The Liveable City

What makes a ‘liveable city’?  How are we trying to achieve this in Edinburgh?

There are many different ways to define what makes a liveable city.   We each have our own conception of this means, based on our own perspective, experience, professional background and subjective opinions. What qualities do you think a liveable city has?

As landscape architects our focus is usually on the external spaces in between buildings - from the public street spaces as soon as you step outside your front door to the local parks, public squares, community gardens or other spaces in between buildings.  At HERE+NOW we feel that to create a liveable city it is important to take a user-centred approach to design which in turn helps to realise designs or outputs that reflect the needs and aspirations of the full range and diversity of people that will use these spaces.  

By not just designing FOR people, but designing WITH them, projects that take this user centred approach create more liveable places, that the people who will use them actually want to spend time, and that are most sensitive to their context and the people and place qualities that are already there.

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Whilst each project is different, at HERE+NOW we use a variety of different methods to engage with local people or the end users of these spaces.  This might be in the form of community engagement events, workshops and walkabouts. Getting people outside helps people think differently, see the space that we’re talking about in practice, helps form relationships through informal conversations, or can include more structured workshops that help gather information to input into the design.

We also recommend prototyping and piloting as part of the ‘design thinking’ process - testing ideas as they evolve using models or mock-ups with moveable parts to allow users to play around with ideas or input aspirations to an evolving design process.

The design cycle might also include making temporary interventions in spaces that test ideas for longer term permanent outcomes.

We use the outputs of the conversations with local people or the end users to feed into a delivered design outcome, recommendation or response that has the backing, genuine input and incorporates the knowledge and local expertise of the end user - the people that this design affects.  

At the heart of our ambition to help design or create liveable places is finding ways to integrate locals’ voices as part of the fully realised design, whether by community events, exhibitions or publications which share and celebrate local places.

so, what makes a ‘liveable city’?

One way of defining it (borrowed from the Livable City organisation in San Francisco) is one with qualities such as affordability, creating a diverse and resilient local economy, robust neighbourhoods and communities, accessible and sustainable ways to get around, and vibrant public spaces.

Creating ‘liveable cities’ can lead to benefits for both people and environment.  For example people’s health and well-being can be improved as a result of walkable, cycleable neighbourhoods that encourage physical exercise,  green and pleasant places can help improve well-being and reduce stress, and places to meet and socialise with neighbours or bumping into others in the street.  Liveable cities can also lead to environmental benefits, in terms of biodiversity and ecosystem services - creating habitats, stormwater management, increased biodiversity and climate change resilience via an increase in green space within the urban fabric as part of this ‘good place design’.

As HERE+NOW, we have developed 12 design principles for public spaces in the built environment. These are what we would consider best practice for ‘good’ place design. They are based on us summarising and synthesising the contemporary academic literature to date, boiling down the common agreed qualities to 12 core principles that the research agrees help create pleasant, attractive, and healthy public spaces.

  • Sensory rich - planting and material selection to give a range of sensory experiences

  • Flexible spaces - suitable for different activities

  • Walkable - pedestrian priority, wide paths, accessible surfaces

  • Places for play - close to where people live

  • Variety of spaces - a mix of public and private spaces

  • Distinctive - building on local character and identity, creating different distinct places

  • Events and activities - people can come together in a framework space

  • Easily navigated - using landmarks for way-finding in a legible environment

  • Green and restorative - incorporates green space and planting

  • Excellent facilities - including seating, toilets in public spaces, and accessible facilities

  • Safe and secure - optimise natural surveillance and include appropriate lighting

How can we engage communities around a place?

At HERE+NOW we believe that people make places.   This social interaction and sense of community is really important in creating a vibrant liveable city.  By bringing people together around a place that is important to them, and by listening to and genuinely involving them as part of a design process, you get the best results in terms of robust, relevant place design.  We do this by taking a co-design approach to design a place together with local people (the local experts), and by helping to facilitate feelings of ownership and opportunity to get involved and active in local places along the way.  

  1. We use community briefs to summarise the needs and aspirations of the local community (including residents, local businesses and other stakeholders) that allows funding to be sought to turn aspirations into reality or which feeds into urban planning for the area.

  2. We propose and deliver pilot interventions that help test some of the ideas raised and sets the scene for longer term action.

  3. The engagement process can help develop a series of productive discussions and relationships between different local stakeholders that can lead to longer term collaboration or action in the neighbourhood.