Building Better Places Together – How Early Community Engagement Accelerates Positive Change: PUBLIC REALM & URBAN SPACES Smart Class 2023 Retrospective


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Commonplace have created an inclusive and flexible platform designed to gather localised sentiment data around places and spaces. Charlotte Bowen joined us at PUBLIC REALM & URBAN SPACES Smart Class 2023 to explore the transformative potential of involving communities early in the planning and development process.

“By recognising the community as a vital stakeholder from the outset”, says Charlotte, “we create opportunities to address concerns, generate collaborative ideas, and shape better places together”.

Harnessing the capabilities of digital-led tools is key to fostering community participation. These tools not only facilitate involvement but also demonstrate the sincere desire to include the community in the decision-making process. Charlotte’s presentation also focused on overcoming communication barriers and common challenges faced when engaging communities in planning. Through real world examples, she illustrated how early involvement can lead to successful outcomes.

Additionally, Charlotte took us through Commonplace’s product roadmap and demonstrated how such cutting edge innovation enables positive conversations, prevents the formation of negative echo chambers, and ensures the engagement of a diverse and representative population: “By harnessing the collective wisdom of communities, we can co-create vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive developments that truly benefit everyone”.

Gill Fewins accompanied Charlotte during the subsequent roundtable sessions.

Presentation highlights:

  • The biggest barrier to engagement? Lack of trust! – “To overcome the barrier of trust, we must prioritize building strong relationships with residents. This involves actively listening to their concerns, addressing their needs, and incorporating their feedback into decision-making processes”;
  • The multitude of potential engagement projects in the public realm – e.g. urban and rural development consultations, spatial development strategies, masterplans and co-design, neighbourhood regeneration, highways and infrastructure, public transportation and station design, low traffic neighbourhoods, noise action plans, EV charging, solar and wind farms, drone transportation, driverless cars, canal and river conversation, flood resilience, events, street furniture placement, post-covid recovery, air quality and congestion, green prescribing/urban forestry, pocket parks and park improvements, controlled parking zones, active travel, school safety travel schemes, house building, circular economy, heritage and conservation, place-naming etc;
  • A 5x increase in younger audiences! – 70% of users are under the age of 45, 76% of the population want more influence on decisions in their local neighbourhood;
  • A 4 step approach to successful engagement – 1) Reach 2) Engage 3) Collaborate 3) Analyse & Report;
  • Community Heatmap – Capturing geolocated sentiment data using a ‘drop a pin’ function;
  • Design Feedback – Editing engagements 24/7 with live updates; Using tiles to present proposals concisely;
  • Real-time Data Dashboards – Full access to data to interact with in the platform + downloads;

  • Interactive question types and co-design tools – e.g. How often do you visit green spaces for each of the following reasons? How would you allocate our x annual budget for park maintenance? Where would you like to see a new Pocket Park created? What material should we use for paving? Please suggest a location for a new play area on the image below. Please rank the issues below in order of the impact they have on your enjoyment of a green space;
  • Interactive images – Can be created for embedding into your site and are great for development and regeneration plans;
  • Why it’s critical to engage early when it comes to place-shaping – Multiple reasons, from building trust and getting to know the community, to avoiding future risk, explaining social value and improving overall quality of place;
  • Cairngorms Case Study – Shaping a National Park Partnership Plan (Biodiversity);
  • Quality of Life Foundation + Harlow and Gilston Case Study – A Garden Town Engagement;
  • Catford Town Centre Case Study – Team Catford’s ‘Framework Plan’;
  • Network Rail, “Explore Station” Case Study – Co-Designing Train Stations;
  • East Bristol, “Liveable Neighbourhoods” Case Study – Active Travel Council-led Engagement;
  • North Finchley Town Centre/Regal London Case Study – Residential Developer-led Engagement

If you satisfy our regular delegate qualification criteria but were unable to join us in Manchester on July 4th for the live in-person event at The Shipping Office (Lloyds House), CLICK HERE and complete the short “Download form” (located at the bottom of the post) to receive a unique link enabling free access to the presentation video recordings and slides (including the film footage and slides from Charlotte’s initial presentation).

Those qualifying to receive the rich presentation content from this event include commissioning, procurement, trialling, partnering and policy leads, senior influencers, strategic decision makers, planners, place makers, architects, green space managers, urban designers, highways & street scene, transport & mobility and high streets & regeneration professionals from councils and local authorities (city, borough, metropolitan, district, county and combined); people and place partnerships; developers, landowners and creators of privately owned public spaces; prime contractors and city centre management companies; DfT, DEFRA, MHCLG, EA and supporting governmental bodies; transport authorities, highways agencies and public transport operators; civic organisations and community groups; and other key players from the public realm ecosystem with responsibility for managing, maintaining and operating our streets, squares, forecourts, parks, pathways, retail centres, car parks, airports, ports, travel hubs, hospitals, housing estates, campuses, communal gardens and the assets contained within these public or semi-public spaces.

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PUBLIC REALM & URBAN SPACES Smart Classes show key buyer side stakeholders how to harness innovation, technology, data science, design and best practice to create the next generation of smarter spaces and places in our cities and regions. PUBLIC REALM & URBAN SPACES Smart Class 2023 will be hosted in Manchester on July 4th.


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