Open-City’s work across all our programmes is informed by a unique approach to people and place. This tried and tested strategy comprises a three-stage process of experiential learning, sharing knowledge and expertise, and learning by doing. This is summarised below, using the Exemplar programme for planning councillors as an example.
It is fundamental to Open-City’s philosophy that only by physically experiencing and assessing a building or place for oneself can one really learn from the impact of design decisions. All of Open-City’s programmes centre on direct experience, which participants say has helped them help them challenge preconceptions, raise awareness and expectations about what is possible, and see evidence of how new materials and technologies work.
Participants in all our programmes learn from each other as much as from experts. Our Exemplar masterclasses, for example, bring together planning councillors from across the city so they encounter a wide range of experiences and perspectives. Open discussion, professionally facilitated, allows the sharing of knowledge and best practice, and the unpacking of differences of opinion about what constitutes good and bad design. In the words of one regular participant: “Visiting other places gets you out of your silo, and talking to councillors from outside the borough is very useful.”
Open City believes that opening up ways of thinking is more effective than pumping participants with facts. One retains information better if actively involved in producing or using it. Being told what good design is is less helpful to councillors, for example, than actively considering their role and its delivery, drawing out and testing ideas with peers. All Open City Exemplar events are therefore professionally facilitated to ensure everyone has input. Among the exercises participants complete during site explorations are structured assessments of design responses.
Projects such as Open City Exemplar provide vital support to
councillors in their design arbiter role – and by extension to local
authorities in the delivery of high-quality regeneration projects – by
giving them experience of developments, and by drawing lessons
about how good design can be encouraged, assessed and delivered.
Adapted from Daisy Froud, 'Supporting planning councillors', Urban
Regeneration Toolbox: A guide for all regeneration practitioners, London,
2007. Daisy Froud was Open City Exemplar Manager until March 2010.