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Image: Adam Roy. ECow Bay. Prince Rupert, BC

If one redesigns public space in a main street of a British Columbia fishing town, this will not likely change much, unless this intervention is embedded in a broader strategy, such as a plan to attract businesses, residents, or tourists. Such embedding makes compliance with that strategy easier and more attractive. The quality of self-analysis undertaken in early stages of strategy development can indicate what design could do to support the strategy, and where it can come in: Should design thinking and public space improvements come first, as a kickstarter to attract newcomers? or later, when more residents have already moved in? Should physical space be improved slowly? These choices ought to be the result of a community’s internal self-analysis, and cannot be simply handed over by external experts or designers. In each of these approaches, it’s a good idea to have a design ready at the outset, which can be modified later as needed, rather than accepting things which can make any coherent design difficult later. If the self- analysis is not there, if the design is not embedded in strategy, then expectations are often too high. Too many times, we observed small towns investing in a main street redesign, in a heritage design program, or larger cities in a complete streets program -giving all users their space- without thinking of the fit with general planning, transportation or economic development policies. Then the spark does not happen, people are disappointed, and lose their trust in the power of planning and design.

Design cannot operate in isolation. Other policy tools are needed. Nor can communities independently solve all social problems by spatial means. Design knowledge is not superior to other forms of knowledge. However, adopting a design perspective can be used to draw consistent attention to the quality of our living environment, and can offer solutions some other expertise cannot offer. Further, forethought into spatial design keeps more potential futures open to the community, as an environment which is attractive, useful, and multifunctional can be reused more easily, and can attract and accommodate more people and applications.

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Boom and Bust: a guide

Profile for University of Alberta Extension

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

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