Our future town: Community place making and transport planning

This comprehensive and visually-appealing report from the Royal College of Art puts forward an ‘Our Future Town’ approach to planning, designing, and visioning the future of town centres – one that is collaborative, inclusive and participatory. Working with stakeholders in three English towns, advice and insight is provided as to how local communities can more effectively listen to each other, learn together, create collaborative visions, and make change happen.

Date added 12 October 2021
Last updated 12 October 2021

This Royal College of Art report puts forwards an 'Our Future Town’ approach to planning, designing, and visioning the future of town centres – one that is collaborative, inclusive and participatory. As the authors argue (p. 5):

We need to listen to each other, using language, questions and activities that dig beneath the surface, while giving communities a real sense of ownership and responsibility around the process. We need to celebrate the diversity in our communities by creating a range of ways to listen and engage with each other and we need to turn mechanical processes of recording and quantifying responses into something that is transparent, meaningful and even playful. We need to go beyond, “You said, we did” to “we’re making this together - join in!"

The report is based on the Our Future Town project, which was designed in response to the environmental, social, and technological challenges towns are facing, in addition to the potential power of creative and visual community engagement processes. The project involved working with communities and place stakeholders in three English towns (Biggleswade, Haltwhistle, and Lyme Regis) through conducting surveys and workshops. These covered topics such as: issues around future place making and transport planning; community engagement; inclusive wellbeing; the environment; and change that matters.

Participants expressed in the surveys that place making and planning in town centres needs to be holistic, in order to address important and overlapping issues of community engagement, wellbeing, inclusivity, and the environment. Whilst key community workshop findings are organised around the four key themes of:

Listening to each other

  • There is a lack of collective understanding about different methods for effectively engaging a more diverse range of community groups.
  • Town centre plans can often be short-term and hyper-local in focus, rather than considering the broader structural challenges facing a wider range of people.
  • Communities often feel that they do not have ownership over the town environment, public realm and public services.

Learning together

  • Technical jargon can often be used that not everybody in the community understands, with using language, visuals and data that people can relate to therefore deemed important.
  • There is a need to move beyond a negative mindset, and collaboratively coming together to inspire more radical change to tackle wider societal challenges.
  • Knowledge-sharing amongst the community is often short-term and comes to end when a particular project terminates, rather than seen as an ongoing process.

Imagining the future

  • The typical quantitative-driven ‘predict and provide’ model in town centre decision-making seen as top-down, and as not fully or creatively engaging the local community.
  • Participants like the idea of community-led vision making, but questions remain over who drives the vision, the resources needed, how to best engage with diverse groups, and how to synthesise different voices.
  • Thought that different creative methods could be used to capture a range of voices about the future of town centres, such as visioning tools, song writing, poetry etc.

Making change that matters

  • Need to locate the ‘magicians’ in the community who can help to bring people together, inspire local action, and ensure a diverse range of voices are heard.
  • A group of town centre ‘champions’ can be formed to make things happen, and who should put community wellbeing at the heart of any decisions.
  • Road maps for change need to include both shorter-term and tactical ‘quick wins’, as well as longer-term and strategic partnerships and changes.