Saturday, 19 December 2009

Shared Space update

As anyone who's followed my blog, or indeed had a work related conversation with me in the last few years will realise, 'Shared Space' is a bit of a pet subject of mine.

See my previous post on Shared Space.

I was thus interested to see that the most recent isssue of the Landscape Journal had gone for a bit of shared space special. While I was pleased to see the topic being discussed, my feeling is that it's probably bit late as the tide seems to already have turned against the whole shared space concept. This view was rather confirmed by the recent article in Building Design entitled, "Is opposition to shared space kerbing councils' enthusiasm?". See below:

From personal experience it feels like resistance has been steadily building to schemes which include elements of shared space. Whereas, a couple of years ago they'd have been positively received (such as North Arran Way - image above), recent proposals have been rejected early on in favour of traditional bitmac and kerbs. The reasons for this are, I believe, twofold; firstly I think that there is a natural inclination against doing anything new. This is particularly true of the risk driven world of the highway engineer, where the safety of new approaches needs to carefully considered, but also where the lazy officer can easily use safety as an excuse for carrying on with whatever makes their life easier (remember that shared spaces are always bespoke). The second reason is the work that Guide Dogs for the Blind has done to oppose shared spaces. While I'm still a little confused by why they've taken such a hard line on the matter, there's no question that they've done a very thorough job of tarnishing shared spaces in many peoples minds.

As it happens, I went through the concerns of Guide Dogs for the Blind a couple of years back in some detail, when I worked on the North Arran Way Village Centre. The aim of the scheme was to provide a pedestrian focussed centre with local shops and facilities, that also included some car access. The solution we settled upon was to go for a shared space approach with 'cranking roads' and visual narrowing (trees, bollards and paving patterns) to reduce vehicle speed, and using the placement of buildings to create well-defined public spaces. Prior to the planning application we had to go through a user group audit, which inlcuded a variety of members of the local community, including a number of groups representing disabled people. The scheme was also 'challenged' by an experienced access officer from outside the area. Hence, I read up on all the available guidance!

I was surprised by how very positive the experince was. While there was some initial opposition (particularly from a number of blind and partially sighted users, and the organisations that represented them), we were able to adapt the design then and there and include measures to address their very well considered concerns. These included the use of contrasting colours for street furniture and kerbs, introducing definable navigation routes for the visually empaired, as well as many, many other measures which made the scheme far richer than the one we started with. Everyone involved went away happy and I felt that I had designed something that would really benefit the community. With hindsight, I think it was this excercise, which made me realise how well shared space can work for everybody.

If the scheme sounds interesting, it's all on the internet. I've also dropped a link to one of the key plans below:

Ironically, kerbs were actually used throughout the scheme. The only place they were removed was at crossing points, in response to a request from users with limited mobility. I also suspect that had this scheme progressed in the current climate, I would have been met by users with placards, and we wouldn't have been able to have the positive debates that we did.

Guide Dogs for the Blind's opposition to shared space stems from the problems the removal of kerbs causes to blind and partially sighted users. Guide dogs are trained to recognise and stop at kerbs, whilst for many partially sighted users a kerb is visible marker of the road edge. Some people have also pounced on suggestion that pedestrians make eye contact with motorists (this actually dates back to Hans Monderman, but is in my opinion unnecessary - all you need is for the motorist to see you and understand that he doesn't have right of way). Guide Dogs for the Blind repeatedly make the point that blind and partially sighted people don't 'feel' included for by shared spaces schemes.

So is the removal kerbs a fundamental part of shared spaces? In my opinion yes and no. As it happens, I think the removal of all kerbs has been used too much on certain schemes. I would personally only remove kerbs altogether on very low trafficked areas, or areas where pedestrians enjoy a clear priority. However, if you are proscriptive about having to include conventional 80mm kerbs everywhere as some are suggesting (including our friends at Guide Dogs), then I think you lose what shared space is trying to achieve.

So in summary, why are shared spaces so important, and why am I so dismayed by it's detractors?

At it's heart, shared space isn't about kerbs of paving or even cars, it's about designing for people. By understanding how people behave in certain situations, we can use the built environment to positively influence their actions. Shared space is also about taking the priority for our streets back from cars - at the moment road design is all about turning circles and visibility splays, when it should be about the people that use them. What sort of people use the space and what are their needs? Where do people want to cross the road? Is the road a comfortable place for people?

It seems to me that there is a very real danger that the shared space 'furore', will serve only to maintain the status quo of cars first, people second. I sincerely hope I am proved wrong and that a satisfactory solution for is found.

Cabe Space: What we'd like to see in the next 10 years

Also featured in the recent Landscape Journal, was Cabe Space Director, Sarah Gaventa's wishllist for public spaces over the next 10 years. I think she makes some excellent points. Unfortunately I've not seen this online, so have reproduced it below:
  • The green spaces in social housing projects to be of the same quality as a Green Flag or Green Pennant Park.
  • Every new housing development of more than 50 houses to have some public space designed into it. A car park doesn't count.
  • Solve the problem in urban streets of how people who are visually impaired can navigate well, without throwing out the whole shared space agenda. Cabe Space has sponsored a research fellow at the RCA to look at product design: blister paving is 20 years old and we believe design innovation needs to keep evolving in our public spaces.
  • All our street furniture to be designed by furniture and product desgners and not by engineers so we get seats you can actually sit on, not the same ubiquitous designs in every city. We want to see furniture that is distinctive and of the place.
  • Reverse the loss of democracy in privately managed public spaces. I have sat on grass in new urban squares and been asked to move within five minutes because it's not really a 'public' space.
  • Kids to be allowed urban play spaces close to their homes, schools and shopping centres and reverse the attitude from some local authorities that play isn't a priority.
  • Fallow urban development sites to be used as nomadic allotments full of grow bags.
  • The importance and value of green infrastructure to be understood and embraced at regional, county and local levels and fully integrated within planning policies and frameworks.
  • To be able to walk or cycle through every city on some sort of green route.
  • Vocal, innovative landscape architects to lead projects, with architects being part of their team.
  • Manual for Streets Volumes 2, 3 and 4 to be published for high streets, commercial streets and arterial roads so that the balance between people and cars is redressed throughout our towns and cities.
  • For a landscape architect to win the Stirling Prize.
  • For professionals to stop talking about public space as 'the space between buildings' but as the places that make cities work.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

CAD Monkey

This has been around for a few years, but I still think it's absolutely spot on.

I still use the old, 'issue drawings at the end of the day, so clients can't ask you to change them' trick.

Thursday, 10 December 2009




1. Furnished with turrets and battlements in the style of a castle.

2. Having a castle.

The sharp eyed may have spotted that there's another blog next to my name in my Blogger profile. For the last couple of months I've been quietly adding a whole heap of photographs, together with a few pithy quotes, to a new blog called 'Castellated'.

You see when I'm not eating, sleeping, watching TV or being a landscape architect, I quite like to visit old places; houses, gardens and in particular castles, and take photographs. I didn't have any particular purpose in doing this, until it occurred to me that I could put them into a blog, and hence 'Castellated' was born.

Like the blog, 'castellated' is a word that generally applies to castles, but it's also a word that I really like the sound of and would like to use in coversation more frequently (I'm also quite partial to the words tartiflette and caribou). Being a rather uncommon word, I had intended to start the blog with dictionary definition of it, but then something intersting happened. Googling 'castellated' not only came up with definition's of the word, but it also showed me a number of quotes from literature that featured the word. They all seemed to be by terrific authors and offered interesting little vignettes from their work. The first I read was from 'The Masque of the Red Death' by Edgar Allen Poe, and as I had just spent the day exploring a 'castellated abbey', I felt compelled to post it with my pictures.

When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.

Since then I've posted lots more photographs, but also more 'castellated' quotes that I've found and been amused by. The result is a quirky, but admitedly fairly ideosyncratic blog, that I've really enjoyed putting together. If any of this sounds interesting, please feel free to click on the link below.