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Sue Bridge: Reflections on my presidential year

My presidential year is now three-quarters of the way through, so over the last few days I have been reflecting on what I have seen and done over these last nine months. I suppose that, though intellectually I knew what the role of President of the RTPI involved and what was required, the reality has been so much more, and then some. It would not be possible to be the ‘President’ in every sense of the word without the support and assistance from our RTPI staff and our volunteers in the national executive committees and the regional management boards and activities committees. So in this blog, I want to reflect on my visits so far, although there are still some to come between now and the middle of October.

From the outset of my year, I asked the nations and regions to show me the best of their best and I have visited many of the regional and national category award winners. So far only the North West region has not followed this brief but, with my whole-hearted agreement, we decided to visit the Isle of Man, part of the region which had not been visited since 2015 when my dear friend, Janet Askew, was the President. The theme of the first day of my visit here was heritage-based regeneration. We visited Castletown, one of the oldest settlements on the island. Here, Manx National Heritage and the Castletown Commissioners are working together on regeneration initiatives which have transformed some of the town’s main public spaces and returned many of the town’s historic buildings into active use. This has not only enthused and involved the residents but also improved the town’s tourist offer. The visit was followed up later in the day to the Laxey Wheel, the famous Manx landmark and tourist destination, which is undergoing major refurbishment, Phase one is complete, and Phase two will shortly be underway. 

The importance of culture and heritage to urban regeneration was brought to the fore of my mind this year in Philadelphia

Following my visit to Philadelphia, I was therefore pleased that many of the projects I have visited this year in the nations and regions have been heritage or culturally based regeneration schemes, and the most successful ones have embraced or been led by their local communities. I have seen that these successful regeneration schemes are based on partnership working between the local council and regeneration agencies and the communities they serve. This partnership approach has embraced all sectors of the community especially young people, who can be so enthusiastic when the changes around them involve them and has meaning to them. I cannot comment on the specific projects I have seen, as most will be going through to the judging of the national awards in November. Of course, I would not want to influence the judges, but their job will not be easy. I wish all the entrants into the National Awards in November the best of luck and am so glad that I do not have to choose between them. I can say that I will be visiting the 2022 Silver Cup winner in York on my Yorkshire visit at the end of this month. Looking forward to that.

The importance of culture and heritage to urban regeneration was brought to the fore of my mind this year in Philadelphia, which I visited with the Young Planner of the Year, Simeon Shtebunaev, for the American Planning Association conference in April. Since 1959 Philadelphia has had a policy of percent for art, which requires new city construction and major renovation schemes to include public art in the amount of up to one percent of the project’s total budget.  There is an internationally famous art gallery in the city, but much of the city centre is an outside art gallery, with important works of art on street corners and in thoroughfares. But, in addition to this, there are community led murals on gable walls, brightening up dark corners all across the city. Murals have also featured in my visits across our nations and regions, including in Northern Ireland, where new murals have been painted on walls in the city centre.

As a parting shot, don’t forget to vote in the Nations and Regions elections, which open on 4 October.

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