1 October 2018

The physical aspects of a place are just the foundation, explains the National Housing Federation’s Nick Yandle.

Let me begin by saying I do believe places exist, but with some pretty heavy and important caveats.

Places are both real and imagined – existing both in the physical sense and in the minds and memories of the people who experience them – in the past, the present, and in the future. (I know ‘future people’ don’t have minds or memories, but how many of us have had a conversation about where we would like our children or grandchildren to grow up?)

This simultaneous physical and imagined experience needs to be fundamental to the way we think about places and the things we do to make them successful, resilient and inclusive.

For me, the imagined quality of places means three important things:

  • infinite experiences and imagined places exist now and at any moment in time (so there’s room for us all)
  • memories are incredibly powerful and important
  • a shared vision for a place and its future can be truly transformational.
Do places really exist?

I believe the real essence of places comes when different people’s experiences and imagined places converge.

Nick Yandle
Policy Leader, National Housing Federation

I’m not denying that the physical and practical characteristics of a place will influence people’s experience of it – particularly the essentials such as transport, infrastructure and amenities. If we want to create inclusive places, we need to ensure these essentials are designed and delivered with people in mind. This means asking ourselves: how can we enhance people’s ability to live as they wish in a place?

These physical factors are the foundations of a place. But I believe the real essence of places comes when different people’s experiences and imagined places converge. When we are brought together to forge powerful new memories and relationships with each other and with our places. We see this in the magic of carnivals, street parties, major sporting events and impromptu celebrations. These experiences leave us feeling bonded to the places and the people we share them with – and these memories and bonds develop over time, binding us to each other and creating resilient, cohesive communities.

So, alongside the austere and logical analysis of infrastructure spend, productivity and connectivity, let’s not forget about culture, fun, and spaces and opportunities to bring people together. Let’s acknowledge that people experience places in different ways, and recognise this in the place-based work we do. And most of all, let’s contribute to the positive and inclusive stories about the future of the places we hold dear.

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Nick Yandle

Nick Yandle is a Policy Leader at the National Housing Federation

Do places really exist?