L-R: Bruno Maag (Dalton Maag design), Ina Dimireva (Peterborough DNA), Philip Ternouth (London Fusion), Dan Clarke (Cambridgeshire County Council) and Samar Héchaimé (Factors).

What happens when you bring an idea as simple as getting people back at the heart of the city and invite people to join in the discussion and the exploration? What happens when you remind the city, its governance and its planners that it is all about being human?

“You get a place to share, explore and innovate, a space where the outcome is unpredictable”

What happens is that you get an event that is fun and enlightening and that is aptly named Urban Factorisation. You get an event that opens the door for just one second, you can never close it again. You get an event where you start to hear the stories of the humanity of the city and how we have been stripping it away. You get a place to share, explore and innovate, a space where the outcome is unpredictable, the stories are memorable and where laughter is guaranteed.

This is what happened on Monday the 21st at the Work Foundation, at the launch event for the Urban Factorisation.

It began with London Fusion telling us how they have been supporting the brain of the city by supporting its emerging small to medium enterprises, its creative and intrepid base that are reimagining the future of London and the UK.

Then MP Barry Sheerman  reminded us that knowledge is the centre focus for people and cities. He made the case that no city can emerge and compete on the market without a university, a knowledge and research base that engages with the city and its service and industry base. He emphasised the point that transportation and connections can revitalize the smaller cities. He highlighted how the future of the city is in crowd sourcing and crowd funding. Ultimately he affirmed that it is about people and happiness.

“He made the case that no city can emerge and compete on the market without a university”

MP Ben Gummer made the case for the small cities that struggle with loosing talent to London especially when it comes to design and planning talent. He showcased his point by explaining what is currently happening in Ipswich with a housing development that is needed but is not being designed with the behaviour and preferences of the people who already live in Ipswich in mind, and how a user centred design would have avoided a plan that barely took the people into consideration except to ask them would they like the school to be built “here” or “there”. A question that is irrelevant without understanding the way of life of the people, the landscape of their lives and their stories. Ben pointed out that in order to release the potential of the small cities, or as he called them the Big Towns, user centred design needs to be brought in to understand the factors that make the place and its people.

Dr. Cathy Garner followed speaking about cities as places for people and the influence of people on the place. She maintained that we need to be ‘Thinking local and acting Global’. Cathy indicated that in order for our city to survive and grow we need to be ensuring the city is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Putting people back at the heart of the city and making the three legs of the city, society economy and environment, equally strong in order to be able to carry the city into the future. This strong city is the kind that develops, nurtures, attracts and sustains citizens, making the cities stronger and more liveable through its citizens. She emphasised that we should be building social capital not incurring social costs.

“Ben pointed out that in order to release the potential of the small cities,  user centred design needs to be brought in to understand the factors that make the place and its people.”

Afterwards came Ann Marie Aguilar who spoke of the influence of design on human behaviour. She explained the research work that is being done in collaboration between ARUP, the Department for Communities and Local Government, RIBA and RCA where the challenge was to identify the influence of behaviour on the built environment and vice versa. The behaviour change research agenda focused on the built environment as three categories: the product, the building and the district, crossed by the human interaction on three different levels health and wellbeing, energy and performance and how these two axes affect each other. She took her lead from the way that products are designed – with the needs and preferences of the user and the ways they wanted to use them as part of their lives at heart.

I concluded the talks by introducing the concept of Urban Factorisation, its origins and its emergence as a counterbalance to the effects of built environment, bad planning and modernism. I spoke of the influences of culture on behaviour in the built environment and how legacy can help balance impact of badly designed places and cities. But legacy is not enough and eventually it adapts to the influences changing ways of life and places. I  mentioned the crossovers between our physical environment and our digital environment and how we should be building cities that combat the isolating that is emerging from too much digitisation and bringing life back onto the street level. I brought it all together by talking about how Urban Factorisation can point people back into the heart of urban design, policy and strategy building frameworks that allow cities to grow in a sustainable manner and create positive experiences and happier citizen. Building utopias rather than dystopias.

After lunch the Urban Factorisation Lab took place with everyone in the audience taking part in an interactive walk/ workshop around the St James’ area. This workshop was designed to allow participants to visualise and understand the city through the eyes of its citizens and visitors.

The walk was wrapped up with a download session identifying the challenges of the users and coming up with tactical recommendations that crossed the board from service, to built environment to digital. These recommendations would enhance the holistic experience of the area for its citizens.

The day ended with a networking event where the participants continued the conversation with wine and lots of excitement on how to take the ideas and methodologies to the next step within their own councils, cities and organisation since the methodologies are applicable to all spaces where people live and spend time.

Samar Héchaimé is Lead Factorisor at Factors.

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