A City Audit
We are all aware of the meaning around a financial audit, the thoroughness of this and the end result. As are we aware of the need for such processes and their ability to inform our future decisions and the improvements that come after a good audit of any organisation. Given the complexity of any city, particularly when you consider the amount of stakeholders, the influences of traffic, history and various social needs it stands to reason that in order to best inform how we develop our city we must fully understand what currently happens in its fabric. It is only through gathering this knowledge that we can put a value on this and decide how best to invest in the future of the city.
A city such as Newry has a huge number of stakeholders, each with various levels of representation there must be some sort of oversight or system in place which allows everyone a the level of input - to create a truly public consultation, something which works to determine the needs of the town. Rather than the recent ones, consisting of a consultant team putting images onscreen, followed by a controlled question and answer session, this particular consultation was well covered elsewhere - but it is commonly considered that this type of consultation are completed too late in the process to ensure the public gets a sense of ownership in the project and are superficial nature, generally not finding the root of the areas problems.
This is a common problem with completing the planning required project by project consultations, we re invent the wheel each time rather than understanding the needs of the place prior to deciding on the end result. So that we have a live document, continuously informed by the public, updated as demographics and views change. This would become the basis for informing how all the development in the town is progressed, ensuring input from the beginning of each projects and should lead to less confrontational consultations down the line in schemes, as the end goal and need has been confirmed collectively already.
I have previously called for a new master plan which is a live document, informed by the need of the town. This process of the town audit, or health check is a key element of this master plan, the tool we use to ensure this master plan remains relevant. This process has been used to great effect in towns south of the border, such as Westport, Clonikilty, Waterford and Kilkenny among many others. This process was lead by the town council’s Architects department in each of these cases and has lead to a significant improvement in the quality of the urban spaces and quality of the both the social and economic life of the town. The process used in these towns is outlined quite well in the RIAI’s “Creating Places for People”, provided in this is a step by step guide through the various work stages to create a community lead vision, a statement to inform and lead the development of a city that people will actually want to live in.
In brief the steps are as below,
01. Assemble a team of volunteers from the local community, of those representing the business interests ( the chamber is ideally positioned to do this) and representatives from the local council. It is pointed out that at least one member should an architect to help guide the process.
02. Create and document a vision, in the form of a local design guide. In this it outlines what is required and methods of getting there. It is not prescriptive like a master plan, but for guiding in. Nature, giving examples of best practices or how to dos for typical details. This document would then become the basis for informing further work or essential when applying for further funding to continue the work.
03. Complete a exemplar project, something small and community driven to prove the vision is appropriate. The success of this will breed more success and generate more power when this document is used as a basis for future work in the town.
You will note that this process does not require the council to be the driving force, they just have to input. Which is probably helpful as it allows the process to sit outside of rules regarding public finances etc at the start which might cause it to stall getting out the gate. What makes this process most relevant to Newry is the track record and basis in good practice it has developed, one we the people of Newry can benefit from and begin to develop for the good of us all.