Designing Our Future: Community Centred Town Planning

For the duration of the summer, I am volunteering one evening a month on the Bristol 'Shape My City' project.

Held at the Architecture Centre, this project is aimed at young adults aged 15-17, and encourages young people to think about the city around them. Focused on a different specialism every month, the scheme fosters an understanding and appreciation of architecture, engineering and planning. It's a wonderful project, and I'm thrilled to be a small part of it.

Now, obviously Whitney Houston said it best when she declared: "The children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way..." (if you were looking for a song to get stuck in your head're welcome) and I already knew that the students on the scheme were smart cookies. But April's Landscape Architecture session provided a truly fascinating window into the priorities of the designers of tomorrow, and the aspects of urban design they deemed most essential. I have to say - I can't wait until some of the ideas discussed become a reality.

Vitally, for those involved in town planning and urban design;

"...all of our design tactics and combination of public space, amenities and other solutions are informed directly by the needs, desires and habits of that community."

For the students involved in the project, this could not have come across in their work any more strongly. Their design ideas were driven by a consideration of purpose and use - they worked outwards from the communities they were designing for. After some discussion regarding the essential need to visit a site before making decisions surrounding its design, the group headed out to study present users and to consider the various uses of the site over 24 hours.
The results?
A space which incorporated wide green areas and focused on the sensory experience, whilst preserving the skate friendly aspects for all users.

The Incorporation Of Green Spaces

It's extremely heartening to see that the would-be Landscape Architects of the future place such a high value on the incorporation of green spaces in their public areas. When asked to select their favourite images of spaces around Bristol, the majority of images selected featured allotments, shared community gardens and large, often overgrown areas within housing developments. The students believed that the best places for people to live and work were those which were green and offered communal spaces - a far cry from the stereotypical representation of the self-centred millennial "me- generation".

Interestingly, this concept of incorporating greenery into living and working spaces has been shown to have a real impact on health levels within communities, as

"RIBA have found a clear correlation between the amount of Green Space, density of housing in urban areas, and the overall health of the population."

As Bristol's regeneration projects continue, the importance of fusing gardens and buildings in the interests of communal health and well-being will only grow. Younger designers seem increasingly to yearn for green spaces, and are incorporating them into functional and user-centric plans. As a child, I discovered my love for design by creating gardens on an old flower tray; mixing soil, water and pathways to create my own small landscape. With technological advances bringing the world ever closer, there is something reassuring about the way these young designers sense the need to preserve wide green spaces. The marriage of greenery and traditional infrastructure seems to lie at the heart of community-centred designs.

I can't wait to see what the students come up with this month, and, indeed, to see what designs might take shape in the years to come.