PLACED at 10: How to fix the built environment

This week, our blog comes from the wonderful Sophie Bullock. I was fortunate to have Sophie as part of our small team for four years. ‘Aunty Sophie,’ as she is known by my children, was a big part of the PLACED journey. Even at her interview, she unknowingly quoted my own mantra – that everyone is an expert in the built environment. From that moment on, the panel knew she would be perfect for the team.

As an artist, Sophie brought creativity and ideas, along with the ability to solve problems and a compassion for people — all key ingredients to our work. Her input, style and values helped to positively evolve, inform, and shape our education and engagement work over the last four years.

Sophie recently moved on, and our loss is most definitely someone else’s gain. I know she will bring her creativeness, intelligence and desire for genuine and progressive involvement of communities in the decision-making process to her new role. I look forward to seeing her challenging and impacting a strategic, political organisation.

Thank you, Aunty Sophie! And we should definitely plan that pot-luck supper.

How to fix the built environment? No one can solve this on their own, so I think I need to bring more people to the table. I’ll arrange a dinner table so it’s more relaxing (and fun!) for conversations and ideas to be shared. Better still, we’ll make it a potluck supper.

So, guests. I could go on and on, but I’ll make a start.

I would have to invite the participants from one of my favourite PLACED sessions: a conversation with young people across Liverpool and Manchester about their perspectives of the challenges and opportunities of urban design, and more widely, how they feel their environment does and doesn’t work for them. This workshop stays with me because of their honesty and bravery sharing their barriers to being welcome and accepted in public spaces such as ageism, sexism, racism, intimidation and more.

I felt privileged to listen, yet frustration to know that many of these issues are not new, they’re shared by us still as adults, parents and grandparents, or in our own childhood. Young people are doing amazing work, just look at how they have catalysed environmental campaigning and have shifted debate to action. But it’s not enough to pat them on the back and hope that this generation will solve generational structural problems. We can’t let ourselves off the hook. We bring them to the table and, yes, we listen and learn, but more crucially we do and mend, dismantle and rebuild.

As such, I’d also bring in professional grown-up-type-people who have the power to influence and implement such as an architect, a town planner, the head of policy perhaps. Each brings something different to the table. The love for design and the skills to make buildings happen, the ability to think spatially and functionally, the skills to interpret and shape big strategies and future visions, and of course much more.

What about our mums and little brothers, the lollipop lady, nurse, plumber, out of work and apprentice? They use space too, and I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many of them around Liverpool outside Ed the Campervan about a wide range of projects and developments in the built environment. From a passing comment to an in-depth conversation, we can begin to piece together what’s important to people and places.

The PLACED Academy is just one example of a project which proactively puts all these different experts together to share ideas and create responses to real places. The Academy works because different ages, expertise, cultures, races, genders and abilities are combined and are given space to be nurtured and challenged. It’s challenging because solutions to big issues aren’t simple, and there isn’t one way of doing things.

We need expertise in all its forms: from the experience of a child to the accreditation of a professor, the outlooks of a creative and a logistician, the patient listener to the confident speaker. Let’s imagine that each of our guests invites another, and another. Yes, it’s complex, but so are the challenges in public spaces.

PLACED is the creator of the potluck supper, and the wide range of people they interact with brings something different to the table. Creating equitable opportunity to meet and share is crucial to expanding the pool of people who already have a seat at the table. Many of these people have been at the table for years, they chose the same seat every evening and order the same dish! Sounds boring at best!

The seat at the table is power, and too few have it. Jo and the team give voice to many people who think their opinion doesn’t matter because they’re not ‘qualified’, and their work truly makes a difference to those that are brave enough to listen. It also makes a difference to me to be a part of it and see it grow.

Happy birthday PLACED!

Sophie Bullock
28th October 2021

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