Four professionals from the CABE Space design skills scholarship programme 2010 share the results of their visits to communities in Europe, Canada and the USA

Rachel Morris - Jardin de Reuilly, Paris
Rachel Morris - Jardin de Reuilly, Paris

Earlier this year, four UK professionals travelled overseas to see how well-designed public spaces can benefit the communities they serve. As part of CABE’s third annual design skills scholarship programme, the four travelled to central Europe, Scandinavia, Canada and America to investigate car-free housing developments; outdoor learning spaces for children; uses of industrial urban infrastructure; and developing street trees.

The scholars were able to explore the design and delivery process of successful projects, meet the people involved and gain an understanding of the management processes, enabling them to see how similar ideas can be developed through their own work.

Sinead Gilhooly, formerly head of regeneration projects for Stadium Housing Association, Network Housing Group visited three built-up neighbourhoods in Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Vienna that had eliminated cars from their public spaces to explore what makes car-free and car-capped housing developments successful, and to what extent they can improve the appearance and amenity value of urban streets and green spaces.  Visiting three different communities, Sinead was able to study the effect of eliminating cars from public space.

Sinaead Gilhooly said: “By saving money and space normally given over to cars and swathes of tarmac, residents in all three developments I visited benefited from leafy and lush green spaces, which were very well used. They were places where children played in safety, places to chat to neighbours, to relax in, to grow food in; charming places that offered respite from the more hectic aspects of living in a city. I learned some important lessons about simple design interventions that UK housing associations can use when designing new homes that will enable residents to give up their cars.”

Eleanor Johnson, parks development officer at Hackney Council travelled to New York, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco to explore the design and use of outdoor spaces for learning and engagement with nature for children and young people.  Her aim was to learn how green spaces can be used more effectively to alleviate the growing problems associated with nature deficit disorder.

Eleanor Johnson said: “I saw many brilliantly designed and developed spaces – as well as existing spaces being used in more effective ways – that provided excellent outdoor experiences for children and young people. This gave me a good understanding of the ways in which nature deficit is beginning to be addressed in the USA. With any luck these projects and programmes in the US are beginning to successfully create the environmental stewards of the future by emphasising the importance and joy of nature from an early age.”

Martin Gammie, an arboriculturist for South Oxfordshire District Council travelled to Sweden, USA and Canada to study new design principles and engineering technologies to secure high-quality green infrastructure.

In order to investigate the latest construction technology and design principles associated with growing trees in the built environment, Martin visited a number of sites where these principles had been applied and met  the people responsible for their conception, design, implementation and management. He will use the data and information collected to produce a Trees and Design Action Group (TDAG) best practice guidance document to help  further develop the concept of sustainable integrated infrastructure.

Rachel Morris, Project development officer for the London Borough of Greenwich travelled to France, Germany and the USA to investigate projects involving the re-use of industrial infrastructure to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.

Rachel Morris said: “The industrial infrastructure which connects our towns and cities has huge potential to contribute, as part of the public realm, to the social, economic and environmental revitalisation of places. The CABE design skills scholarship provided me with a unique opportunity to meet with inspiring individuals in the US and Europe who are successfully achieving change in their communities through the adaptive reuse of these spaces. I now look forward to putting into practice ideas and sharing lessons learnt back here in the UK.”

Lasting benefits
CABE Space has awarded 17 scholarships over the past three years, allowing professionals from all over the country to gain a better understanding of the importance of good design in the public realm.  Previous scholars include Neil Murphy, a 2009 CABE Space scholar who learnt about green space in social housing schemes and who has already applied his learning to the design of green space in a 2,500 development in Milton Keynes and a 20,000-strong community in Harlow. Julia Humphreys, development manager at the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation has used her findings from a trip to New York in 2008 to shape the delivery of the Lea River Park. It will now include a micro park with a community board, an ‘adopt the river’ scheme and educational opportunities for local schools.’

Sarah Gaventa, Director of CABE Space said: “The design skills scholarship programme aims to address the lack of formal design training and experience available to people working to shape our public spaces.

“This year, the scholars once again chose some really exciting areas to investigate and the knowledge and learning they have returned with will make a real difference to the quality of our public space.”

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