The places we visit shape our everyday lives, our health, happiness, and the relationships we form with each other. For a while now, we’ve been measuring the success of public spaces by the services we need to live in them. Isn’t it time we considered the value in what makes us fall in love with them? Michala Lander, technical director of Social Planning at GHD.
Our public places play an important role in our lives. They set the stage for our daily routines, providing space for gatherings, a backdrop for business transactions and opportunities for social interaction. In recent times, urban planning has focused on creating ‘liveable spaces’ based on an assessment of the quantity of infrastructure provided. By focusing on the provision of infrastructure, however, we have lost sight of the unique features and characteristics that define the places we live, work and visit. It is time we shifted the paradigm. To move beyond liveable, we must focus on what makes a place loveable.
When we consider loveable places, we’re talking about more than just considering whether there’s a train station nearby to a house. We’re asking what happens when somebody leaves their home to get to the station. What’s their journey like? Who do they meet on the way? How safe do they feel? A loveable approach to urban planning focuses not on the number of benches in an area, but on the number of people using them, how long they spend there and the types of interactions they have using them.
In essence, this is taking a placemaking approach to urban planning. Whereby the form and function of a place are guided by, and developed in response to, the ‘place identity’ and the ‘people’s experience’.
‘Place identity’ celebrates the uniqueness of each place. Just like how our culture shapes who we are as individuals, our public places are shaped by their unique heritage and history. Place identity is an association, the image that springs to mind when thinking of somewhere. Whether that’s an architectural feature like the Auckland Sky Tower, an inherent culture like Rotorua, a unique natural feature like Milford Sound, or simply an open space or park that people spend time in.
‘People’s experience’ celebrates the lived reality of a place. We are all different, experiencing the city in dynamic and contrasting ways depending on the time of day, the season, or our reason for being there. Our experience also changes with time. What we experience in a place as a young backpacker is different to how we experience it when travelling with a family.
Ensuring that ‘place identity’ and ‘people experience’ is central to urban planning is key to successfully creating a loveable place. This approach to planning connects tangible elements such as physical form and urban infrastructure, to intangible elements – social interactions, daily routines, gathering areas and the uniqueness of local character. Connecting intangible and tangible elements in this way enables us to apply a lived experience approach to urban planning, something that is becoming a greater priority.
To help shift the paradigm away from ‘liveable’ towards ‘loveable’, we have developed the Loveable Cities Framework. This outlines 18 indicators and four dimensions underpinning ‘loveability’ as informed by academic literature. Under this framework, ‘loveability’ is planned and delivered through ‘soft’ infrastructure; programmes, services and activities which complement hard infrastructure and create an affinity to place.
We applied this concept to the Draft Western Sydney Aerotropolis Social Infrastructure Strategy
It is now being developed across the globe to test its applicability across different scales of projects and cultural contexts. By bringing ‘place identity’ and ‘people experience’ considerations into account, we are planning socially sustainable places for workers, residents, and visitors.
Life in cities, post the pandemic will be different. As remote working becomes the norm and we gain more autonomy over where we choose to work from, many are re-considering where they live. In our recent survey , 34 percent of respondents said the pandemic has made them consider relocating. Utilising public spaces to realise and support new lifestyle aspirations will support local businesses and create thriving places. By shifting our thinking from ‘liveable’ to ‘loveable’, we can create unique centres that will accommodate a new way of living and working whilst celebrating culture and heritage. LG