Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Fables of the Reconstruction: A Phenomenology of 'Place Shaping' in the North of England

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Fables of the Reconstruction: A Phenomenology of 'Place Shaping' in the North of England

Article excerpt

This paper examines the social relevance of 'place shaping'. Although place shaping has entered the official planning lexicon, and now constitutes an important element of planning policy and practice, we cannot assume that ordinary people share the view that it is important or even useful. We examine this proposition by studying working-class residents' experiences of place shaping in two case study neighbourhoods that were deemed to be uncompetitive in housing market terms. 'Place shaping' ideas were used in these neighbourhoods to legitimise both the mass demolition of terraced housing and plans to develop 'exciting' new dwellingscapes that 'made a statement' to contemporary housing consumers. With reference to our empirical data, we argue that working-class residents did not relate to this approach to place shaping at all. We conclude that our research raises some important questions that planners need to consider carefully in the course of the practice of place shaping at neighbourhood level.

This paper explores the relevance of ideas that have informed 'place shaping' strategies in two case study sites in the North of England: place shaping in our case study sites involved a comprehensive and transformational approach to regeneration that - via programmes of housing demolition and redevelopment - has facilitated the creation of an 'exciting' new dwellingscape. Our purpose to explore the relevance of 'place shaping' rather than, say, its 'effectiveness' is quite deliberate. This is because we cannot examine ideas of effectiveness without recourse to understanding relevance. For instance, 'place shaping' might make for a 'better' and more 'sustainable' environment, but this means little until we ask for whom this is relevant. The ideas that inform the development of 'better places' might be relevant to the concerns of urban designers and planners, but are they relevant to the concerns of ordinary residents? As earlier critiques of urban renewal have demonstrated, we cannot assume that they are (see, for example, Gans, 1962; Goodman, 1972, Gower-Davies, 1972; Jacobs, 1994). So we intend to use our article to explore the relevance of place shaping to ordinary residents who had given little or no thought to planning until they had experienced 'place shaping' at first hand.

Our sample of ordinary residents is derived from a key constituency that is likely to be affected by 'place shaping', namely, working-class residents living in deprived urban areas in the North of England. We suggest this because 'place shaping' in the North of England is integrally tied in with the ideas contained in the government's 'Northern Way' and 'Housing Market Renewal' strategies, which promote the idea that the 'housing offer' in the North of England needs to be 'readjusted' so that it meets the needs of twenty-first-century housing consumers. To this end, they advocate the removal of swathes of terraced housing in traditionally workingclass neighbourhoods because it is, apparently, now 'unsuitable for modern living' and therefore 'unwanted'. This has prompted mass demolition of 'obsolete' terraced housing coupled with a large-scale programme of land assembly. 'Place shaping' is integral to the demolition and redevelopment of these neighbourhoods because it is infused with ideas about developing 'exciting' new dwellingscapes that will attract 'contemporary' housing consumers who would otherwise not chose to live in them. Thus we are concerned with 'place shaping' insofar as it is contributes to the 'transformational' regeneration of Northern neighbourhoods by providing 'new' and 'exciting' dwellingscapes in place of 'rows upon rows' of 'outdated' and 'obsolete' terraced housing. This means that our interest in 'place shaping' in this paper is specific to its manifestation in planning practice in the contextual circumstances of the North of England, but not necessarily representative of the wider context of place shaping addressed by Lyons (2007). …

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