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Recap - Can We Measure the Quality of Place?

On day two of #PlanTech week, our panel discuss whether it is possible to measure quality and, if so, is there such a thing as 'peak quality' when it comes to planning?

For this Lunchtime Lecture, we were joined by Nicholas Boys-Smith from CreateStreets, Ed Holloway of Beepstudio, Josh Artus from Conscious Cities and Simona Dobrescu from Steer Davies Gleave.

Simona kicked off the session with a presentation focusing on the end user. She stated that we must accommodate all people’s needs when planning and that we must utilise technology and data to make better decisions. Analysing the impacts of a planning proposal should be as important as its construction. Simona countered the original question with her own take on quality, specifically, could the continuous improvement lead to identical streets. Is there such a thing as ‘peak quality’?

What makes good urban design and architecture? Ed asked posed the question of between objectivity vs subjectivity to the attendees. How can we quantify the quality of place or how do we know something is a ‘good’ design? He argued that what some may see as a negative characteristic of a space might be the quality that makes it unique and a benefit that enhances its character. Ed gave examples of three project he had worked on to illustrate this idea: The Horniman Museum Project, the Oldham artwork thought pavilion and Havelock walk.

 Josh outlined his work at Conscious Cities by asking how can tools like artificial intelligence and data science influence architecture. What makes good architecture? The answer is a space or development that is timeless and that enhances the universal human characteristics of health, wellbeing and productivity based on core functions of cognition, behaviour and experience. There is often a fallacy in architecture and development to build spaces “of the now” and rooted in present modernity. However, these structures often end up defunct tomorrow. Josh’s methods are informed by cognitive neuroscience, he believes that understanding people and context is the most important thing when developing outcomes. Science informs design and explained how some of the practical work they carry out involve providing solutions to problems like building cities that don’t intimidate children or providing spaces which elderly people can navigate safely and easily.

Nicholas rounded off the discussion by asking if it’s possible to define what a good place is. For planners to design successful spaces such as streets and housing, they have to adhere to certain qualities that hold public approval. He then explained how CreateStreets’ ‘Street Score’ tool does just that; it permits the user to measure quality of place based on a set of variables including the level of greenery, homes, height of buildings, connectivity, beauty & design and density. Nicholas pointed out the deception that developers can use when advertising a space and stressed that merely calling something a ‘square’ or a ‘village’ doesn’t make it so. This lazy classification must be exposed if we are to create genuinely beneficial spaces for people who live in cities.

Following on from this, the speakers took part in a panel discussion chaired by  Future Cities Catapult Urban Design Planning Lead, Euan Mills where audience members also asked thought-provoking questions to each of them.

You can watch the entire Lunchtime Lecture via our Youtube channel.

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