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Urban design is considered the practice of influencing and managing the urban environment. Its role and potential for creating better places in areas with community issues shall be discussed with reference to Hulme, an area one mile south of Manchester city centre. During the late 80s Hulme fell into a state of inner city decay, it became a marginal area notorious for crime, social deprivation and poor housing. However, during the early 90s an ambitious urban regeneration plan covering an area of 240 acres was created, the programme was entitled The Hulme City Challenge Initiative. This was managed by a joint venture company, Hulme Regeneration Limited consisting of Manchester City Council and AMEC Plc; over the years a host of other public, private and community interests have been involved.
Hulme is an extreme case of an area with community issues some of which remain unresolved. However, more than 12 years since the programmes launch and with over £250 million invested into numerous regeneration projects it provides a wealth of information for making clear points throughout the essay. Hulme’s new qualities and past deficiencies will enable genuine connections to be made with urban design theories while highlighting possible measures one could consider when addressing areas with community issues.
How do community issues arise?
When addressing community issues one of the first roles is to understand how the existing problems have arisen. A rigorous transparent analysis should be conducted so that previous errors are not repeated because “areas swept away in wholesale redevelopment are often the very areas which today are failing and undergoing significant change” (CABE 2005, p.12). This occurred to Hulme during the 60s,.
When different social and ethnic underprivileged groups live together in marginal areas like Hulme they all generally have limited access to resources and rights while various communal tensions can arise from sparse public spaces. These limited public spaces experience pressures from various patterns of use; from people living in flats without gardens, to those who spend a long time outdoors, like the homeless, drug addicts, loitering teenagers with nothing to do and migrants with nowhere to socialise. This causes friction and competition between these groups who in turn intimidate others who want pass through or use these areas. Those intimidated usually withdraw themselves from these group dominated spaces; they tend to be the elderly, disabled and young children. Incidentally, the 1960s Hulme design discouraged permeability through the public realm; it lacked diversity of space and available institutions, which created defensible areas and isolation. These past issues imply Hulme suffered from placelessness (Jacobs & Appleyard 1987), whereby people “withdraw from community involvement to enjoy their own private and limited worlds” (Jacobs & Appleyard 1987, p.115).
Neglect and decline of space is common in marginal areas, but why is it we find litter ridden streets, vandalised outdoor furniture, tip heaps in parks, empty business units, areas of poor maintenance, and so forth. Some blame can be directed towards the local authorities for the latter; however in this case one will address neglect shown from local residents. When residents allow their environment to fall into a state of decline it highlights their lack of attachment to place. Alternatively, the concerned minority believe any attempts to maintain the area will only be in vain. The lack of attachment with place can result from transient inhabitants who feel no responsibility in looking after or respecting short-term, low-quality accommodation and surrounding public spaces. As an area declines over time so does the quality of life, it portrays a sense of abandonment within the community. For Hulme it became stigmatised with a negative perceptual image presented through dilapidated buildings and its depressing environment. This can have a ‘knock on’ effect by deterring local businesses who fear no returns on their investment and are sceptic about security. This not only degrades public areas through reduced street activity and social integration but it reduces self-policing, increases unemployment levels which fuels localised crime from the resulting “low levels of social organisation” (Wilson, 1997 p.21). Hulme managed to force those with any aspirations out of its area through defining itself as an ‘estate’ via its rigid zoning of activities and housing tenure. Its unstable and declining local population not only weakened community bonds but assisted the process of residualisation in Hulme and hence crime figures rose.
Working with and resolving community issues
Having scratched beyond the surface of some common community issues, one will discuss potential methods of approach suggested by urban design theorists. These will be cross referenced with several socially healing developments in Hulme.
Firstly one should strive to understand the collective social meanings and values communities place on their existing physical environment via extensive consultation with residents. This allows one to distinguish the character and uniqueness a specific place presents; this may be through specific buildings, public spaces or landmarks. Calthorpe and Fulton state that “conservation and restoration are practical undertakings that can be…socially enriching” (Calthorpe & Fulton 2001, p.48). Therefore the urban designer should seek to maintain these focal points weaving them into future development, thus strengthening the communities’ urban identity. Through preserving some familiar settings it provides a psychological comfort for long term residents; specifically the elderly. One of the main and incidentally oldest buildings conserved during Hulme’s regeneration was the congregational Church for Zion Institute, built in 1911. This iconic building was maintained and converted in 1997 into a multi-arts facility for young people; its success has helped provide creative opportunities for youngsters as well as delivering socially enriching communal events. It is these constant events and public performances that have reinforced and created group connections within Hulme. This hub for young people has tempted idol children off the street and assisted with the reduction in juvenile crime.
Connecting People to Places
At a macro scale communities suffering from a sense of entrapment and abandonment can be helped through increased permeability and connections to the city. One of the first major actions in Hulme was the re-instatement of Stratford Road which provided a vital link to Manchester city centre; this allowed the communities to feel integrated with the wider context and thus reduced their restriction to resources. Additionally, the completion of the ‘landmark’ Mancunian Way Footbridge in 2002 symbolically linked Hulme Park with Knott Mill and the City Centre. It was significantly designed for pedestrians and cyclists to be able to cross the busy Mancunian Way, but how can designers encourage pedestrian and cyclist movement in an unsafe environment?
Incidentally, various design measures can be employed to increase public realm safety while collectively reducing the impact of the car; incidentally the car dominated Hulme’s 60s design, ideally “the most important public places must be for pedestrians, for no public life can take place between people in automobiles” (Jacobs & Appleyard 1987, p.119).
- Public and private space should be clearly defined (Jacobs 1961).
- A variety of well-lit routes that pedestrians or cyclists can choose should any problems arise.
- Routes should not be isolated; they should be self-policed with sufficient eyes on the street through shops and housing which increase a sense of safety (Jacobs 1961).
- Street layout should be clear to minimise the distance from A to B.
- The grain of the street should become thin around nodes of activity to influence permeability of the space.
At a localised scale increasing social integration amongst a diverse community is difficult. Designing physical space has its limitations when trying to inform where and what types of social interaction will occur. What can be provided to communities are areas that encourage chance encounters which in turn may create group formations. There are generally two types of group formations, formal and communal. From an urban design perspective the former group type can be encouraged more because they have a prescribed purpose with defined patterns. It is the communal groups which have to evolve themselves, however design can allow social patterns to be easily recognised via unrestricted access to activities within public spaces. It is through repeated activities such as markets that friendships can be made over time between existing and new residents. Furthermore, areas designated for specific activities, for instance sports can support group relations. Observing other people and their activities, like watching a local football match, can make others, such as new residents feel a temporal sense of belonging without actually participating in the activity themselves (Carr et al. 1992). This reinforces the argument that public spaces must be accessible to all groups to enable observation as well as verbal interaction.
Hulme Park is a prime example of how a public space can have a positive impact on a community. It not only brings people together but improves their quality of life and projects a confident image of the area. The respective brief was to deliver a safe and appealing park to attract a variety of groups. Psychological barriers rather than physical installations were employed to create a public but secure park. Firstly its width never exceeds 70 metres, this allows users to recognise one another and subconsciously not feel anonymous within the space. Secondly the new surrounding houses provide natural surveillance, also an existing road and perimeter parking increase nearby activity which creates a sense of security.
Community Engagement & Identity
When a neighbourhood neglects their own environment it is important as a designer to try and restore a sense of pride and public ownership of the suffering area through community engagement. Building a rapport with residents from the offset can be advantageous during the development process and local input can positively influence design decisions. User participation in the design process and management of space provides communities with a feeling of control over their own neighbourhood (Carr et al. 1992); this can increase their attachment to place resulting in a revived interest in their surrounding environment. Providing opportunities for personalisation of space can also reinforce this goal. The development of Hulme Park involved a series of meetings with residents from the area so its design could appeal to its potential users. Due to diverse requests from a range of age-groups, the designers, ‘Landscape Projects’ went with a popular theme which arose during the consultation process; swimming and surfing. The design theme reflected the communities’ interest and stamped their identity and involvement on the project. This generated a high level of respect for the space and has resulted in minimal vandalism of the park.
Additionally, accurate decisions can be made by working with the community when determining suitable functions for a space. It is the function or activity within a space that can become meaningful to individuals, groups and communities. One can create meaningful space based upon understanding the residents’ lives and patterns of use (Carr et al. 1992). Public space incorporating various functions can be designed by categorising site characteristics and linking them to desired activity settings suggested by the community. The facilities within Hulme Park were strategically located in order to gain maximum social integration. For instance, the sports area was specifically located next to the existing Proctor’s Youth Centre so coaches could train and observe the whole team. Local requests for a skate park were integrated into the design too, thus increasing its diversity and user appeal.
New developments always ignite some form of opposition, usually from long-term residents as the thought of change unsettles them. Generally they are in search of assurance that their community and the environment in which they live have a future and most importantly that they are part of that future. Territoriality can be a sensitive issue when community groups develop strong feelings about their ‘rights’ to have a space developed; this can create tension between the designer and can instigate neighbourhood disputes as a result of a groups’ claim over a space. From an urban design perspective indistinct boundaries are the typical cause of such disputes, therefore delineating spaces that are collectively owned can minimise conflict while strengthening a sense of public ownership.
Physical installations can help unify communities and reinstate a sense of identity; public art can portray shared social values of a neighbourhood while iconic landmarks can make a positive statement of change, which helps revitalise an area through nullifying previous stigmatisations. This has been achieved in Hulme with Wilkinson Eyre’s striking Arch Bridge, its key location (a major route from the City Centre to the main motorway network) helps highlight and reinforce the positive transformations occurring within Hulme. It is one of many new landmarks which have attracted more people and businesses to the area, thus building a stronger community which contributes to more ‘eyes on the street’ and increased local employment results in lower crime levels.
Diversity & Flexibility
According to Calthorpe and Fulton (2001), diversity is one of their fundamental elements for improving communities. Providing a range of local activities within close proximity enables community identity resulting in a strengthened urban quality. New diverse buildings should be visually interesting if people are to enjoy experiencing their environment, “if a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting.” (Jacobs 1961, p.27). Fig 2 displays how Hulme has become a more attractive place to live with its dramatic diversification of housing stock and its replacement of the notorious Hulme Crescent with modern housing. Additionally, Carr et al. (1992) state how nature not only adds diversity to an area but develops bonds between people and places. “The best public spaces are the most flexible ones” (Madanipour 2004, p.285), hence why spaces deliberately left undefined in Hulme allowed new uses to evolve over time. Through not overdesigning a place it enables users to adapt space to their needs. Incidentally, the Hulme horticultural society was officially revived through local adaptable space; it also reinforces the fact that nature can bring disparate individuals and groups with various interests together.
To summarise, the Hulme case study has demonstrated how quality urban design has the potential to resolve community issues and make a place better. Despite some remaining troubles in Hulme one was keen to focus upon the positive urban design elements which healed many of its community problems. The social benefits realised in the development and revival of Hulme is summarised under the following key urban design elements:
- Preservation; maintaining key buildings like the Zion Art Centre have sustained the historic identity of Hulme which comforts long-term residents, while those regenerated have created nodes of social integration.
- Permeability & Accessibility; connectivity with the wider environment of Manchester has removed the sense of entrapment and abandonment within Hulme.
- Communal institutions & Public Space; the revival of Stratford Road as a shopping destination and the success of Hulme park are examples of how Hulme’s urban environment has been activated, with increased social activity and group formations.
- Safety on the streets; through logical street design, increased facilities and communal opportunities the greater number of ‘eyes on the street’ have made the area safer.
- Neighbourhood involvement; through community consultation during developments, residents now feel a sense of ownership, well-being and respect for their environment this has helped reduce vandalism in the area.
- Landmarks; Hulme Arch bridge has helped promote Hulme in a positive light which has resulted in an increase in residents and local businesses; resulting in its stronger community spirit and reduced crime rates due to local employment opportunities.
- Diversity & Flexibility; the diversity of housing and public space has made the area a more attractive place to live thus increasing the communities quality of life. Flexible space has provided the opportunity for further positive developments when community interests and desires change.
What is apparent is that all the above are interwoven and affect one another in some way therefore they must be purposefully combined to support one another. It is also obvious that environmental and economic factors have an underlying effect on the success of such design elements. However, one should strive for a complementary economic, environmental and social strategy to maximise community benefits.
- Carr, S. et al., 1992. Public Space. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Calthorpe, P. & Fulton, W., 2001. The Regional City – Planning for the end of sprawl. London: Island Press.
- Jacobs, J., 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities – The Failure of Town Planning. New York: Vintage Books.
- Wilson, W.J., 1997. When Work Disappears – The World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Vintage Books.
- Jacobs, A. & Appleyard, D., 1987. Toward an Urban Design manifesto. Journal of the American Planning Association, 53, pp.112-120.
- Madanipour, A., 2004. Marginal Public Spaces in European Cities. Journal of Urban Design, 9 (3), pp.267-286.
- CABE, 2005. Creating Successful Neighbourhoods – Lessons and Actions for Housing Market Renewal. London: CABE.
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