Local context is the
foundation for all our work
Traditionally, consultants have delivered projects for clients. We can do that and we’ll do a good job. Even better, though, we like to deliver projects with our clients, working with you to produce solutions that you feel ownership of. This way, you get better value and the results are more sustainable.
Placemaking: St. Martin’s Square, Lincoln, UK
Lincoln Business Improvement Group
This was a placemaking (perhaps, more accurately, a place-mending) project, commissioned by Lincoln Business Improvement Group (BIG). OpenPlan was asked to engage with the local community and local authorities to prepare a scheme for improving St. Martin’s Square, an urban space immediately adjacent to the north end of Lincoln’s very long High Street. The “square” includes a closed burial ground and a small car park, surrounded by buildings in a variety of commercial, residential and other uses. OpenPlan brought in colleagues from Chester-based Environmental Associates to help with design and visualization. This was an intensive project, completed in just 10 days and involving close engagement with the local community and other key stakeholders.
The project was undertaken in three main stages as outlined below.
Assessing the present
The project started with a Placecheck. We walked the area with members of the local community – businesses, residents, the church that kindly hosted us, local authority representatives – asking them to tell us what they like about the place, what they don’t like and what changes they would like to see. This gave the consultancy team a good understanding of the place as experienced by the people who spend most time in it and who share the greatest stake in its future.
Understanding the past
Next, we spent some time investigating the history of St Martin’s Square in more detail, getting to understand its origins and evolution; identifying possible archaeological constraints and opportunities; making sense of the present by appreciating the past.
Stepping in to the future
Following on from the Placecheck, we facilitated the development of a Touchstone by local community and stakeholders. The Touchstone captured the vision that the local community had for St. Martin’s Square (how it should feel to live and work there; how it should feel to visit; the role it should play in the wider context of the city) and the values associated with this (important features, activities and opportunities). The Touchstone provides a point of reference for future development decisions and community activity: ‘will this decision contribute to achieving this vision / support these values?’
Guided by the outcomes of the Placecheck and Touchstone visioning exercises, the team prepared a series of drawings to illustrate ways in which physical changes could enable the vision that had been developed to be realised in stages, as opportunities and funding would allow. Following further discussion, preferred options were identified, detailed and costed.
The summary project report can be viewed / downloaded here: St. Martin’s Square Summary Report.
The project demonstrated the strength of combining methodologies, originating from different backgrounds but sharing a common purpose. Placecheck is an urban design tool we have used frequently, designed specifically for community use. We first used Touchstone as part of the process of defining our own vision and brand as a company. We realised that a similar approach could be applied to placemaking and this was our first opportunity to adapt Touchstone for that purpose and combine it with Placecheck to add extra dimensions to community engagement. The results exceeded both our expectations and our client’s and the community embraced the approach enthusiastically: using a strongly articulated, community generated vision to shape development truly puts people at the heart of the planning process.
This project also demonstrated that good placemaking projects do not necessarily require big budgets and lots of time. Containing the whole planning and design process within just 10 days meant that the local community’s interest and enthusiasm was maintained throughout; the consultancy team’s minds were concentrated; creativity was stimulated and not allowed to fade and our client was able to move ahead quickly to the next stage.
What’s happened since?
At the time of writing (4 months on), the local authorities have agreed the principles and funding opportunities are now being considered. Further community engagement and consultation is to take place as elements of the scheme come forward for implementation.