Over 2 meetings our local pairs of residents and professional partners talked about the local environment, or in other words the places and spaces that make up the neighbourhoods where people live. Conversations were not about individual buildings but we suggested people think and talk about open spaces and outdoor spaces such as:
A street where our local participant lives (or another local street they know)
A local park
A children’s playground
Gardens or shared back greens
A local shopping area
An outdoor sports ground
Places such as these are important when we think about regeneration. We already know from the survey research done as part of the Fife Regeneration Health and Wellbeing Study that people living in the target regeneration areas are unhappier and less satisfied with the local environment than other Fife residents.
So, in their sessions we asked local pairs to meet up in their neighbourhood and identify one place that they like, and one place that they would like to change. We asked people to visit the local places and consider these questions:
How does this place look?
What do people use this place for?
Is it clean and cared for?
Is it safe and comfortable?
Can everyone get to this place – and get about it?
How important is this place to local people?
How do you feel when you are in this place?
To help with the discussion in the meetings people also took photographs of the places they like and don’t like. When it comes to the place the local person does not like there was an additional question to consider:
What could we do to change it for the better?
What public spaces did people talk about?
People talked about public green spaces like parks and some spoke about wild places for walking. Others spoke about the streets where they live. One spoke about the environment around an abbey, another about a social club and a few chose abandoned or underused urban spaces.
The following are some of the themes which emerged.
Many places and spaces are “barren”, “bare”, “abandoned and neglected”.
"Nobody seems to be looking after this area now. It was the focal point of the village; I met a lot of my friends there."
There is a strong emphasis from many people who see the unrealised potential of public spaces as they go about their daily lives – whether walking to work, to the shops or taking children to the park.
"The park’s not used, people walk by it."
"I live on this street, but people pass through quickly."
"This park is seriously underused but has great potential."
"This space isn’t used; people walk on it to access shops and homes."
"Children are supposed to use it but there is only a set of swings."
"What a waste of a vast empty space – it doesn’t get used."
People recognise that public places and spaces will be better utilised if they are made more like places where people feel they can stop (and not just feel they have to pass through quickly) or a place designed for getting together. Suggestions from local people include benefits which would come from:
Planned landscaping, for example:
establishing flower beds
maintaining existing shrubs and grass
planting wild flowers to brighten the place up and attract wild life
providing benches or seating areas
create a nature reserve
Providing things to do, for example;
a sensory garden
restore or add more play park equipment
play equipment for children with disabilities
adventure play areas
restoring or adding football pitches
pitch and putt
use for public events
have a bandstand used for music
build a community building
Providing basic amenities and maintenance, for example:
manage wild areas like woods
more bins and bins for dog poo
Participants also identify that even abandoned sites and buildings have potential. For example, an unused power station is “an eyesore… overpowering and dominant” but could be converted into housing, sports facilities or a location for a community cafe.
Some people spoke about re-assessing and addressing the potential of local streets such as high streets, particularly as some have lost small local shops.
"The high street used to be a place of belonging, an opportunity to meet people locally… in the past the street was a hive of activity."
"People drive through, there’s no reason to stop."
Planners already recognise that the best public spaces often have different kinds of activity going on. Our participants also like to go to different public places for different reasons – sometimes to join the company of a busy, lively park and sometimes to find a quiet, peaceful place to walk or sit down.
"The park’s lovely and peaceful. Lots for kids to do and nice to walk in."
"It’s restful watching the waves."
"I feel like a big kid in the park. I also like feeding the wild birds. I always pay a visit to the burger van or ice cream van."
"It’s fantastic, full of different activities and places to go."
Local people recognise there is a need for well-planned and organised places to attract people with lots of activities, play parks and cafes but also a need for naturally wild places like woods, beaches and riverside walks to be attractive and well managed. For example a walk beside a stream is described as “peaceful, tidy, clean, natural and untouched.” For someone else:
"The beach gives me a thinking space – so hard to find! I feel like escaping– I look at the water and wonder what else is out there for me."
Our participants remind us that places have personal meaning for people, such as places where they have played, worked or spent leisure time. People would like these places to be looked after.
"I have lots of pleasant memories of this place. I played in this area as a child. I climbed this tree as a child. I feel quiet and peaceful here, I feel secure. I have an emotional attachment to this place."
Some public spaces are important in bringing everyone together; they feel like “the hub of the community”.
For quiet, peaceful and more solitary spaces, most residents spoke about outdoor green areas, but for one resident an abbey “is important because it’s where people can go if they want peace or quiet or feel down.”
When it comes to places of historic significance, people say they would like these places to be better identified and remembered, to be maintained and to be signposted. They would benefit from having good information displayed about them – both for locals and for visitors.
An important aspect of considering the places where people live is about having a sense of belonging and safety. People’s home streets are important to them.
"It means a lot, people want to live here."
"I feel at ease here, I look forward to going home. I love living in this street - great neighbours look out for one another."
Although sometimes they are unhappy with the appearance of streets:
"It makes me feel depressed that this is our local community."
"I feel embarrassed."
For local people, streets and other places that feel safe are places that aren’t hidden from view, where “you can see who’s about” and where there’s “always people around”.
"There’s much more life here on the beach – feels safer than the shopping centre, there’s more people, I don’t feel threatened."
"I feel this park is welcoming, you feel safe."
There is also acknowledgment that streets and other places are safer if social relations are improved. In considering places and spaces it is identified that it would help to “improve police and community relations” and with young people it would help to “use peer pressure in a positive manner”. In particular services aimed at supporting young people will have a knock-on effect to feelings about communities and public spaces:
"Youth clubs might help – there used to be one that I used, but it’s not there any more. It kept us out of trouble, instead of on the streets and getting told to move on."
"There should be help for troubled young people."
Where people feel threatened in a public place, such as places “used by drug users and alcohol users” or where there is a threat of violence, some people suggested more “police on the beat” or “CCTV cameras”.
"I feel helpless, uneasy, you’re frightened for your children, frightened about valuables like my car. I feel depressed, it gets you down."
There is one suggestion to not just punish drug addicts but to “re-educate them, it might help them. Get them to rethink who they have hurt.”
There are many calls for improved lighting - many people are reluctant to go to local parks or shops at night and say better lighting would help.
Regularly cleaning up of rubbish, broken glass and needles needs to be done to keep children safe.
"I’m frightened for my daughter playing around here, you never know what she might stumble across."
People are also concerned about traffic near play parks, and worry that “balls may cross the road”.
Commonly, people enjoy local events that bring communities together such as gala days. Many people are disappointed that some annual events have been discontinued and have fond memories of them.
"They used to hold galas in this park – it used to be used by the community for different events. "
As is already emerging from comments so far one of the most important differences between public spaces that people like and ones they do not is regular maintenance and cleaning – such as grass cutting, landscaping and rubbish removal. There is a feeling that if a place is cared for people will respect it more and be more likely to take care of it.
One person’s home street reflects descriptions we heard about other streets as well:
"It’s unbelievably horrible, neglected. Messy rubbish in the street. Boarded up windows and flats, broken glass. There’s a couple of houses attempting to make an effort, but lots and lots of rubbish. It’s unhygienic."
The frequency of maintenance is important, for example the rubbish in one street has become worse because bins are lifted fortnightly rather than “once a week like they used to – people have to leave extra bin bags outside but people on drugs look through bags and scatter rubbish.”
There is also a suggestion to “get rid of the £10 charge for uplifts”.
Vacant flats and flats slated for demolition need to be cared for and their gardens maintained and rubbish cleared from them.
"Vacant flats need to be looked after. The Council needs to take care of those gardens – if they looked like they were lived in they wouldn’t get vandalised. Don’t put boards on the windows, they should put curtains up."
There are suggestions to get local people involved in cleaning up public places.
Participants recognise that many parks are attractive and are “regularly maintained by the Council”, but others need improvement.One participant reflects similar concerns expressed by others about parks:
"There’s a lack of amenities. Grass not tended, no shrubs, no pathways, lack of entrances. No seating. Fly tipping. Hedge untrimmed. It’s a feeling of sadness as there is no visual stimulation like flowers. No sign posts outside the park."
People recognise the need for more bins in parks and dog bins in particular. Dog fouling is a universal complaint.
Public toilets are also important to prevent people urinating “in the street and at the cash point”.
While some spaces are accessible, being “flat for disabled access” there are concerns that others have pathways which aren’t suitable for wheelchair users or for prams and push chairs.
Some people find that enclosed areas such as parks don’t have enough entrances or pathways.
A few places are “easy to find and well sign posted” while on the other hand people reported that many others are not.
"People are not aware it is there other than those who live in nearby streets. There is long grass and no pathways."
For getting to places outside their neighbourhoods, some people find the cost of public transport prohibitive. For example one person finds that “the bus costs a lot, it’s £4.60 return for an adult and child” to get to a park they like.
Our participants suggest that regeneration partners ask local people their opinions about how to improve spaces and get people involved in improvement projects, especially children and young people as ‘they are the future of the village’. Practical engagement with the process of regeneration of places and spaces is seen as key.
"Ask the young what is it that they want."
"Get the local community to put a plan together to show how they would like to see it."
"Kids don’t vandalise their own work – more youth art projects!"
"More community projects - involve the youth, kids, adults, pensioners – this is our town lets make the most out of it."
"Have play areas for the kids that they like. Make it theirs and they’ll look after it."
On the other hand, some people feel a sense of helplessness and resignation. This is felt by one person who is trying to engage with their local authority:
"We’ve all given up. A local resident’s association has been fighting to get things done but nothing happens and we don’t know what’s going to happen."
A striking example of a well-used public space described by one of our participants is a local supermarket/superstore. For the local resident, the superstore provides many things that are missing from public spaces and services in her neighbourhood; it provides things normally associated with public gathering spaces such as market squares. It provides a safe gathering space to meet friends and feel part of a busy social centre, a shelter from weather and a café to relax in. It provides items that would be available in traditional small high street shops like a bakery, butcher, newsagent, clothes shop and a bank. It also provides a twenty-four hour health service, with a pharmacy open all night and a pharmacist available up until 9pm.
This resident does not walk around her own street or nearby park at night as it is unsafe. Despite its commercial focus, the local person finds this place is somewhere she can “have a look around” and “escape from the house”. The shop is safe and clean - a refuge from the violence, drugs, vandalism and rubbish along her street.
What implications are there for regeneration activity, either in terms of policy or practice of service providers, from our conversations about places and spaces?
Following our established pattern of reporting back we now pose key questions for the agencies managing regeneration activity.
We have also given local regeneration teams specific information about the places and spaces which have been named by local residents and asked for feedback on plans for these places in order that we can pass that on directly to the local person.
Seeing the potential
How can public spaces be made more inviting so that people want to stay in them?
What can help people gather in a place socially?
Can public places and spaces that are abandoned or underused be imaginatively recreated?
Do public places have the potential for varied use; do they have both quiet, solitary areas and active social areas?
Are there facilities like cafes and public toilets in public places?
Are opportunities being taken to promote organised activities in spaces like public parks?
Are community activities like galas being used to promote both community cohesion and pride, and in turn making good use of public places and spaces?
Places have meaning and they foster particular feelings
What is known about what local places and spaces actually mean to people? Once known, can places with local meaning and history be developed or restored?
How can people’s individual and collective pride in their neighbourhood be reinforced or restored through rediscovering, remembering and accessing local places and spaces?
Is there scope for the use of information boards describing local history or natural features such as wildlife?
How are community events in outdoor places viewed and used by local people? Are there annual or traditional events that can be supported better or resurrected?
The importance of belonging and feeling safe
Are public places open enough and not hidden from public view? Are they busy enough so people aren’t afraid of being alone there?
What can be done to improve social relations, particularly between young people and others, and what impact might this have on the ways that groups use and feel about public places and spaces?
How are public places and spaces being used to engage children and young people in pro-social behaviour and activities?
What difference does a community presence of police or wardens make to feelings of safety and use of public places and spaces?
What is the role of CCTV technology?
How is drug and alcohol use in public places being addressed?
Is lighting adequate in public spaces? Can it be improved?
Are public places regularly cleaned of rubbish, particularly dangerous things like broken glass and needles?
Are play parks safely protected from nearby traffic?
Cleaned and cared for
Are urban places and wild spaces maintained and cleaned as well as they could be?
What features or landscaping can be done to improve green spaces?
Are there bins for dog fouling? What can be done to decrease dog fouling?
Are the external spaces belonging to vacant houses looked after adequately? Are the gardens kept clean and mown? Can something other than wooden boards be put on the windows?
Is rubbish collection frequent enough?
Should there be reconsideration of charges for uplifts?
Can community clean-ups be organised with local people?
Are public footpaths suitable for wheelchairs and prams?
Are there enough entrances and pathways in parks?
Are public parks and walks well sign posted?
Is public transport affordable for everybody?
Can/should commercial interests like superstores provide or supplant ‘public’ communal gathering places? How does this change a neighbourhood? What are the positive and negative implications of this?
Development and local participation
Are local people, of all ages, meaningfully engaged in planning for and use of public places and spaces?
Local spaces and places
There are other good sources of information about the importance of local spaces and places to the process of regeneration, health and wellbeing.
The questions we have posed and thought about in this report have been influenced by these particular approaches or recent research:
1. Views on the physical environment from Fife residents in the recent Fife Regeneration, Health and Wellbeing Community Survey: This is what residents in the target regeneration areas said in last year’s Fife-wide survey about some aspects of the physical environment, with the views of residents across Fife as a whole as a comparison:
% of residents in the regeneration areas
% of residents in Fife
Residents dissatisfied with the overall physical appearance of the local area
Residents dissatisfied with the street
Residents dissatisfied with the houses in the area
Residents dissatisfied with the appearance of open spaces in the neighbourhood
Residents dissatisfied with the play areas in the local area
Residents dissatisfied with the physical environment in housing areas e.g. gardens, closes, back courts
Residents dissatisfied with the appearance of public buildings in the local area
Residents dissatisfied with the appearance of shopping areas in the neighbourhood
Residents very concerned about road safety
Residents who think that vandalism, graffiti or other deliberate damage to property is a serious problem
Residents who think that rubbish or litter lying around
Residents who think that dog fouling is a serious problem
Residents dissatisfied with the quality of street lighting
Residents who feel their neighbourhood is a poor place to live
2. The Children’s EcoCity projects
The Children’s’ EcoCity is a participatory exercise between children and adults to develop children’s skills and views on the design of sustainable communities. The project was developed by the TASC agency and Gaia Group who are architects, engineers and planners. The main aim of the EcoCity project is to promote the child’s right to participate in decisions which will profoundly affect their lives and those of their families and communities.
An EcoCity project involves approximately forty 10-12 year olds spending a week together conceiving and then building their ideal city in the form of a scaled three dimensional physical model. This is then presented to the local community, the children’s teachers, parents, local politicians and council officers, development partners (if the project is taking place in a community facing development issues) and other local and interested professionals, as the basis for dialogue on sustainable development of the local built environment. The EcoCity project combines a wide range of well integrated professional aspects, including specialists in children’s rights, architects, engineers, planners, builders and youth and community workers. The EcoCity model seeks to find ways by which children can be enfranchised through the contributions they can make to the built environment development process. There is a report on an Edinburgh based children’s EcoCity at:
3. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) works in England and is the Government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space. This study question, on places and spaces, has been informed in particular by the CABE Spaceshaper toolkit. The toolkit can be used by anyone, whether a local community activist or a professional, to measure the quality of public space before investing time and money in improving it. The user’s guide from CABE explains how Spaceshaper works and outlines practical steps to plan a workshop. It shows how Spaceshaper has been used elsewhere and the lessons you can learn from others’ experience. We have also borrowed form the CABE publication It’s our space: A guide for community groups working to improve public space. The guide aims to help anyone involved in a public space project for the first time. It gives examples of great outdoor spaces led by community groups and highlights lessons from their experiences. There’s more about CABE at http://www.cabe.org.uk
4. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have produced several pieces of research in 2007 around the themes of public places. These include:
Social interactions in urban public places. This study explored how people of different ages, gender, culture and status interact within public spaces. It asked do different types of space encourage a variety of interactions? How do the seasons, day of the week and time of day affect their use? The researchers observed interactions between people of different ages across one year in Aylesbury, a town in a growth region of South East England. There is more at:
Enhancing the use of public spaces in cities. Charged by policy-makers with increasing community cohesion, civic identity and quality of life, expectations of public space are high. But is public space living up to its potential? This year-long investigation set out to find the shared spaces within three British cities, looking at a broad range of places (such as parks, shopping centres and civic spaces) that support public life through social interaction. There is more at:
5. Standards for Urban Design from the City of Edinburgh Council (Aug 2003) can be found at:
The standards recognise that urban design is all about relationships, the character of buildings and spaces and how people perceive and use both.
6. Designing for Community Safety: Secured by Design Principles was produced by ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) in 2004. It is a police initiative which encourages the building industry to adopt crime prevention measures in the design of developments and refurbishment of buildings and estates, creating a safer and more secure environment. The material can be found at: http://www.securedbydesign.com/pdfs/SBD-principles.pdf
Illustrations of what people told us
We have produced a series of postcards which reflect what we have been told. Each postcard takes the theme of one of the key questions asked, and reflects responses. The image on the left represents the places and spaces people like; to the right the places and spaces people don’t like.
You can right click and save the whole image to your desktop as a small postcard.
If you are experiencing difficulty opening the pdf files, get the latest version of Acobat Reader.
How does this place look?
What do people use this place for?
Can everyone get to this place – and get about ?
How important is this place to local people?
Is the space clean and cared for?
Is the space safe and comfortable?
How do you feel when you are in this place?