Public life by design? : a tale of three town squares - a study exploring the social impact of the design of London's public squares

Goodwin, Helen (2017) Public life by design? : a tale of three town squares - a study exploring the social impact of the design of London's public squares. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The creation of a network of new and regenerated public spaces across London over the past decade has been widely represented as a means of improving the quality of life of local communities through a design agenda that has seen millions of pounds of public money invested by the Greater London Authority in place-specific projects across the capital. Limited research has been carried out, however, to understand the social impact or value of this investment and, whilst prizes have been awarded and official narratives have celebrated the success of these projects, no official evaluation has been carried out to understand the real social impact of these projects and thereby to establish the extent to which the policy objectives of fostering the public life of these neighbourhoods and of strengthening bonds of community have been been achieved. Aiming to address a gap in the existing research literature, this study investigates three local town squares across Greater London - in Acton, Barking and New Addington - that have been funded by the Mayor of London. Using a mixed methods approach, the empirical research draws on observations of everyday life in action and the lived experience of ordinary local people to understand the impact of the projects from the perspective of those stakeholders whose lives these projects were designed to transform. Comparing these 'everyday' narratives with policy agendas and the 'official' narratives of planners and designers, the evidence reveals a significant disconnect between the visions and objectives of mayors, planners and architects and the lived reality and everyday experience of these regenerated places, suggesting a failure of the design agenda to achieve its desired policy objectives. The study raises concerns about whose realities are represented int he imaginaries of politicians, policy-makers and urban designers and about how these relate to the lived experiences of ordinary people. It highlights a lack of consensus about how we value and measure what is 'good' public space, reminding us that a completed project is only one source of 'value' and that its after-life is of consequent and more essential importance. The research highlights the consensus required to make a 'good' city and suggests the need for re-establishment of the shared goals of community, identity and belonging, notions that should underlie the ambitions and desires of all parties.

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