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Time to start the shared space debate

We have seen a recent urban renaissance in the UK as government and local authorities discover the true socio-economic value of the public realm.

This "quality" is not just measured in financial terms, but also in terms of intangible indicators such as community well-being, individual association with place and non-structured education.

Numerous reports, policy and seminars have been produced to guide the design of the public realm and today most architects and urban designers start with the premise that city environments are for people, with the management of vehicles through this space.

Colin Buchanan has just completed a pilot project for Transport for London called Network Management Planning.

It addresses the need for a balanced approach between different user groups through space and the complex trade-offs between different user requirements. We found that, yes, traffic engineers are actively addressing this same agenda!

However, three central issues are delaying the full implementation of such changing attitudes in city building, namely, highway design standards, DDA requirements and health and safety legislation.

Their combined implication is enough to turn ambitious urban design schemes from great people-orientated spaces into worlds of kerbs, hazard paving, guardrails signage and signalised junctions.

We would therefore welcome a professional debate on this issue of moving beyond the guidelines into a new professional arena where such balances can be achieved to create the great places that we all aspire to.

PETER DIJKHUIS, associate director - urban design,
Colin Buchanan, Newcombe House, 45 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3PB

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