Diversity in Placemaking

As many Webinars to one’s heart content

One of the many silver linings from the current Covid19 pandemic, apart from having cleaner fresh air and working from home, is the many webinars we can attend.

Gone are the awkward situation where I need to leave the office at 5:15pm to rush to Portland Place or Cowcross Street. I only have to put a half-decent top on, with a cup of coffee and fire up Zoom/MS Team a minute before the start of the event.

It has been great to be able to attend so many interesting webinars, from How food can save the world, online Architecture crits/chats to the launch of a National Design Quality Unit by the Design Council.

The sea of whitewall

What I noticed when attending these built environment events, online webinars and otherwise, are the lack of ethnic diversity. I normally will browse through the participant’s screen at the beginning of the Zoom session, and often I find myself to be the only non-white person in the group.

I vividly remembered attending a Farrell Review in 2015 at the New London Architecture, with nearly 300 people in a packed auditorium, I was probably one of five ethnic minority person in the audience, it always daunts on me how, as a built environment profession, making decisions that will affect thousands of people for generations, can we shape places without a diverse and broad spectrum of people involved?

While the last census tells us over 87% of the population in the UK is White, the same cannot be said about our major cities. London has a 59.8% of White people, with Birmingham at 70% and Manchester at 90%. How can we create cohesive places when nearly all the designers are from one ethnic group?

“the need to provide a broad range of professional expertise and experience, as well as the balance of the panel overall.” an email reply from a DRP application

Design Review Panel

Sadly, my experience with Design Review Panel (DRP), another important placemaking mechanism, has so far left me with the same conclusion. While the issues that we discussed are thoughtful, intellectual and engaging, but with the panel members mainly from one ethnic group, I always have the feeling issues have been missed, such as different cultural responses towards green/public spaces or the make-up of the local centre.

I did try to make a difference by becoming a member of DRP and have had no luck so far, with no way of finding out my shortcomings as the criteria of selection was never explicitly laid out, nor any feedbacks are given to unsuccessful candidates.

Being qualified in three disciplines, as a chartered architect, chartered town planner, urban designer and teaching at the top institution with an ethnic background, I was slightly baffled when one rejection email came back with a comment of “the need to provide a broad range of professional expertise and experience, as well as the balance of the panel overall.”

Maybe it is time for me to shout a bit louder in various social media to make my voice heard?

While you are here, why not check out my other blog post? They ranged from High StreetWalking and CyclingWork and pushing dramatic change post Covid19.

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