With these words, Cord Soehlke, Mayor and Senior Planner for the University Town of Turbingen, Germany neatly summed up for me the differences and the challenges facing Scotland’s towns. As had been discussed earlier in the day at Scotland’s Towns Conference , too much of our residential accommodation is built surrounding a centre rather than being part of it. Little wonder therefore that we have a crisis of place and residents feeling disconnected to their towns.
We have too many anonymous places and not enough good urban place planning.
I was lucky enough to get to chair Scotland’s Towns Partnership’s (STP) conference today in Falkirk Town Hall. As Chair of STP I guess it is my obligation, but it never feels like that. Instead I joined almost 200 delegates who were treated to a double Ministerial presence, plenty of challenge to orthodoxies, a true sense of engaged people and communities wanting something better for Scotland’s towns and beginning to get down to work to achieve this.
Now in a few hundred words I can not do justice to the presentations, the discussions and conversations and the learning and engagement that took place. That will have to wait to its fulsome treatment on STP’s website. Instead I want to pick out some of my highlights:
- The obvious pride and energy so many presenters had about the changes underway in Falkirk;
- Touring the exhibition with Margaret McCulloch MSP, Chair of the Cross Party Group on Towns and seeing all the exciting tools available to help town centre regeneration;
- Hearing the Minister, Marco Biagi MSP, lay out the strong governmental support for town centres and their communities;
- Sam Cassells, Scottish Futures Trust challenge public bodies such as the Scottish Funding Council to live up to the Town Centre First principle;
- Richard Kerley, CSPP, point out some of the absurdities of our current approach to town centre activity and the quick and the hard steps we must take to rebalance this approach;
- Fraser Carlin, Renfrewshire Council, pointing to the simplicity of using Simplified Planning Zones for town centres and the benefitts of doing this that accrue;
- PAS, through Nikola Miller and David McAllister, walking a mile in Edinburgh as children and demonstrating the hostility our current space and place planning places on our children.
All of these challenged us to think again and redouble our efforts to improve Scotland’s towns.
And that was the message I tried to summarise as Chair; conferences are great for idea exchange, making new contacts and gaining reinforcements and momentum. But the hard work is on the ground, each and every day and in each and every decision we take. As Cord Soehlke showed, there is an alternative.
Our towns can not be anonymous any more. They need to be special places. What do we need to do in each an every place to make this happen?