CABE’s Spaceshaper toolkit, being trialled across Australia, brings together a range of professionals with local people in order to transform failing local spaces. This practical tool works by measuring the quality of a public space against a wide range of criteria. It ensures the perceptions of both the people using a space and those responsible for running it are successfully captured and analysed to form the basis of a brief for change, and ensure the right concerns are prioritised. Over the past three years, two hundred workshops have taken place in communities up and down England.
Bringing together everyone who is interested in a public space improvement scheme can be difficult at the best of times. Entrenched divisions and long-standing grudges can create a hostile atmosphere. A domineering participant can stop others having their say. Run as a half-day workshop, Spaceshaper is led by a trained facilitator, who ensures everyone makes a contribution. It has been designed to accommodate a diverse range of participants, from dog walkers to designers, local residents to councillors and cleansing departments. All views have an equal footing and participants understand others concerns and points of views.
I have seen how it can be applied to all types of public space, from neglected parks to busy streets. Involving the community helps raise aspirations and means a relationship can develop between the users of a space and those who look after it. “We were looking for ways that would bring together council officers and members of the community,” comments Maggie Mellor, a Spaceshaper local authority client. “Spaceshaper puts everyone on the same level, it evens things up a bit.”
Key to the process is a site visit, where participants experience the space at first hand and record their individual views. “Residents were initially sceptical about conducting a site visit to the street in which they live,” recalls Spaceshaper facilitator Alex Allen. She has used Spaceshaper on eight streets projects. “However, most of them end up seeing their street differently when encouraged to think through the Spaceshaper questions.”
Participants rate the site against eight themes including access, maintenance and design. Many have been impressed by the speed of the results. “The instant feedback provided by the software is useful. So often residents are asked to fill-in surveys but never get to see what happens to the information,” Allen adds.
The presence of an external facilitator removes suspicions of prejudice. “The advantage is that they come from outside. It’s a neutral presence,” explains Sarah Glenn, another Spaceshaper client. “It’s not seen as the council imposing their will on other folk.”
After the workshop, the facilitator writes-up the results, discussion and proposed next steps. A version for 9 to 14 yours olds is proving very popular in the Australian trial. For more information about Spaceshaper and how you can use it contact PLA at [email protected] or phone +61 (03) 5444 1763 www.parks-leisure.com.au