a series of large scale cultural programmes and smaller scale community based participatory projects.
Red Ninja are a design-led technology company, making products that people love. We involve users in design, from the first scribble of an idea, through to the product launch party. We listen, we think, and then we do. We’re not afraid to crash silos, disrupt systems that no longer serve and challenge stale ways of working. We’re bold, we’re brave and we take risks. Our best ideas get made in this way. We believe in the power of design and technology to change lives.
Dr Nicola Headlam is the Urban Transformations Research Fellow based at the University of Oxford and an Associate of the Institute of Cultural Capital in Liverpool. She has most recently worked on Foresight, Future of Cities as a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow, funded by the ESRC. She is an urbanist with expertise in city governance, economic development and urban policy and is an experienced researcher. Her core research interests include; the role of public agencies in place, specifically sub-national spatial and urban policy and the role of leadership and partnerships. Nicola is a founding member of the Urbanista UK network for women involved in positive urban change. Nicola’s work in recent years has concentrated on the roles of living and urban labs and the scope for innovative and disruptive practice in built environment processes and professions.