Derry historic core, Peace Bridge and Ebrington have just won the accolade of Northern Ireland’s Best Place in the RTPI’s much loved Best Places competition.
This is the fourth time we have run this competition - with one simple aim in mind: to celebrate some of the UK’s most attractive and inspiring places and to draw people’s attention to the planning efforts behind them. Similar competitions in Scotland, England and Wales over the past three years have uncovered the places people cherish most.
What do all the winning places have in common?
You guessed it – they’re all waterfronts. Derry, Dundee Waterfront, Aberaeron and Liverpool triumphed following hotly contested public votes in each nation.
Apart from the winning places, the public also nominated a huge number of places by the water and a disproportionate number of finalists are on a river or the coast.
So, what is it about the water we love so much? Is it because our bodies are 60% water? Or is it the calm we feel watching the tide roll in and out? The soothing sound of a bubbling brook? Or the way the waves metaphorically wash away our woes.
While some of our waterfront places have seen better days, left to slowly decay, others have been regenerated, transformed through new housing, transport and infrastructure.
Some neuroscientists think it was only when humans moved to the coast and started eating an omega rich diet that we really excelled as a species. From then, to the 18th century aristocratic bathers in Brighton taking in the ‘medicinal’ waters, to the prestige waterfront living of Monte Carlo and luxury holidaying in the Maldives – we’ve always loved water.
The British, perhaps more than others, have a historical affinity with the water – a seafaring nation which built an Empire aided by its naval prowess. The birthplace of the Titanic, fish and chips, and the use of canals for transportation. Idyllic seaside towns like Brighton, Margate and Aberyswyth worked their way into our hearts as family holiday destinations and places for healing. Others, like Southampton, Aberdeen and Belfast emerged as the industrial hubs of the British economy during the industrial revolution.
While some of our waterfront places have seen better days, left to slowly decay, others have been regenerated, transformed through new housing, transport and infrastructure. Research shows waterfronts are at the heart of some of the best regeneration success stories.
Derry’s historic heart is centred around the River Foyle and was left to languish until planners set out a plan to regenerate it, using the Peace Bridge as a catalyst for change.
Being crowned the Best Place in Northern Ireland is recognition of the outstanding work planners have made to the regeneration and reunification of the city. Good planning has been pivotal in the city’s hugely successful, ongoing waterfront regeneration – creating places people once again want to spend time enjoying.
The same applies to last year’s winner, Aberaeron, in Wales. What is its secret attraction? Perhaps it is the colourful rows of Georgian terraced houses which are an unexpected but welcoming attraction to this rural coastline? Or the hustle and bustle of this thriving seaside town with its many pubs, meeting and eating places and town square? Maybe it’s Aberaeron’s famous honey ice cream, which you can enjoy while overlooking the harbour, beautiful beaches, rolling hillsides or while walking the Wales Coast Path?
A planned town
From a planning perspective, Aberaeron is an example of a planned town. It was developed in 1807 by the Rev Alban Thomas-Jones Gwynne who obtained a private Act of Parliament to rebuild the harbour. The town has a fascinating history and has clearly grappled with many planning issues over time including flooding, the provision of housing, jobs and transport etc.
So while we have always loved the water - our modern day love affair with waterfronts wouldn’t be possible without the work of planners.
The town was developed around a harbour which was operated as a port to support shipbuilding. Workers houses and a school were built and other trades and industry grew. A hand powered cable car was constructed to take workers across the harbour after the bridge was destroyed by floods in the 1890’s.
The planning of the town earned it the reputation of being "one of the best examples of a planned township of small scale in Wales”. It now has a population of around 1,400, with good public transport links to nearby towns, universities and the cities of Swansea and Cardiff.
So while we have always loved the water - our modern day love affair with waterfronts wouldn’t be possible without the work of planners. Everyday they’re protecting, enhancing and regenerating these places for us to enjoy.
This competition reminds us of this positive impact planners have on the places we love.
Joshua Rule and Rhian Brimble
Joshua Rule studied planning and is now Communications Officer at the RTPI. Rhian Brimble is RTPI Policy Officer at RTPI Cymru.