Can civil engineers help their local communities to improve the urban landscape? Damian Arnold reports on a new ICE initiative to be previewed at next week's AME conference.
On 11 July the ICE will formally launch PlaceCheck, intended to convince people everywhere that their street needs them. In the age of direct action and widespread disenchantment with the political system, PlaceChecking is a new manifestation of people power set to become a peaceful way of mobilising communities to make their streets a better place.
The PlaceCheck initiative already has backing from the BBC and TimeBank - a Home Office funded organisation which promotes volunteering and better citizenship.
PlaceCheck packs will be available after the launch but D-Day is 22 September, when it is hoped that groups of residents from communities all over Britain will take to their streets and start to work together to improve them.
In Bath next week delegates to the Association of Municipal Engineers conference will be urged to 'court the community' by becoming involved in the PlaceCheck initiative. Mathew Thomson of TimeBank will lead the rallying call. 'Civil engineers are one of the key groups to help residents improve their streets, ' says Huxford. 'It's important that civil engineers portray themselves as providers of solutions rather than being part of the problem.
'There are a lot of tricky problems to do with the highway environment, traffic, parking and signage. Civil engineers have the techniques and technologies needed.'
Simplicity is the key, says the ICE's assistant director of engineering Robert Huxford, who is co-ordinating the project. His vision is a group of up to six residents taking an hour to walk around their street discussing the quality of their environment.
PlaceCheckers are encouraged to ask four basic questions while they do this: What do you like about your street? What do you dislike about your street? How could the street be improved?
And who should be involved in improving your street?
Each group is equipped with a PlaceCheck pack to get them going. The pack includes an overall practical guide, report cards for everyone, posters, meeting point cards, and, once finished, a PlaceChecked Card to send to the ward councillor.
TimeBank may provide an urban environment expert to join in the place check on the day if that is wanted. PlaceCheckers are also encouraged to include members of residents' and traders' associations and someone involved in community relations in their groups.