Building places we want to live in is more than just an aesthetic challenge. We know that well-designed public spaces boost local economies, enhance community safety, reduce crime, improve public health and happiness, and increase community cohesion.
But to design places people really want to live in, we need to ensure their wishes and needs are understood and reflected. We need local residents to actively engage in the planning and design process. We need people to shape their places.
Lambeth Council has been attempting to do just that and the LGiU has been working with Lambeth to understand and evaluate these efforts.
Today, the LGiU publishes an evaluation of Lambeth’s Neighbourhood Enhancement Programme (NEP), which also looks at the Van Gogh Walk and Loughborough Junction Plan. These local projects mark key ways in which the council is seeking to put cooperative principles into practice and place local residents in the driving seat.
The NEP, led by Cllr Jack Hopkins, Cabinet Member for Safer and Stronger Neighbourhoods, represents one of Lambeth’s biggest investments in its streets, as well as an important shift in how Lambeth’s Transport team, and the council more broadly, are seeking to engage with local residents. Rather than ask residents “do you support this proposal”, Lambeth wanted to ask residents “what would you like to see in this area?”
Our analysis also looks at the coproduction strategies employed on both the Loughborough Junction Plan and Van Gogh Walk. The Loughborough Junction Plan is large-scale community-led project, which aims to regenerate the local Loughborough Junction area. Van Gogh Walk is similarly a resident-led project, which has seen the transformation of a residential street into a new community space.
Through an evaluation of these projects, our case study aims to share the lessons learned according to both the successes and the challenges encountered. It also seeks to understand how community-led projects can change not only residents’ perceptions of the council, but also the council’s perception of itself.
Building on the insights gained through considering each of these local projects, we draw out the key practical lessons both for Lambeth as it takes this approach forward, and for other local authorities similarly interested in placing a public engagement programme at the heart of council strategy.
At a time where local government faces an unprecedented set of challenges, we need to think about local government in a radically different way. To manage the pressures we face, such as severe funding reductions, an ageing population, the need to adapt to climate change and the need to equip young people with the skills they need for the future, we know that a new model of local government is required.
To meet these complex challenges, we need to think about how doing public services differently – we need to think creatively and collaboratively about service transformation and demand management. Citizens, the state, the private and third sector must work together in a radically new way.
Through consideration of these projects, we can start to map out and understand what the council’s evolving role might look like: a role where the council moves away from doing things, to making things happen; a role where the council moves away from taking local decisions to one where the council acts as a catalyst for the community making its own decisions.
It’s a big ask, but these early insights highlight how we might just do it.