International Conference to reflect the Place Standard Tool

On the 10th of June 2019, members of the greenspace scotland and MyParkScotland teams attended the International Making Place Conference at the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow. The conference was centred around the Place Standard tool, created jointly by NHS Health Scotland, the Scottish government and Architecture & Design Scotland, that has been used since 2015 across Scotland and internationally to assess places. The tool considers a number of important elements that make up a place to assess the quality of the physical and social environment, as well as providing prompts for discussion and leverage points for further improvement of public space.

The conference was held by the WHO European Healthy Cities Network in collaboration with NHS Scotland against the backdrop of the WHO Roadmap to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Their aim was to bring a wide range of organisations, technical experts, academics and city representatives together to discuss the concept of place in the context of health and health inequalities, to share effective practice and lessons learned when using the Place Standard Tool, and to collect further ideas for the improvement of the Tool.

Place Standard as a successful tool to improve health and well-being

The Conference started with welcoming words from several notable figures: David Crichton, Chair of NHS Scotland, Glasgow’s Lord Provost Eva Bolander, Aileen Campbell, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and Monika Kosinska, WHO Regional Office for Europe. All speakers commended the great success of the Place Standard as a practical tool to make people work together on assessing and improving places and to help make the place principle reality. However, they also pointed out the big challenges that all communities internationally are facing concerning physical, economic and demographic changes, as well as health problems and health inequalities.

Taking up this issue Sir Harry Burns (Director of Global Health, University of Strathclyde) explained the complexities of health inequalities and their connection to place. Burns introduced the audience to the theory of salutogenesis, which says to avoid chronic stress, people’s environment must be comprehensible, manageable and meaningful. He explained that health inequalities are not the outcome of bad choices but the outcome of not having the chance to make good choices. For their wellbeing people need a sense of coherence and the ability and possibility of making choices. In context of places and wellbeing, therefore, the question “How can place make people feel that they have control of their lives and have the feeling of coherence?” must be answered.

Sharing experience and lessons learned from projects and organisations

The morning speeches were followed by parallel presentations, exhibitions, workshops and local site visits. These sessions allowed attendees to learn from other projects that had implemented the Place Standard Tool when dealing with physical environment, social environment, design environment or language and culture.  greenspace scotland’s very own Ea O’Neill gave a presentation on our Young Placechanger’s Programme. Her speech highlighted the programme’s dedication to giving young people the chance to lead their own projects to improve their own places, giving them control and agency in the decision-making processes that they are usually left out of. greenspace scotland and MyParkScotland also had an exhibition stand, where the team got chatting with passers-by about the work we do and our commitment to making great places for everyone to enjoy.

Further improvements of the Place Standard Tool to reduce health inequalities

The afternoon was covered with a panel discussion with Brian Evans (Glasgow’s City Urbanist),  Monika Kosinska, Ian Gilzean (Chief Architect, Scottish Government) and Prof John Ashton CBE (Senior Adviser to WHO Healthy Cities). Each of the experts stated three thing that they would do to ensure places have the greatest impact in improved wellbeing and reduction of health inequalities. Brian Evans calls for influence, hope and cleaner air for all, where as Monika Konsiska sees communities at the centre of the tool, organisational partnerships and strong underlying creating and enabling systems as crucial. Ian Gilzean advocates the three C’s – commissioning, collaboration and connection. And last, by referring to famous songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine” or the Beatles singing “there are places I remember” John Ashton sees a huge potential in vision, imagination and passion. He suggested that the greatest improvements could be found in empowering communities to take part in the decision-making processes that shape the places they live, work and play. Finally, Tressa Burke (Chief Executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance) highlighted the potential significance of the Place Standard Tool in improving the accessibility of public spaces to disabled people. By stating “People facing the hardest inequalities are ‘easy to ignore’ rather than ‘hard to reach’”, she called on the communities and planners to better and more intensively include people with disabilities in the assessment and planning process of public places.

For further information on the Place Standard Tool visit NHS Health Scotland’s overview, or find out more about carrying out your own assessment using the Tool.