By Joanna Jadczak BA (Hons), MA Planning and Sustainability & Carmel Khalilian, BArch (Hons), MSc Building & Urban Design in Development
From a very young age we are exposed to urban planning and architecture, often unaware, as the notion of town planning is deeply rooted in our curious nature, seeking to discover, build, make and create whilst using the vivid imagination as children we are all gifted with.
Do you remember how excited you used to be when making or building your first dream doll or Lego house, building an entire railway set with houses, trees, animals and people, or the time you made decisions about real estate purchases when playing monopoly to build and design your own little empire coupled with a thriving economy?
We began to understand the dangers associated with ‘bad’ planning
At some point in our lives we will have either made models of buildings, decorated and drawn on shoe boxes, or built forts and castles with defensive walls to prevent enemy invasion into our imaginary kingdoms, as we understood the function of these buildings and structures.
Later, a whole other world of opportunities presented itself with the introduction of PC and video gaming into mainstream culture on a global scale, further stimulating our imagination and creative thinking about city planning. New opportunities to engage the youngsters and allow them to learn through various city-building games like SimCity, The Settlers or Tycoon City, allowed children of all ages to experience the complexities of city planning, whilst having fun planning, organising, building, designing and experiencing, for the first time, various challenges involved in the process.
As we grew older, we would go on field trips with our schools to see historic sites and buildings. We sat in classrooms learning about the dangers of pollution, the important function that trees play in our ecosystem, new technological advances that have impacted waste collection and processing, or energy generation, as well as the need to protect green areas from overdevelopment and animal species from extinction.
Through this we began to learn, from a very early stage in our lives, about environmental considerations, history and heritage, infrastructure, architectural detail and relative scale, building materials and so on. We began to understand the different elements and layers of urban planning and associated disciplines, the importance of social interaction and creating liveable neighbourhoods, the necessities behind creating and safeguarding a thriving economy and the dangers associated with ‘bad’ planning, as well as its likely implications upon our built and natural environment. All of these activities link back to city planning, focusing on either the physical form, urban design, our environment, our economy or the relative social aspects.
Teaching children about town planning, provoking thought and involving them in urban planning, raises awareness, increases their commitment to civic participation and helps in creating greener, healthier, adaptable, fun, more creative and inclusive living spaces for all. A child’s creativity has no boundaries, as they do not have a strong framework dictating how things are supposed to be, which in turn can lead to some very interesting solutions to our everyday problems.
Maybe we let our youth down by not engaging them enough in the process?
Despite these early interactions, something changes between these childhood years and the adulthood that takes us away from being conscious of our built and unbuilt environment and taking an active role in its development. Maybe we let our youth down by not engaging them enough in the process? Or perhaps we do so by designing activities they enjoy out of public and semi-private spaces, rather than encouraging them and creating welcoming spaces for them, therefore not allowing them to experience the city the way we used to?
I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, we would simply go outdoors where there was some land available to play, build, make and create, to climb, jump, and draw. These days things are not the same. Density of the built form, social exclusion within the built environment, including gated communities, and the desire to preserve, rather than re-use and create all-inclusive spaces, have all had a great impact. We are often so focused on protecting nature from becoming damaged and maintaining buildings as they are, that we have taken some of the joy out of it for young people. We have taken away their ability to use and experience these spaces, whether intentionally or not, excluding them from parts of the urban environment, instead of fostering the importance of town planning and care for our environment through interactions within urban public spaces.
Generating the means to create a louder and stronger citizen voice in town planning can serve several objectives by creating a say in how neighbourhoods change, how the city develops, providing an important role in knowledge exchange and giving everyone a voice in helping to shape the future of their localities.
Town planning in Gibraltar has entered into a stage of transformation, as we have witnessed sweeping changes to the planning system in the last few years in particular. Nevertheless, this is only the beginning, as we eagerly await consideration to be given to the introduction of new scales of town planning, strengthening and delivering a more coherent and relevant planning agenda, developing more in-depth, detailed, thematic guidance for applicants, as well as providing stronger policy direction on major issues affecting society today which constitutes significant risks for the future.
Sufficient policy direction and guidance also include the introduction of adequate detail to guide plan-making and development decisions, provide for adequate strategic planning and a better set of planning tools with a greater resource-base to engage the public and deliver against economic, social and environmental objectives.
Neighbourhood planning for example, the smallest, yet crucial level of planning, is eagerly awaiting its turn to be considered and implemented in Gibraltar. It focuses on setting out measures and providing mechanisms to achieve a substantial and lasting shift away from central government and towards local people, in order to give citizens increased power in shaping their neighbourhoods by improving understanding of and engagement with the planning system. Engagement from early stages of the planning process can have a significant impact on how places develop, rather than at a later stage, when there is usually only room for objections and minor alterations to individual schemes that have already been negotiated, both of which waste opportunities, time, and money.
We have taken some of the joy out of it.
Raising awareness and creating opportunities for engagement and involvement in urban planning from a young age through to adulthood is crucial in allowing us to shape the environment we live, work, and play in, in order to create smarter, stronger, more resilient, healthier, liveable, all-inclusive neighbourhoods that are able to adequately cater for current and future generations, in pursuit of sustainable development and fulfilling our obligations to future generations.
To learn more about the subject matter and how you can influence town planning in your neighbourhood and beyond, please reach out to us. We will soon be holding a series of workshops along with various institutions in order to discover and reveal the real aspirations of the residents of Gibraltar
Visit www.planning.vision for more information.