By Scott McCubbin

Confirmation came in the guise of a conversation at MIPIM in Cannes. A contact from a Danish architect was sharing stories on the terrace at the London Pavilion. Sun shining, beer flowing. He explained that they’d been drafted in by a major Middle East developer. The discussion point was clear: How could they bring personality and life to these phenomenal, pristine places that look great - high spec, impeccable standards and service - but lacked what our French hosts would say that ‘je ne sais quoi’?

Whether those conversations will lead anywhere is anyone’s guess but it highlights the fact that places are not about buildings, but the people who use them. Or from another angle, great buildings don’t make great places.

This is a space that Uniform spends hours exploring, and led us to compile our own report that collates some of the big issues, speaking to our peers and looking at positive examples to make some sense of the transformations taking place and the opportunities.

The starting point was pretty obvious to us; smart cities. Any event pitching the smart city agenda is guaranteed to attract the interest of a high powered audience from the corporate world, and yet ‘smart’ is now a highly charged term. One workshop in Clerkenwell typified the problem we’re facing. Major telecomms, management firms and systems providers lined up to talk aggregating data systems and efficiencies. There was one serious component missing from the conversation; people.

And yet, as our Director of Strategy, Ken Dixon points out, there’s more to ‘smart’ cities than utility companies collaborating to create a seamless infrastructure platform.

“Technology has transformed the way we plan, build and run our cities, but are placemakers and city planners focusing too much on ease, convenience and function at the expense of identity, uniqueness and a sense of belonging?”

In our Viewpoint, we talk about ‘Connecting people with place through play’ an angle that can often raise eyebrows. By play we don’t mean child’s play, but we do mean fun, engaging, memorable - many of the points missing from our great places! We looked at how many of these destinations create experiences that reinforce their sense of place. From Berlin to Blackpool, we’ve identified examples that we feel work hard to bring a place to life. We've also worked with our colleagues at Greenwich Peninsula to create a virutal world that reinforces the real, meantime events taking place on the ground.

Although no single comment rounds up our feelings better that the words of the British philosopher Julian Baggini: “The city that plays together stays together.”

You’ll also be able to read our six points on what makes a city own-able, loveable and fit for purpose, and as you’ll expect, it’s not all about creating a place that’s functional, but one that’s fun.


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