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  • The potential of design in neighbourhood planning: A design-led reconstruction of the Kentish Town case

Cano Piniero, Almudena, 2020, Thesis, The potential of design in neighbourhood planning: A design-led reconstruction of the Kentish Town case PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

Under the widespread perception of a democratic deficit in practices of local governance across European cities, the neighbourhood has become the principal site for experimentation with participatory models of urban regeneration. In the UK, the recent assimilation of ‘Localism’ thinking into mainstream urban policy and planning has opened up an institutionalised channel for citizen engagement in the production of the built environment at the local scale. In particular, Neighbourhood Planning procedures as outlined in the Localism Act 2011, have been presented as a new instrument for local communities to produce the statutory planning documents for their area.

The conceptual and practical implications of Neighbourhood Planning have been widely debated in the fields of urban studies and social science; the debate has reanimated academic discussion on appropriate forms of local democracy and community empowerment. Comparatively little consideration has been given to the potentials and limitations this planning framework presents for design activity itself, its methods and the quality and relevance of its spatial outcomes.

On one hand, institutionalised, state-enabled participatory formulas such as Neighbourhood Planning have been presented as an instrument for rebalancing power at the scale of the neighbourhood. In this sense, the localism-driven reforms have been denounced for serving neoliberal agendas in times of austere reorganisation of welfare provision and for resulting in a mere transfer of service delivery functions to citizens rather than in a significant devolution of control. However, advocates of participatory governance still see in these frameworks some potential for various degrees of local transformation “from within” where power can be renegotiated. Neighbourhood Planning, although associated with problems of legitimacy, representativeness and political efficacy, is considered an ongoing process of expansion of citizens’ own spaces for engagement, where the scope for empowerment is yet to be redefined.

However, independent of the current academic debate, Neighbourhood Planning is emerging as a burgeoning field of practice where planners, architects and urban designers converge and work together with locals. This is promoting the revival of participatory approaches to planning, architecture and design from the 1960’s and 1970s’, with a renewed underlying assumption that increasing participation will directly lead to the improvement of the urban landscape. However, the Neighbourhood Plans adopted in London risk reproducing the negative consequences born out of planning and design being artificially phased -first planning, then later design- in the process of local space development.

With the first wave of Neighbourhood Plans and Forums operating across London, the city is providing a wide collection of case studies for critically examining the roles architects and urban designers are playing in the context of the Localism Act 2011. I use the case of Kentish Town to demonstrate that current approaches to Neighbourhood Planning require a re-valorisation of designer expertise, which is often overshadowed by the practicalities of participation. In the purely instrumental use of expert knowledge, urban design could miss out on an opportunity to introduce a spatial approach to planning that remains under-explored and has not yet served to re-imagine policy-making processes and inform the outcomes. In light of this trend, my research seeks to (re)construct an amplified role for design in Neighbourhood Planning that would make better use of design professionals beyond their current scope of involvement.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
Architecture > K200 Building
Architecture > K400 Planning (Urban > K440 Urban studies
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
School or Centre: School of Architecture
Funders: AHRC
Date Deposited: 30 Jan 2020 15:08
Last Modified: 30 Jan 2020 15:08
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4278
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