How do you realise the potential of digital as part of mainstream placemaking and place strategies? There’s six key lessons we’ve learnt through preparing Digital Place Plans that harness technology and data to regenerate urban spaces, revitalising high streets and boost local tourism
At Owen Davies Consulting, we’ve been thinking about the future of places for almost 30 years and in that time have helped places big and small to understand the opportunities for increasing their social, economic, cultural and environmental prosperity. But it has only been in the last few years – and especially through our involvement in the Welsh Governments Year of Smart Towns programme and including supporting 15 towns across Wales to pilot a new approach to digital placemaking – that we have fully realised the potential of digital within mainstream placemaking and place strategies of towns.
We’ve already supported 15 towns across Wales to pilot a new approach to digital placemaking, but we’re still learning, of course, but here are six things we’ve learned so far:
1 – Digital is everywhere, so places of all sizes need to embrace it rather than hide from it.
All aspects of local, regional and national policy now have a digital dimension deeply embedded within them, so if you want to stay aligned with or influence it – and of course access related public funding such as Transforming Towns here in Wales – you need to embrace it.
2 – Although some of the jargon involved can be baffling, the principles of digital placemaking are straightforward.
With mysterious terms like ‘smart cities’, ‘LoRaWAN’ and the ‘Internet of Things’ widespread in the digital dialect, it’s perhaps no surprise that place leaders are often unclear about how to harness technology and data to regenerate urban spaces, revitalise high streets and boost local tourism. For us, digital placemaking is straightforward: it’s about bringing together the practice of placemaking with the exploitation of technology and data. Or put even more simply, it’s about including consideration of how using technology and data can help make better places.
3 – Digital placemaking is just as important for smaller places as for bigger ones.
The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ has been around for a long time now, but programmes like the Year of Smart Towns have demonstrated that there’s no reason why smaller (but no less important) places can’t reap the benefits of becoming smarter too. No town should be left behind!
4 -Digital placemaking is a journey, and you’ve got to start that journey somewhere.
When we work with towns to produce a Digital Place Plan or properly consider digital within a Placemaking Plan, we encourage them to do things thoroughly by following a five-step process to produce the Plan, and then when looking at delivery, to focus first on delivering a few simple wins. As with many things, it’s better to start small, learn lessons and then grow, rather than try and do too much, too quickly, and get overwhelmed.
5 – Digital placemaking isn’t easy and there are plenty of barriers to overcome.
Needing to understand the dynamics of local decision making, overcome apathy, and demystify key concepts… sound familiar? The barriers to digital placemaking are similar to those faced when taking a more traditional placemaking approach. Fortunately, we’ve learned plenty of lessons from our pilot work and now have a toolbox of techniques to help stakeholders achieve the best outcomes.
6 -Get it right and you can have a big impact.
By using data, people can make better decisions for their town and local area. With transparency on actions, activities, and trends, they can recognise opportunities and act on them faster. Just for starters, this can mean giving people the confidence to launch new businesses, helping existing businesses grow, and attracting and evidencing the success of public events.
All the above means that digital placemaking is a key strategic opportunity for practitioners in the heritage, regeneration and urban development sectors, including developers, place managers, planners, architects, designers, heritage trusts, and local governments.
If you are interested in learning more about our work in digital placemaking, we recently delivered an online masterclass as part of Welsh Government’s Smart Towns Cymru initiative. If you missed it, you can now watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FVspi0X6g3E
We also have a short film explaining all about our Digital Place Plans you can watch here: https://youtu.be/7yFechhxRrE
Digital Placemaking Team
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