“We all need space”

“We all need space; unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

This quote comes from Octavia Hill, writing in 1875, in Homes of the London Poor:

“There is a small, square, green churchyard in Drury Lane, and even the sight of its fresh bright verdure through the railings is a blessing; but if the gates could be opened on a hot summer evening, and seats placed there for the people, I am sure the dwellers about Drury Lane would be all the better for it.”

Octavia Hill’s legacy may well serve as inspiration for those seeking to enable better places for people to live in (as well as visit)–places meaning inclusive, shared places; people meaning the wider community.  Small-scale, thoughtful changes can sometimes have profound consequences.


Cultivating connections between the young and “old land”

News from Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales (Australia), of an initiative that will actively seek to cultivate sense of place, particularly among the young.  Run as a World Responsible Tourism Day activity, it will seek to foster connectiveness to nature using Aboriginal belief systems.

Organiser, Christopher Warren, writes “research confirms that individuals who have pro-environmental values also hold a strong connectivity to nature, and are frequently positive thinkers. Methods [therefore] need to be found to build connectivity to nature which in turn can influence pro-environmental social practice and behaviour”.

To achieve this highly intangible yet very valuable prize, Chris and his colleagues at a local school and in an aboriginal community will try “to determine if elements of traditional environmental care can be transferred to school children [to] successfully build pro-environmental values through connection”.

The 2012 World Responsible Tourism Day marks just the start of this very local action–the activity will run for at least a year and seek to engage youngsters through workbooks, encounters, reflections and story-writing.  To find out how this progresses, and perhaps contribute your ideas and moral support, follow Chris and colleagues here.


Sense of development

Dominant transport modes have a major effect on sense of place and other ways we experience and imagine urban places. They can both energise and afflict a place; both clutter and adorn a place with their concomitant infrastructures. Just think of cycle taxis and tuk-tuks in Indian and South East Asian cities, gridlock in LA, civilised cycling in Amsterdam, or commuters flooding off trains and metro services in London and Tokyo before scurrying away into their studios and offices. Picture the absence of cars in mediaeval market towns, or in the plazas of world heritage hotspots. Perhaps ancient tram wheels squeal out their steely call a couple of streets away. Or maybe a modern tram glides into view.

So, here’s a “thought for the day” from someone who has the responsibility of overseeing transportation as well as the social, economic and cultural life, environment and reputation of his city. Gustavo Petro:


Trade-offs in “capital public spaces”

A piece in The Economist pitches New York against London in terms of progress on “bettering” public spaces.  More usefully, it provides an overview of some of the key dynamics shaping today’s “capital public spaces” as well as people’s relationships with them, i.e.:

  • continued pedestrianisation and trading off visitor (tourist) interests against the interests of car-dependent or business-owning locals;
  • the insidious privatisation of public space;
  • place-making changes shaped by commercial motives, not community needs and sentiments;
  • the forces of power and control shaping public space.

Decent public space became an economic necessity.

For the washed, who quite like shopping and safety, such space is a great deal better than nothing.

The problem comes down to governance. While New York’s mayor is all-powerful, London’s shares power with 32 boroughs, which often have conflicting agendas.