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Wolfson Prize winning and placemaking

David Cowans

By David Cowans, Chief Executive of Places for People

I've been privileged to be one of the judges for this year's Wolfson Economics Prize, which has sought to generate ideas for a new garden city that could help solve our housing crisis. 

The competition gave entrants the chance to work without rules or boundaries, allowing them to bring fresh thinking and innovative ideas to the table. And they didn't disappoint. All of the entries showed originality, creativity and enthusiasm, which were truly inspiring.

Last night (3rd September), David Rudlin of URBED was announced the winner, picking up £250,000 for his submission which argues for the near-doubling of existing large towns in line with garden city principles. He has developed a concept based on a fictional town called Uxcester, which he applies to Oxford as a case study, showing how it could rival the strategy adopted by Cambridge for growth and expansion.

The personal and human nature of the vision was particularly impressive, with the proposal offering improvements to residents in existing cities in terms of better services, facilities and transport links plus quality homes for their children who otherwise, may be forced out into other locations.

That notion of creating better places, was a common theme running through all of the submissions and is one that I believe is particularly important to the success of a garden city and helping to address our housing shortage. 

At Places for People, we have spent the last 15 years developing our business into a placemaking organisation. We started as an affordable housing provider, but recognised we needed to make changes to meet the needs of our customers. Our tenants told us that they didn't just want a house - they wanted a place they would be proud to call home, for their kids to live nearby and where they could reach their full potential in every aspect of their lives.

So, we now seek to provide aspirational homes in inspirational places. We look at the whole neighbourhood, whether an existing one or a new one and do whatever we can to make it a quality place. That means offering choice and flexibility of tenure and making sure that the things needed to make a place thrive are readily available such as shops, schools, transport links, job opportunities, affordable childcare, and leisure facilities.

The extent of our housing shortage means that we will have to push forward with the garden cities and new towns approach. As highlighted by David Rudlin and his team, this can be done sensitively and to the benefit of local residents. It not just about investing in bricks and mortar, but investing in entire communities and infrastructure. That holistic approach is at the heart of everything we do and we know it works. Ultimately, it's the key to creating sustainable communities, addressing our housing challenges and making a lasting difference.

04 September 2014