A new focus on ordinary places

While city centres have improved beyond recognition over the past ten years, many ordinary places still suffer from ugly commercial development, heavily trafficked roads and badly designed new housing. CABE believes that with the right actions, these places can also enjoy a similar resurgence.

Richard Simmons, chief executive of CABE, has warned that ordinary places are being taken for granted.  "These are the places where most people spend most of their time. The challenges facing Britain now – frugality, low carbon living, getting people involved – will be played out here."

Ordinary places offers new ideas on the ways in which ordinary places can be improved. First, it advocates compulsory training in public participation for architects, planners and other built environment professionals, and the guarantee of funding for public engagement. CABE’s design review panel, for example, rarely sees schemes that include information on the views of local people.

Second, teaching all young people visual literacy, so that they can articulate what they think about a place, how it works and what would make it better. In CABE’s experience, many of the people who make decisions about design – such as councillors and clients – have never learnt about it. Teaching visual literacy is one way we can start to change this.

Other ideas include setting minimum design thresholds for all public building projects (not just schools), and asking local authorities to track the progress of ordinary neighbourhoods by introducing a way to measure the quality of a place.

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