What does good growth look like?

1 April 2019

Catherine Greig, Director and Kristel Tracey, Creative Projects Engagement Lead at make:good

Catherine:

Growth is a thorny subject at times; often the public rhetoric we hear prioritises economic growth above all else, but I would argue that it is much more complex than this.

As we are in the privileged position of working on the ground in lots of different types of neighbourhoods, we get to explore the change and growth that people want to see. This usually revolves around access to services and activities that bring joy to their lives. If people can see that this might be brought about through change, then the growth of things like building heights and population often becomes more palatable.

When it comes to the built environment, conversations sometimes focus too heavily on things like growth in heights, growth in density and growth in population, at the risk of missing the potential positives that change has the capacity of bringing. That being said, to make change and growth more amenable to those most affected by it, it must go hand-in-hand with growth in the supporting social infrastructure.

The growth of social connections, networks and therefore a potential for activity, events and curious happenings, creates the type of neighbourhoods that people so often feedback to us that they want to live in.

So how do we focus on encouraging this? Well, the key to this comes in honing in on strengthening social infrastructure as projects are being created, rather than wishing that the social networks are there once a new project completes. Using meanwhile and temporary projects to build capacity, audience and resilience, as well as a better understanding of the new services and activities that people want to see so that they can seamlessly translate into any new spaces. So much of this aligns with the Mayor’s Good Growth priority of community wealth building, where the focus is on the social environmental and economic wellbeing of a community, not just maximising the economic growth of an area which alone is unlikely to benefit existing communities.

Focusing on curious and diverse ground floor offers which allow the pedestrian experience of moving around a place to thrive, and delivering neighbourhood change that feels a part of; this is so much more than whether a building is 5 or 8+ storeys high. Ultimately, this is the type of growth that I think really makes a difference in how people feel about a place.

Kristel: 

To me, good growth is about creating the conditions and opportunities for people to thrive, not just survive. It’s about looking to the future whilst ensuring that current communities feel as though growth includes them, rather than something that’s being driven at their expense.

At make:good we often find ourselves in places where change is a potentially daunting prospect for people – whether that’s because ‘growth’ conjures up images of spreadsheets, suits and fears of being squeezed out of an area, or concerns that the rate of change will happen faster than local services and infrastructure can keep up. People often worry that the essence of the places they care about might be compromised, only to become soulless or unrecognisable.

This is why the role of engagement is so important for supporting people through processes of change and ensuring they have some influence over it. As soon as we start a project we spend considerable time getting to know the character and context of an area, local people and networks. That way we can ensure that any engagement we undertake is tailored to the grain of a place. During periods of consultation, meanwhile use can be a particularly powerful way of animating unused spaces in impactful ways, trying out new ideas for the type of spaces people would like to see in an area on a longer-term basis, as well an offering a prime opportunity to engage people in conversations about local change.

To me, good growth is about future-proofing the success of an area by considering the needs of both current and future populations – across economy, people, place, environment. To do that, you really have to put the time and work into ensuring people are informed, involved and able to have some influence over change. Not bringing people along for the ride can create far bigger problems further down the line.

Achieving economic prosperity for an area while prioritising healthy, happy and inclusive communities are not mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing.