Masterplanning is distinguished by a special dimension – and that’s time. Good placemaking can make our lives more efficient, especially for women
In coming to the end of the year, I find myself looking back on the themes I’ve explored in this column over 2019: loneliness in the city, liveability, the value of urban messiness, the role of landscape and inequality. In all of them I have talked about how masterplanning a place is not about plots, buildings and boundaries; instead, it is about designing a place to consciously create positive benefit for those who live and work there. And the fact is, once delivered, the bones of a masterplan will be there for a long time, so there is nothing more important than planning carefully and recognising the potential range of impacts.
If masterplanning is about the process as much as the product, it seems to me that time is the characteristic that differentiates it from other kinds of design. If we look at a masterplan from one perspective – investment in connectivity infrastructure – time becomes even more significant. This is for three reasons: it will take a lot of time to deliver it, time saved will undoubtedly be behind the business case to invest in it and it will have a profound effect on the time available to people who live locally.
Making things better for everyone means looking critically at what we’re doing by focusing on people and their lived experiences. As a member of the Highways England strategic design panel, I know that investment in large‑scale road or rail projects is often prioritised through the prism of speed and efficiency. Time saved will be a driving catalyst of many projects, as the saving converts into better experiences and outcomes for road and rail users.
Quality of life would improve, with women in particular benefiting from a dividend of better health and wellbeing through more time for leisure and relaxation
Time is in short supply in the lives of most of us. Life can be frenetic and unrelenting, and the time it takes to navigate complex local journeys for work, the school run and caring duties is often disproportionate relative to the more efficient longer journeys that infrastructure investment facilitates. The daily challenge of finding enough time to get around and complete tasks affects women’s lives more than most, as the burden of care and domestic duties tends to be theirs.
Men do 16 hours a week of unpaid domestic work while women do 26 hours (according to Office for National Statistics figures for 2016). The combined volume of this labour has been calculated as equivalent to 56% of GDP or £1 trillion (Office for National Statistics, 2014). Meanwhile, men spend more time at leisure than women. If some of the time spent on this unpaid domestic work could be saved then quality of life would improve, with women in particular benefiting from a dividend of better health and wellbeing through more time for leisure and relaxation.
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But what has this to do with city building? Our network of infrastructure and connections has favoured simpler, longer journeys over the local journeys made by those with multiple roles and complex trip chains. As work patterns have changed, mobility and connectivity now need to accommodate far more local complexity. The focus of infrastructure planning must be to create a safe network of streets and spaces to unlock easier local journeys for pedestrians and cyclists, not just better regional connections.
We need to understand what people think can make their lives better. This means, first, tackling the urgent need for a diverse design industry
To address these issues, we need to understand what people think can make their lives better. This means, first, tackling the urgent need for a diverse design industry so places are designed with a range of experiences in mind. Second, it requires designing with the community as an active agent and co-designer of the environment. Given the time over which investment is often spread, these conversations can contribute to a baseline data against which improvement can be measured. Understanding the social impact of placemaking, by tracking what really matters to people over time, will create an investment in quality of life rather than just physical form.
Time spent in designing is rarely wasted – and it is especially precious when it comes to making the most of it on a masterplan. We need to use time well in order to understand the context of a place and prepare a framework that will be resilient and self-sustaining for those who live and work there. Not all the benefits of infrastructure investment are easily and evenly spread, so time to learn, think and innovate to get things right is time well spent.
Looking at this from the perspective of one particular place, the area around London’s Euston station: ever since the station was built in 1837, those living on either side of it have suffered severance and isolation; the ever-busier Euston Road has made matters worse. The difficulties of accessing opportunities have had a lasting effect on the people living there. It is the familiar consequence of more than a century of mega‑infrastructure investment. We know now what the effect has been – and we know now what the solutions are.
Selina Mason is director of masterplanning at Lendlease