Race and Space event

Kanda advocates and seeks to deliver meaningful community engagement on behalf of our built environment clients. To engage effectively and responsibly with all communities it is important to understand how development proposals could impact each community, including the less vocal BAME communities. London has seen recent campaigns against development from BAME communities who have felt marginalised by new regeneration schemes in their area. It’s clear that we risk losing the soul of what makes an area special, and therefore desirable to live and work in if we don’t engage with and take these communities with us.

Last night I chaired Kanda’s Race and Space debate, in front of an audience of senior professionals from developers, architects, and planning consultants. Our distinguished panel looked at race and the ways it intersects with the planning decisions that affect different communities, illuminating some of the ways BAME communities should be considered in development proposals. The key question of the night was, how do we ensure that decisions are made in a way that leaves no one behind and makes the greatest number of people feel like the changes happening in their community are happening with them, rather than against them? 

Kanda was delighted to bring together top experts in the field of race and development:

  • Cllr Anthony Orekeke, Leader of Greenwich Borough Council
  • Dipa Joshi, Partner, Fletcher Priest Architects
  • Olafiyin Taiwo MRTPI, Chair of the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners Network
  • Dr Tania Sengupta, Associate Professor, Director of Architectural History and Theory, Bartlett School of Architecture

Cllr Okereke opened the debate with his thoughts on how trust is an important factor in getting buy-in from the groups we want to engage with, asking “How do we care for the communities of tomorrow whilst tackling the problems of today?  It’s important to understand the barriers to participation, without understanding communities you cannot understand barriers – if you fail to do this you will then have to rebuild their trust. You build trust by continuing to try, and repeatedly approaching the community.

Consider ownership and who has control of design principles.  A community truly wins when you take on their suggestions and incorporate their ideas into designs. Communities have to be able to diagnose their own issues it’s then on the developer to facilitate the changes that communities need.  It is important to address their issues of concern sensitively and understand how different people live their lives. Some communities like space and open plan living and some don’t, designs have to respect culture and how people want to live”.

Dipa Joshi went on to add that her background in music, has given her a unique insight into culture. “Design is like bringing together a Facebook community and a LinkedIn community – culture and corporate – linking the two is where you can bring about social value. To ensure inclusive design – the industry needs to widen its candidates and move away from unconscious bias, doing this will unlock a way to provide good social value. It is so important that you start with the person you don’t think is going to speak. The industry needs to focus on creating regeneration that feels less like gentrification and more like a cultural journey. Active spaces can become a marketing tool – they are a continuation of what was there before.  My mantra is measure, monitor and mentor.”

Dr Tania Sangupta said that her field is that of a historian of colonial landscapes – post colonial Britain and immigrant landscapes. “ The architecture curriculum is overwhelmingly white, so much of the bias we speak of is tacitly there – it is important to look at colonial histories of buildings – not to learn about the past but rather the present. Our Race and Space curriculum was produced in 2019. It is an open social resource online and looks at how places acquire meaning because of race.”

Olifiyin Taiwo observed that “work in the built environment starts with developing personal values and organisational values, you have to be committed to making a tangible difference. Profit is no doubt important, but genuine engagement is essential. Feedback is important, you need to explain to communities why some of their suggestions put forward during a consultation are included and why some are not. This can lead to an openness to build relationships and prevent bitterness.  Built environment and engagement language is very different, it is important to find a balance that can help everyone get involved and win.”

How can we create a balance between the needs of the community and the needs of the scheme?

Olafiyin: “Talk to communities. Walk the same streets as them and let them know how they have been useful to you. Establish their needs and priorities and weigh it against the needs of local authority and the needs of developers. It doesn’t have to be economically costly, but it can help to build genuine engagement. Offer a return for people’s time and effort. Work out what incentives can be offered to engage with relevant groups. Development is all about making lives better, a lot of the time we are speaking about culturally rich areas, brought about through community spaces – you’re not coming to destroy communities but instead enrich them. Incentives are the best way to get across to settled communities.”

Cllr Okereke: “There are two roles that we must play. That of the enabler and that of the subsidiser, how do we enable local shops to come forward who represent the settled culture, and the subsidised is plainly, what can we do with space – could peppercorn rents be offered? It’s also important to be honest about what has and hasn’t been achieved in each development, if we haven’t achieved a communal goal, what is our long-term plan to reach other goals”.  

Dr. Sengupta: “ There’s a natural distrust of what’s new, so building familiarity can help to lay the groundwork for developing cultural relationships and subsequently, partnerships between the community and developers”

Olafiyin Taiwo: “Young people don’t understand the planning process, you cannot engage with that which you do not understand. People are passionate about how cities work but the responsibility of us in the built environment is to give people a platform to grow their understanding through engagement” 

What ideas do you have to improve involvement?

Cllr Okereke: “Do more work in joining public health and house building to tackle inequality. It is also important to, through the local plan process, create area plans that support the needs of communities”

Dr Sangupta: “Do things around food and festivals to build conversations. Local authorities have the possibility of building relationships with community leaders, but key figures probably benefit from the existing structure. Who actually doesn’t get to speak? approach it from there rather than from who already has a voice”

Olafiyin: “Social media – the built environment needs to improve their social media footprint to reach out and explain themselves. It is a civil responsibility to be involved in building civic spaces.  Also, being representative of the community that you want to work within, makes the process feel collaborative.”

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