2015 Yearbook

40 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 5 carefully considered by the instigators of change. In other words: are the available funds sufficient to do the job right and to the specification required to achieve the quality of development expected in the area of sensitive character identified? What the current system of planning controls consistently finds a challenge is how to achieve development which responds to the character of an area but is not poor pastiche. We need to discourage development that takes the lowest denominator such as materials usage or a building type and slavishly repeats this with no concept or understanding of how this element should be applied and why it works in its original setting. The question is how? The quality of communication between communities in our neighbourhoods, local politicians and professionals such as planners and urban designers needs substantial improvement. Professionals, it appears to residents, seem to communicate both graphically and verbally in what seems unfathomable jargon, whereas professionals are often dismayed that ‘lay’ people seem unwilling or unable to discuss matters regarding their surroundings beyond generalities and clichés. A comprehensive map-based understanding of a place, such as the exemplary work being undertaken in Bristol under the ‘Know Your Place’ banner (http://maps.bristol.gov.uk/ knowyourplace), combined with a notation method developed with community, schools and professionals provides a common language of characterisation which is accessible to all, is transferable between neighbourhoods and is precise and robust for use in plan-making. In addition to the ‘so what?’ question we might also ask why characterisation is important and whether it encourages diversity in our townscape and landscape interventions. The answer is likely to include a consideration of how well one uses an evidence base to understand a place and respond positively to that understanding. But importantly characterisation allows us to understand the underlying drivers that can explain why an area has developed in a particular way. It is not and should not be used to encourage the repetition of what is there at the moment. On the contrary, it should be used to encourage good modern design and use of materials armed with the understanding characterisation provides about what it is that makes a place distinctive, familiar, cherished and, above all, valued by a community. Maps can be used to provide clear and concise information in the presentation of ideas about the character of a place (extract from Southampton City Characterisation, January 2009). James Webb is a director of Forum Heritage Services, a consultancy which specialises in characterisation work across the UK. This article includes abridged material from the book Characterising Neighbourhoods by Richard Guise and James Webb, which is due to be published by Routledge in late 2015. ‘Know Your Place’ (Bristol City Council) allows you to layer historic maps with modern mapping on screen.