From the nooks and crannies of inner cities to unspoilt coasts and mountains, I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of places. Some places in the UK are more man-made than others: but, however remote, the human touch is always present.
We all live our lives through places. Places shape how we live, and they bear witness to the major events of our lives. Little wonder, then, that changes to places can be so charged and controversial.
My fascination with places led me to planning – the art of making good places. Planning involves an element of managing and controlling change. Critical though it is to avoid the worst excesses of poorly conceived change, this regulatory function has unfortunately come to define the purpose of urban planning. What planning should also be about is creativity, imagination and aspirations; vision, and the bigger picture.
I also believe that planning needs to be more entrepreneurial. Not in a narrow commercial sense; but in a wider social sense, embracing innovation and a positive attitude to risk, community development and social enterprise.
So many people have a stake in the future of our places – cities, towns, villages and countryside – that collaboration is an absolute must. Top-down command-and-control is no longer a viable way of creating enduring places of quality. That needs dialogue and collaboration with local communities, businesses, politicians, the public sector and everybody else who has a stake in a place’s future. Collaborative action has immense power to achieve positive change – a common thread in my work, as you’ll see if you explore this website.
A good planner has to understand many things – development, land use, buildings, design, sustainability, partnership working, procedures, legislation, government guidance… the list is endless. But I believe that, even for a planner who has an encyclopaedic knowledge, he or she won’t excel as a planner unless they understand people. Which is why I place as much importance on people skills – facilitation, mediation, leadership – as on planning skills.
Firstly, people live, work and play in the environments that we create. Everybody has feelings, knowledge and experience about where they live. Many people want to communicate these things when faced with change in their local community. And there are good reasons for planners, politicians and developers to listen carefully to these views. Listening not only helps to create better places, it also helps to build support for change and resolve conflict.
Secondly, planning is all about making decisions. An ever-increasing number of people are involved in decision-making – developers, planners, architects, engineers, politicians, civil servants, local communities, to name but a few. A good planner must be sensitive to the pressures on each of these groups of people. She or he must understand their aspirations, and be able to communicate effectively with each of these different groups – using whatever means is most appropriate, be it writing, discussing, arguing, presenting or drawing.
Planners must respect everyone’s views. We should all be open, taking time to share information and discuss issues that matter to people. We also need to remember that details do matter: the human scale is important. However strategic the level of planning that we are working at, we should never lose sight of the fact that people have to live, work and play in the places that we plan.
a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and its Scottish Executive Committee and West of Scotland Chapter Committee
a member of the Academy of Urbanism
a Fellow of the RSA
a volunteer (and former Chairman and Director) of Planning Aid for Scotland
a member of the Scottish Mediation Network
Career experience: before establishing nick wright planning in 2004, I worked in local government, the voluntary sector, planning consultancy and a life-changing couple of years in community housing development in Indonesia.