Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Review - Kevin McCloud and the Big Town Plan

Over the last few weeks Channel 4 has been showing a series of documentaries about a project they set up with the local council (Wakefield) to renovate various areas around Castleford chosen by the local population. Being from the area, this immediately caught my attention when it was advertised on TV and only being busy has stopped me writing about it before now.

Now there are probably issues about how this scheme was devised, how it has been funded etc. But I want to deal what is billed as the central question, can ‘good design’ re-invigorate a run-down town. The idea of designing out social problems is not one that I haven’t come across before, in criminology the idea of designing out crime exists for example. The project is conceived as follows; the funding from various bodies for 8 initial schemes will create a boost that will lead to the regeneration of the whole town.

That the design of things can make a difference I personally am of no doubt of. Just the physical dimensions of any object affect how it can be used. A good design that fulfils the needs of local people will be of more use than a bad one. But no matter how good a design you have it is not isolated from the conditions around it.

The programme also suggests that it is innovative in involving the local community. In each programme there are some sort of community representatives, which although I am unsure how they are selected, I would think that any re-design of public space should include, indeed be the dominant group involved. Generally speaking though, in all the schemes covered, where the architects have listened to and taken up the ideas and needs of the people who are going to use it this has resulted in the best outcomes. Wherever the council takes direct responsibility for anything or tries to push its own agenda it ends up in creating something mediocre or worse. One programme has farce of a town square of benches, trees and paving being replaced by different benches, trees and paving.

Generally speaking it is the minor projects that have a large amount of local involvement that are big successes, and the ones where this involvement is either lacking or taken over by the council or a private company the result is less than satisfactory. But has good design reinvigorated the town economically. I think the answer is no – other factors such as the relocation of the market and a private investment plan are doing that for the town as a whole which are somewhat independent of the programme. But on a local basis around some of the smaller projects (particularly the parks) it has brought a community spirit back through a communal working together and ownership of these projects.


Soapsoane said...

The relationship between architecture and regeneration is far more complex than the presentation of english partnership and council funding with token community representation that we saw on the channel 4 programme, as you realise.

Have a look at this site:

which is a really interesting developing community master plan coming out of a very long term relationship buildig exercise with local residents, businesses, developers, Sheffield United Football Club, the university, the council, an architect.

They're developing a master plan 'Distinctive Sharrow' but they acknowledge that it's evolving.

The 'Llewellyn Bowen' and 'Kevin McCloud' TV approach belittle the real seriousness of intent of regeneration projects that are really involving communities.

The channel 4 programmes just seemed to be like flagship lottery
funded projects where there had to be some community consultation but the money, projects and plans had been decided in advance.

That's not the same as an organic project where there are many stakeholders who are really engaged with the development and regenration of the area and you can spot the difference between these two different approaches to spending the taxpayer's money a mile off. The 'Kevin McCloud' approach is just rubber stamping of the ego of the trendy plan and planner, the democratic approach is one where everyone feels passionately about the area and develops something that most people feel nods to a future that recognises the present and acknowledges the past.

Regeneration is happening when people feel comfortable at home, at work and when they go out.

What do you think?

Leftwing Criminologist said...

looks interesting.

the main thing for me is that it has to be the local people who are in the driving seat with architects etc. subordinated to them and prepared to develop their ideas. When this happened the results were fantastic - the next best thing was when it was the local residents by themselves who decided things.

i think you're ight about the 'kevin mccloud approach' in that it aims at architectural innovation rather than what people actually want.

Addictive Picasso said...

Just so you know, local community groups and people in a big sequence of public events chose the projects that the regeneration project in Castleford centred on.

There was a call for expressions of interest from architectural designers.

A team of external consultants created a brief from what the community said that it wanted to be done.

There was then a design competition that was exhibited at which local people chose their favored designers for schemes. And their decision was endorsed by popular vote.

We then formulated a business plan for this for the entire 'basket' of projects.

A team of consultants, led by me, then presented the plan to prospective funders. In many cases, local community groups applied for funding for their projects themselves.

The process took five years and *organically* grew from what the town wanted to see happen - and the funding and delivery of projects happened within the time it took to cement the design plans and the funding profile of each scheme.

One of two projects never saw the light of day because either the project or community/commercial groups couldn't raise the cash.

One project featured in the series didn't go through this process but was part of a larger master plan.

And, I hope I'm not boring you, the entire scheme of projects has now been assumed in to a larger, long term master plan for the town.

Sorry to go on but may be useful for you - especially Soapsoane - to have some background.

Soapsoane said...

My humble apologies...but I really did look forward to this series of programmes and just felt that the emphasis on people in the programme types of people, their backgrounds, their lives, their aspirations seemed to be missing.

Perhaps this is the fault of the medium and the pressure to make an interesting programme. Somehow, though, I really feel that when we begin to join up the skills of the documentary makers with the artists, creators, planners, et al that the programmes would begin to fulfil the 'potential' of the media to assist in the regeneration process.

Kind regards and well done


Leftwing Criminologist said...


i think some of the stuff in the programme really worked like two of the parks and the bridge - it delivered something really good for the community.

however, the system of public involvement is far from perfect and i got the feeling that in some cases what the public wanted didn't seem to count for much and was over-ruled by 'official' bodies.

however, given my experiences of the redevelopment of nearby wakefield i'd say that what happened and is happening in cas is many steps forward from there.

Addictive Picasso said...

You're right: but then the 'official' bodies *are* supposed to - and are - accountable to the public - but in different ways. for me, the message is simple really: some regeneration projects work. others don't. people in castleford are f*ing fantastic. and kevin mccloud took just one subjective slice through what's gone on in the town these last few years.