Quality of life and the places we live are inextricably linked. Creating urban environments that put people first is crucial to healthy, safe and sustainable communities.
KYLE: hello everyone uh welcome and thank you for joining us today for Nesta talks to event, it's uh just after midday in the UK but I see from the sign ups that we've got quite a few international attendees joining us today so an especially warm welcome to any international friends um our Nesta talks to series is designed to be a conversation with interesting thinkers focused on the big topics that define our future and we're really pleased with welcoming daisy naira in today to discuss the topic of how we build the cities of the future so before I begin just a couple of quick um housekeeping notices I’ll be speaking with daisy in quite a conversational manner uh to begin with and then move to questions from the audience we've had a handful of questions submit in advance from people as they signed up which is great to see um but please do add to them through the comment box on the right hand side of your screen and ask any questions throughout the event also if you'd like to view the closed captions you can find them via the link in the description underneath this video so that will take you to a separate video with captions on it so before I kick off the conversation with Daisy I should introduce myself my name is Kyle usher I lead our sustainable future mission in Scotland um and Nesta launched a new strategy earlier this year with three new innovation missions the first one is called ‘A Fairer Start’ which focuses on reducing inequality in our years and there's a healthy life which is focused on obesity and loneliness and the sustainable future the mission that I read on here focused on decarbonizing our homes and supporting the growth of the body carbon workforce so the conversation we're having today I think is really interestingly placed in terms of sort of the chronology and geography really and daisy and I are both in Edinburgh in Scotland and this conversation is taking place just a few days before cop 26 uh kicks off in Glasgow and we're also um you know just over 18 months after the first crevice lockdowns and although I think with over 250 COVID related deaths across the UK state we can't say we're in a post-covert society at this point covert has shown us how fast things can change um in terms of our lives our communities and our cities we've seen people's behaviours change our use of buildings change and even rapid infrastructure changes and it's also perhaps given us a greater understanding of and a different experience of what place means to us the green spaces the woodlands our streets and communities in which we live we maybe think of these places differently now than we did a few years ago so I’m delighted to welcome Daisy today to discuss the topic of how to build the cities of the future and hopefully we can you know look further forward past these things and talk about the opportunities and challenges of creating places and cities uh really worth living in so daisy is the senior manager of place making mobility at the city of Edinburgh council and although I could go into detail daisy of your uh your previous work as an architect and urban designer you can your involvement in the Edinburgh climate commission
KYLE: I would like to ask you to give us your Genesis story, if you will, not just your work history, but what is your background and experience up to this point that brings you up to where we are now. I think that is where we should kick off. Over to, Daisy, if that is not too grand a start.
DAISY: Thank you, Kyle, my Genesis story, that sounds very, very cool! Thank you, first of all, Nesta for inviting me to talk about this really important topic. We are on the cusp of transformational change, it's coming, it's here, it's up to us to shape it collaboratively. Really delighted and it's a real privilege to be here and talk to yourselves and hopefully have a conversation through questions that come in. I don't think I will ever get used to screens and talking to each other over screens. I miss that feeding off each other's energy. I hope that we move from a post Covid world we are able to come back and share that connection that we get. The things we used to take for granted back in the day.
But, thank you for inviting me again. I am Daisy Narayanan, I am an architect, urban designer by training. I studied in India in, I studied signature and I graduated in 1997, it's a long time ago. I have had the good fortune to have worked and lived in different cities across the world. I grow up in South Asia, in India, I have lived in the US for a while, in London. Since 2004, I have made Edinburgh my home, it's my adopted home. I came here to do my Masters degree in design for one year and I have stayed, I fell in love with the city, I fell in love here, my husband, two Scottish children later and I am still here. Even on a day like this in Edinburgh, it's rainy, it's grey, it's the Scottish dreich, which I love, I feel very lucky to have two homes, India and my adopted home, Edinburgh, Scotland.
My Genesis story. I am going to reflect on that, so I suppose my values were shaped, my design values were shaped growing up in India. I grew up in Bombay which is a big multi cultural melting pot of the city. My summers were spent back home in a little village in Kerala. I speak about this a lot. My ancestral home which is 300 years old on the banks of this beautiful river. All cousins and extended family would come during the summer and descend on this ancestral home. For a city girl like me it was a place of escape and fantasy, so we used to pluck mangos from the orchard and climb the hill and swim in the river morning and evening and just have a really idyllic childhood, but the house a 300 year old house, built of the earth it came from. So much of my design values come from what I have learnt from that house, from the way it's laid out. The way in ancient, there is an Sanskrit world which translates as the science of architecture. It talks about where you have your, how you design your home, your neighbourhood, your towns, where your water sources should be and your kitchen should be. A lot of it was cloaked within religious symbolism, of how you would get people to buy into that, but decades later when I look back at the science that sits behind that religious symbolism, it is about, it's about our connection, our connection with our own human body and our connection with each other as people, as a society and it's about connection with the earth and with the environment around us. For me that is really important and it has stayed with me in everything that I have done since then, through my design work, through my work that I do now in sustainable transport, through my placemaking work, so I think for me it's been interesting now looking back and seeing where the Genesis of the wellbeing, equality of place and equality of life, thinking about where my work comes, it definitely stems from there. There is a couple of other things I have been reflecting on in terms of my journey to where I am and why I do what I do. I remember living in, working in Scotland and getting that drifted phone call that many people get dreaded phone call that many people get when you live far away from home. This was a call from home saying my mum had been in an accident. She was crossing a road, it was a hit and run and it was my first real experience of road violence and the impact that road violence can have on you and on your loved ones and the shadow that it throws across the rest of your lives. My mum is fine and she is brilliant, she is inspirational in how she has dealt with it and moved on, she lives her life. She was an in coma for a month and a half and she had to recover from that and rebuild her life. For me, the fact that all you were doing was crossing the road and the impact of one incident of road violence. It brought home to me how we design the spaces between other links. Who are our streets for? How do we design for the more vulnerable? For those who don't feel confident on their feet or, so who are our streets for and how do we make sure that our streets are inclusive and we can be, they are designed for everyone, so that everyone can use them. Finally, I suppose, I started off talking about my ancestral home and the river that was next to the house I grew up in. In the past four years that river where I learned to swim and the summers going back home, which is placid and beautiful and peaceful, it's broken its banks in the last three years and my family have had to be evacuated from their home. Climate change is here and it's now and it's happening and it's happening across the world. It's impacting most on those who are not contributing as much as some others. So for me the whole, the connection between inclusion, equity climate, sustainable transport that I work in, there is such an intersection between those topics and my work that I am really lucky to do in my day job in local government is to bring those things together under the place lens and say let's come together, let's be collaborative and let's together shape the spaces our streets, the space between our buildings and our buildings together.
I suppose I want to end with my Genesis story, I love that phrase. I have always thought of myself as a rebel, you don't you question authority and you ask questions, it's always why, why should we do it this way? The activism I have always felt, sometimes the anger that you feel, that you want to channel into doing something positive, but over time we have gone from being that activist to working in a charity, I work with Sustrans for a while, which is a sustainability transport authority to now working in local government, which is almost like a journey that for me is interesting in how I perceive the change that needs to happen and who needs to make that change happen. So very excited to maybe unpick some of that in our conversation, but hopefully that has given you a snapshot of why I do what I do and where I have come from.
KYLE: That is fantastic, Daisy, thank you. I should mention that we spoke when we were setting up this call, we spoke maybe about six weeks ago, I can't remember when it was. The phrase that you said there really stuck with me. So I hope you don't mind me quoting things back to you this early on in the call. You said that councils are entities with the future of our places in their hands. I have been sort of left to mull that over and I wonder if I could expand on that or say what you mean, because as someone who, as you say has done activism work or work for charity and now in local government, I guess if I went out to the streets here and asked 100 people how to describe the council they probably wouldn't mention it with that sentence. People's engagement with the council is usually based on issues that we face as citizens. But that is definitely a bit more visionary, so councils are the entities with the future of our places in their hands. Would you tell us more about that?
DAISY: Absolutely. It's interesting, as you say, hearing back your own words being said. Just to say, I suppose, as I start, that my, I am here not as representative of the council, I am not here speaking on behalf of the council, but very much about my experience working within. I am relatively new to the council, I have been there for four and a half months. I am astounded by how incredible my colleagues are in local government and people, my other partner local government colleagues that I work with and how much, the whole sense of public service and why people are there to do what they are doing for their city is so engrained and I am so inspired and humbled by that. I genuinely feel like it's a privilege to be working in local government.
The reason I mention that, there is so much in Scotland especially, we have such incredible policies. We have national policies about where we want to see Scotland go. We have local government policies, we have so much, so many ideas and thoughts, but, as you say, look outside on our streets and you see that there is a real disconnect between some of what aspirationally we want to do as a nation, as a society and then what actually we see on our streets. For me, that is the exciting thing about being in local government, is to be able to perhaps bridge that road between policy and delivery on the ground and make sure that in my job, wherever I can influence that that aspiration and that vision of what we all collectively want to see, can be reflected in what is delivered on the ground. We have amazing people to do that. There is, I think there is that, as you mention there is perhaps a lack of trust and there is perhaps, for whatever reason, there are so many challenges in what is delivered at the moment through different local authorities, but I think there is a real opportunity for us to make those systemic changes that are needed to be made, local government, national government, collaboratively. That is why I feel that it is about that vision that we can deliver together.
KYLE: Absolutely. You mention the big opportunities, what are the ideas that exciting you most? Where are the big opportunities for transformational change for our cities, do you think?
DAISY: I mean there is a lot of, there is so many good conversations happening post, as we are emerging from Covid. As you said, Kyle, there is something about what we all went through collectively during lockdown where we could harness some of the positives we saw. The collective resilience, the community spirit, people coming together and also things like systems changing, at the drop of a hat where you could see real progress made quite quickly. So I think there is something about this moment in time where there is that, there is a real kind of desire, I suppose to move forward, in a way that changes how things used to be into what things need to be or should be. I think there is a lot of excitement around shaping that together.
For me there is something around, the 20 minute neighbourhood as an example, as a programme, so the concept is not a new one, it's been around for decades, the concept of local living, right from Jane Jacobs to other urbanists, Paris and Melbourne. There is something about living well locally that seems to have captured people's imaginations and that conversations that I am seeing around that at the moment in Edinburgh for example we are starting that programme of work is hugely exciting because that is allowing us to break the silos between transport and planning and economic development and different things and having those conversations about what change we need to make around the table in a holistic way. So I find that quite exciting. I find the fact that the 20 minute neighbourhood gives us the chance to be truly community led and community focussed. If we get that right and with the support of local government and partners, that true collaboration, then we can genuinely make magic through that principle. So, I am excited about that, definitely. I am also excited about the change in narrative, even within transport. There is a real acknowledgement of the inequalities and inequity that is built into our transport systems. For me there is something quite interesting about picking that up during COP 26 and putting that climate lens on it and saying right, this is the time to make that change. So lots of, I call myself a relentless optimist, I think there is a lot to be excited about right now.
KYLE: Definitely, just picking up on the 20 minute neighbourhood, it's a concept or a phrase that seems popular at the moment. I wonder if you could say what is a 20 minute neighbourhood, from a citizen's point of view, what would it look or feel like to know you are in one?
DAISY: So I mean a 20 minute neighbourhood is an approach, it's a concept, so it's about making sure that people have access to what their daily needs are within a 20 minute walk from where they need. In Edinburgh we are loosely defining it as a 10 minute walk there and back. So you have your supermarket, your local shops, you have your schools, your health service, everything that you need for your daily needs, your transport, so access to good infrastructure for walking and cycling, that makes you choose to walk or cycle for your journey, local hubs where people can come together to do different things, good public transport links, housing is really important, the density of housing, so making sure that it's (a) affordable and there is a good mix of diverse housing types.
So it's, again, as I said, it brings together various different strands that make up a place and comes together. There is a real chance for us to really deal with some deep rooted social issues perhaps through this. Making sure that we can ensure that there is no one size fits all for a 20 minute neighbourhood. For me as an able bodied person, 47 years old, a 20 minute neighbourhood is very different to someone in a wheelchair or with a visual impairment or my for child who is ten. Someone who has, I live in the city centre in Edinburgh and the streets are quite hilly, so the topography makes a difference. So there is a whole lot within that 20 minute neighbourhood concept which needs to come together to create that whole of what we want to see. So that is what a 20 minute neighbourhood is.
KYLE: That is really useful. I certainly have heard it a lot and I think probably I am not in one, I am a bit further out of the city than you are. So I wonder, are there any good examples that you can think of cities who are doing this well, not just 20 minute neighbourhoods, but who have seen transformation recently. I know quite often it's the same cities that are talked about as the gold standard, but maybe ones that have more of a recent transition and a kind of are really leading on transformation of the city and designing the city for the people.
DAISY: It's a good question, Kyle. I think because of my previous role with Sustrans perhaps some association with the walking and cycling world. When I ask this question, people are surprised when I don't immediately jump up and down. I think there are so many cities doing amazing stuff right now. Milan is transforming their public spaces, taking away parking, making really big changes. Paris, incredible transformation in a very short space of time. I was in a conference pre Covid and I came together to talk about what I was doing. I was really taken by what Portland is doing around streets and spaces and asset management and things like that. There is examples in Asia. So there is a lot going on, similar size cities to Edinburgh like Kent, where the circulation plan for how you move people and goods is something that I am trying to see that we can do that up in Edinburgh. Barcelona are doing amazing things around their public spaces. I like the idea, coming back to 20 minute neighbourhood, I heard someone say the other day, there is so many versions of the same concept, there is the 15 minute city and I think it's Sweden doing the five minute city where you have your parklets on the street and within five minutes you have a place to sit. There is a two minute city, if you don't mind me going off in a tangent, there is a city that I heard about the other day, within two minutes you should have access to a pint of milk or a beer, which means your services and your leisure and your activities which I thought was fun.
KYLE: So I guess then we have these examples of cities that do well and citizens want good cities, good places, council wants it, so what are the challenges, what are the issues that stop us really creating the best places for people?
DAISY: It's a million dollar question, isn't it? Why not? Everyone you speak to wants the same outcome. I don't think there is a single person if you ask them to think about what kind of city or town you want. Actually I would love it to be filled with traffic fumes and congestion and I want... everyone wants places that are attractive and beautiful and safe and easy to get around and green and all of that. So I think if we start from that point and work backwards then we can then understand where these barriers are. For me, I think a couple of things I have seen over the past few years, I think there is a real, sometimes the discourse around this topic becomes quite toxic and people get very polarised into their opinions that this is the right thing for it. It does kind of break down in terms of what actually then gets built, because you are not quite, you are trying to do one thing and the other and I think there is something around that toxic discourse that needs to change very quickly. There is a lot of, as I said, a lot of noise around many things and it's about trying to perhaps wade through that and see what is it that people are genuinely really worried about and then trying to kind of talk to that. It's, I find it really interesting at the moment how so much of what we do now is online, as we are doing today. That plays a big part in some of the noise I talked about in making sure we are able to genuinely come together to say what we want to see happen. So in terms of challenges, priorities, there is less money, there is more to be done, so where do we prioritise? That is where those discussions need to be done respectfully, evidence based data based and using people's stories and life as the basis for change.
KYLE: Definitely a few things there. Relationships with council seems to be, we have consultations and then everyone just tries to shout as loud as they can about the thing they want. What other ways can local authorities and entities engage with people with more constructive or collaborative ways?
DAISY: I think you have had a little glimpse into my inbox, because anything that is, it's met with, we absolutely hate this or we love this. Then there is something about capturing voices that perhaps don't engage as much in these conversations and understanding what is the real kind of aspiration for people for their places through that process. So we need to really have a good long look at how we engage. When I, I think it was three years ago I was on secondment with the council, I worked with Sustrans then. It was to lead a project in the city centre called transformation. One of the things I heard loud and clear is you asked us these questions, everyone is coming in and asking us these questions again. So there is a sense of consultation fatigue I could get. But, on the other hand, you, I find that I have grown up in India, I have lived in the US. Things happen around you, you don't really have a say and I find that it's such a privilege to live in a place, in a society where you are asked that question, what do you want to see here? So there is a balance to be struck, I suppose in terms of asking questions, not asking it over and over again, making sure that the, what, how you ask the questions are as important as what you are asking and making sure that it's all within that narrative thread of here is the outcome we want collectively. These are the ways in which we can get that. So through that co design process, I don't want to use that process, the whole co design, coming together to do this is so important and key to how we do this. For me there is something also around being positive about, if you see something good that is happening out there, tell your elected members and tell people who are making decisions on your behalf. So it's not, all that they are hearing is not just negative stuff, it's also positive, there is a reinforcement of sometimes the brave things that need to be done. So for me, there is the whole thing around the language we use around consultation. I don't like the word consultation at all. I think it needs to be, it's about a conversation, you need to have a conversation with people and a genuine discussion around what is it that we want. It's about idea sharing, so the language we use around what we do needs to change as well in my opinion.
KYLE: Absolutely, I agree, I think when I hear consultation, I feel like, yes, I will submit some thoughts into a form which may or may not be read. It doesn't lend itself, for me, to really give ideas. It's feedback on existing ideas, where as a citizen I would love to be engaged in a constructive or creative process to make decisions about local things. You mentioned there, if you see something you agree with, mention it. That is definitely a bit of a challenge for me, seeing myself as a citizen of Edinburgh, there is definitely decisions I have seen that I agree with the 20 mile an hour speed limits around the city and the plans for the Low Emission Zones, but wouldn't have thought to communicate that to anyone. So that is something I can take away there. So I think a good collaboration and deliberation is something that seems really important. I am keen to get to questions soon so I will just maybe ask one more myself and then I will line up a few questions from the audience to put to you next.
The idea, I guess of who do we need working for a local authority or a council? Is it important that we maybe see different skills and different people, personality, backgrounds, in local government? What are your thoughts on that?
DAISY: Yes, I mean we have to reflect the citizens that we serve, in a nutshell. I think the more inclusive we are in terms of who we are and who we represent, the more different the city will look. So we need to have representation, we need to have more women, more people with disabilities for example, we need to have more people of colour, people like myself. I remember being, when I started working in transport, I was going to meetings, transport meetings and very often I was the only woman and more often than not I was the only woman of colour. So that is changing, but I think that that is something that is so important to make sure that we are representative of who we are trying to serve. Not just in local government, I think it has to happen across the board. We need to be more inclusive and make sure that voices, underrepresented voices are around the table. I, it's an interesting one, I mentioned the city centre transformation work. It wasn't engineered that way at all, but somehow it ended up being a woman led programme, a project, so we had, I was a project director, the conveners for transport, the political leads for women, the technical lead from the consultant, she was a woman and it just ended up that way. Someone made a comment at one of the committee meetings that we presented at, one of the elected members made a comment saying, "It's really interesting to see this not as a transport project, but to see that there is space for emotion in here." I thought that was quite interesting, which I hadn't picked up on before. So coming back to the point about being inclusive and diverse, it's a strength and we need to harness that strength and the voices coming in to shape what we want to do. I just want to come back, I have been thinking about the consultation point and the engagement. There is something around the story telling of what we want to happen. We say that in a way that is understandable, makes sense and also why we can't do certain thing, so making sure that those lines are quite clear and understood. If we say we are try doing to do this and can't do it, explain the why. There is something around storytelling that we need to do better.
KYLE: Absolutely, Martha has added in the comments about boat of those things. Ban the word consultation and replace it with genuine discussion in conversations on the basis of equal partners rather than validating decisions that are already made. And also make sure that you go back to explain what then has been decided. So that is conversation, storytelling and closing the loop.
DAISY: 100% agree with her.
KYLE: So let's go to some questions. So the first one I want to pick up and I think this might be on screen somewhere, it's from Benji Horwell from the behavioural insights team. What are your top two recommendations to help urban design planning become more empirical in its approach?
DAISY: That is a really good question. For me the first point is to understand what our problem is and to define the problem before we go and get data and research. So what is it we are trying to achieve? I think especially now, I keep going back to the post Covid world we need to be clear about the outcomes that we want to replace and anything to do with place or placemaking will be layered and complex. So the evidence that we bring together needs to follow those strands of multi-layered processes to bring these things together. There is something about making sure that, be innovative about how we are trying to gather data and the research that we are trying to do because things are changing so quickly and always being clear about whether it's empirical data for a project or a process, it fits within the wider frame of quality of life and quality of place.
So, for me, always remembering that whatever is being discussed or looked at that, through that specific lens, always comes back to people and making sure that those voices come back into whatever data is being collected. Gosh, top three tips, I don't know if this makes sense. For me, there is something about the analysis of data also will need to be multi-layered, because anything to do with place and place making. Anything to do with complex urban transformational processes will need to have that multi-layered approach to data and research.
KYLE: That is an interesting question around this question of storytelling and vision. Some people want to see what is the council's vision for this, what are you trying to do long term? Other people say show me the evidence, what data do you have on this, what works well elsewhere? There are two different approaches, maybe it's not about, not all the same, maybe we don't want all the same things and as citizens, occupants of a place, maybe we are needing to take different approaches from people.
DAISY: It would be a very dull place if all of us wanted the same things. The whole joy of living in urban settlements is that push and pull of priorities and what people want. I think that is the joy of it, it's also the challenge of it, how do we make sure that data and statistics that have to underpin everything we do, it has to be evidence led. Especially in what I like to call the world we live in. You look around the world and see the discussions that are happening. So it has turned up in what we do, however, to get people to buy into this, we need the storytelling and I think the evidence has to feed into the stories that are told and vice versa, which is why I come back, it has to be about people and people's lives and that includes data, evidence, stories.
KYLE: Absolutely. The next question I wanted to pick up on has come from Gavin Peacock from the Whole Wealth Group. How are we learning to share these across the world? Just before that, I noticed that Charles, had a comment on LinkedIn around the super blocks in Barcelona that are amazing as a great project, so that is maybe worth looking into as well. Have you any other key projects you have seen or heard of that are worth paying attention to?
DAISY: Gosh. It's a good question. Can I be really self indulgent and talk about one I was involved in. It's a small project, I mean in the grand scheme of things with all the change happening, it was the Open Streets Project in Edinburgh. That was part of the city centre transformation, it was car free cities, movement, so getting Edinburgh into the car free city movement. It's the first Sunday of every month, the wonderful streets of the old town in Edinburgh closed for traffic, it wasn't long, 12 5, just to give us the data and evidence about what happens then and how do things change. I think for me, I was very, very nervous about the Open Streets Programme, because it is, you are telling people to change behaviours by generally impacting on people's day to day lives.
For me the inspirational thing was the reaction, that came across the board. Obviously there were people who didn't agree with closing streets to traffic, but essentially to see children run through the streets, there were people saying to me for the first time they have been able to stand in the middle of the Royal Mile and look around and see the beauty of the buildings and not worry about traffic. People talked about the security switches, once you can switch that you have a completely different relationship with your built environment. So for me there is something around, I have been self-indulgent and used a project I was involved in, but examples of projects and programmes of that scale. Not being massive transformations, but big enough that it can then provide information to shape those, the bigger challenges that we face but enough to bring out some of the lovely ideas and thoughts from people and see how people react. So that is one example. I mean there is so many others, the Barcelona Superblocks is again inspirational in how quickly they are making change there. Someone was telling me about how each of these superblocks have their own identity as well. There is something really lovely about that very people focussed way of changing how your streets work completely. There is lots of amazing stuff to look around and learn from.
KYLE: I think that is a really good example of it being a sort of pilot. I think, because a lot of these changes, they do take a long time quite often, there is consultation and it feels like you are making a big change forever and having the flexibility to try something for a time period and then take it back to how it was and see how people react to that, that seems like a really good approach. How do you think that is going across the board. We have seen some temporary changes across lots of cities. I have been down to London recently and there is some changes they have put in and are taking out again. There seems to be a mixed reaction on these things that the people who like it are upset when things come back out. How do you think the narrative of trialling can be more, so we keep what is good, but maybe don't see so much heat and noise coming through as you mentioned.
DAISY: Yeah, it is a tricky one, isn't it? I think what these trials have, I mean the temporary infrastructure which, the specific ones you mentioned right now, were the ones I suppose that were put in during Covid. That was done, it was very much public health led response to Covid 19. That is how our streets were repurposed for exercise and safe travelling and all of that. What has happened is at that point I was involved in the setting up of spaces for people as its known in Scotland and the cities in Scotland. It was very much about three horizons. There the here and now of during Covid what do we do? We have to make sure that people are safe, they can go outside safely and exercise and social distance. Then there is the horizon of as we emerge from Covid, which is what we are going through now and how do we transition from that? Some schemes were always going to be more successful than others. It's learning from that and making sure that we could capture the ones from the ones that did work. Then the long term horizon of what do we want our streets and places to be like? Those three horizons, sometimes I think what has happened perhaps, where we have seen the most friction, not just in Edinburgh but across cities is where that transition hasn't happened in a way that has, it's not been communicated well enough in terms of what is going on and why this is being done, which I think, it brings with it, its own lessons to learn as we go into the next stage of what we want our streets to be in the more long term future. I think what temporary infrastructure has done is to show that the city doesn't come to a halt if you take some space away and give it to people on foot and bike more vulnerable people. It's been a way of rather than saying here you go, this is what it is. It needs to be more beautiful and look more in keeping, that is where the transition comes in and there needs to be a joining up. For what it's done, it's been a huge step forward in terms of how we can we allocate road space on our streets. It's not been, it's been very, very controversial in many cases, unfortunately, but again there is learning, isn't there from that as well?
KYLE: I think it's probably a new approach for most people, most citizens, sea changes that then are a trial and maybe it needs a cultural shift from everyone really involved to understand that these things can be tried and tested and removed if they don't work and if they do let's increase them and roll them out more. That leads us on to another question from Veronica Wambura from Abu Dhabi. How can you make cities more sustainable and healthier for residents? We have this area of in line of what we are talking about in COP and your previous work with Sustrans about sustainable and healthy transport is probably the area we are talking about here?
DAISY: It's a good question as well, different cities across the world, the global north and south have different challenges in many ways. At the root of it, we are all looking to create our spaces that are healthy and where we can all live and thrive and have good lives. So there is a lot of sharing that needs to happen, sharing of best practice and sharing of experiences, things that have gone right that haven't gone quite right. Then that knowledge sharing can be taken away and applied to the context of where people live. So perhaps some of the interventions have been done in Edinburgh may not be the right ones in Abu Dhabi or in Puna in India.
However the principle of healthy streets, the way we talk about healthy streets, the measures that we use the success stories and the KPIs, those are things that can be used and shared as learning across different areas. It's also the other way around, there is so much that we in developed countries need to learn from how things are done in developing countries. I sometimes find that, the narrative around that, developing countries slightly uncomfortable and making sure that we are all together trying to come to an understanding of how we get to a place that we want to go within the context of where we live. I was in Abu Dhabi, it was my last conference before Covid lockdown in March, it was the World Urban Forum, gosh was it 2018? It was incredible for me, I had never been to the Middle East before and to see the discussions around sustainable transport in the Middle East and the discussion around how we make our places more climate friendly with mitigation and adaptation measures, we have a lot more in common. So learning from each other, sharing stories and evidence and data.
KYLE: Excellent. There was two things you mentioned in your introduction that I wanted to link back to. You said you are a relentless optimist and you also described both Edinburgh and your ancestral home as magical.
KYLE: Out of my window it doesn't look particularly magical in Edinburgh today, but I appreciate that maybe your view is better than mine! How do we bring some of the positivity and magic, if you will, to our places? Not every city has some of the magic of Edinburgh in the old town and the city centre, but I guess it's not just about having beautiful architecture, what do you think that magic is that really makes a city somewhere where you want to live?
DAISY: It's a great question, Kyle. I think listen to young people, listen to the kids in the place that to you live and work. You will find magic in everything this that they see and do around you. Then capture that and make it happen is my first thought. I have two little ones, my son is 11 and my daughter is eight and I see the world through their eyes. Especially now during lockdown, having spent far more time at home working from home with them. They bring such a unique perspective to our places around us and they ask...
KYLE: I think we might have just lost Daisy.
KYLE: That is okay, that is you back now.
DAISY: I am definitely back. So I think there is something around listening to young people, because they are far more optimistic and positive. There is something about understanding that each place has its roots, its own identity and not losing that and making sure that we speak to people who have been there for generations and who understand the place and the roots of that place, so bringing back to those generations and making sure that we get, that is how you bring the magic. That is the thing. My ancestral home, it's my roots and Edinburgh is my branch, my kids. That side, it's a good reflection for myself, maybe that is why I find them both magical.
KYLE: To make that happen, if you were to redesign something about the council, I guess, and, or the structures, maybe not just the council, but what do you think needs to change for us to be able to unlock those things?
DAISY: We need to be more, it sounds like a very simple easy thing, we need to be more collaborative, more collaboration, it's been bandied around a lot, but I think that deep meaningful, true collaboration, which is tough and really hard and really messy and where you are not able to, you have to come together and understand what priorities are and all of that. That kind of deep meaningful collaboration is what we need to do more of, with the 20 minute neighbourhood in Edinburgh we are working with Evoke, for example, a voluntary organisation and with health and social care and across the board with different partners, with the NHS, so it's not just about designing a service, but it's about coming together to see what is the best for that place. That needs to happen.
The second thing I suppose, for me, is there is something around that deep collaborative discussions that need to happen, which I have had first-hand experience of through my role with Scotland's Climate Assembly. I sit on the evidence group for that and I have never been involved in that citizen assembly and citizen group before this and it was really amazing to watch how for seven weekends, 100 people who mirrored Scotland came together to really discuss and debate some really tricky issues. Suddenly, when you are able do that, provide evidence and give people the space and time then you come to an agreement on something that is absolutely quite radical and ambitious. So trusting each other to be able to do that and giving each other the space to be able to do that. I am conscious I sound, it can sound quite wishy washy, perhaps a bit cheesy, but genuine collaboration and trust needs to be rebuilt before we can set up any kind of formal governance structures, we need to have that.
KYLE: So how can we see more of that? And for people on the call, across the UK and international as well, how could you see more of that happening in different cities?
DAISY: I think amplifying the good that is happening already. And things like this forum for example, my great privilege to be here and talk about some of the things I have been involved in. Hopefully that can then spark off more conversations elsewhere. Likewise, I think it's making sure that we are not just focussing on, I come back to my relentless optimism. There is good stuff, there is good people doing amazing things and being able to step back, picking that up and amplifying it and seeing how can we learn from that will be critical for that?
KYLE: So we are coming towards the end now, we probably have two minutes left before I wrap things up. With these things I always like to ask you is there anything you have that you want to say that I haven't asked you? A question I have not asked yet that would be worth the attendees hearing today?
DAISY: Gosh... no, I can't believe it, the time has flown. That has been really a delight actually talking about stuff. I think for me there is something, I was asked, I spoke at the 2050 Climate Group which is a group of young leaders coming together to look at our climate challenge and action. One of the things that I was meant to talk about was what would you say to young people? For me there is something around being really authentic about what it is that, having that confidence in what you do and being authentic in your voice about talking about it is really, really important. And in anything that we do across, there is lots of people on this call, I am sure we are all doing different things in different sectors, but making sure that the integrity and the authenticity is always there, it's something that I have taught myself to make sure I talk about that. I talk about diversity and inclusion and make sure that people's voices are heard, not just as a tick box, but truly people have so much to contribute. They want to contribute. Finally, I come back to young people. Just speak to young people and make sure their voices are a part of the conversation.
KYLE: Absolutely, you mentioned authenticity a few times there and a few others want to comment saying it feels like authenticity is the new thing. You mentioned about diversity and representation, I think it feels like we need to see some more of that as well through coming through, because I think that is also about authenticity, not just seeing the same and hearing the same voices and the same things over and over again, hearing different ideas, different thoughts from different people is super important. Okay, so I think I will wrap things up there. So just a few things to say before you leave us today, the first is please do fill in the short survey about the session. You should find that in the link in the chat in the next few seconds. It's also available in the event description. You can find it there as well. We have few more events coming up. So our next talk is about Azeem Azah who will be talking about whether society can withstand the pace of technological change, which is next week on the 4th of November. Also, if anyone is at COP 26 in Glasgow next week feel free to join us, the Nesta team. I will be there with some of my colleagues and we are with the Hollywood fringe festival event on the 6th of November. Daisy will be there at COP, but I am not sure we will be there on the same day, hopefully we will be able to say hi in person if we are. Thank you everyone for joining us and I hope to see you again on a future Nesta event. Thank you very much and goodbye.
DAISY: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
In this Nesta Talks to..., Kyle Usher, Mission Manager for Scotland working on Nesta’s A Sustainable Future mission, is in conversation with Daisy Narayanan, Senior Manager - Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council, about how to create more liveable cities.
Narayanan, who describes herself as ‘a relentless optimist’, is passionate about creating cities that put people first and believes that opportunities for transformational change come from harnessing community spirit and engaging people in more constructive conversations. She cites COVID-19 as a great example of how collective resilience and people coming together can lead to big systemic changes and rapid progress in breaking the silos between transport and planning and economic development.
"I think there is something about this moment in time where there is a real kind of desire to move forward, in a way that changes how things used to be, into what things need to be or should be. I think there is a lot of excitement around shaping that together."
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created a growing interest in creating places in which most of people's daily needs, such as supermarkets, schools, health services etc, can be met within a short walk or cycle, an idea known as ‘The 20-minute neighbourhood.’ However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for a 20-minute neighbourhood; Narayanan believes that the concept provides ‘a real chance for us to really deal with some deep-rooted social issues’, such as making cities more accessible to people with disabilities.
Other cities that have seen quick transformations recently, particularly in their public spaces and asset management, include Milan, Paris, Portland, Barcelona, Kent and Sweden, which is even trialing a ‘five minute city’ model. However, one of the challenges for successful transformation can be ‘toxic discourse’, wading through ‘lots of noise around many things’, as well as a lack of money. So how can local authorities capture peoples’ voices and engage them in conversations, not consultations?
"Discussions need to be done respectfully, evidence-based, data-based and using people's stories and life as the basis for change."
Naranyanan suggests changing the language around ‘consultations’; instead local authorities should have genuine discussions around what it is that people want and use storytelling and clear evidence to explain their decisions and plans. She also believes that they need to be more inclusive, making sure that underrepresented voices are around the table, in order to harness the strength of diverse voices and opinions. In return, people need to give more positive reinforcement to their elected representatives, amplifying the good that is happening already.
For those struggling to think positively, Naranyanan recommends that everyone listens to young people more - look at the city through their eyes and ‘you will find magic in everything’.
Daisy Narayanan is the Senior Manager - Placemaking and Mobility at the City of Edinburgh Council where she leads on delivering a city-wide integrated approach to transport and placemaking. Daisy is on the Board of Architecture & Design Scotland and a member of the Evidence Group for Scotland’s Climate Assembly. She was on the Active Travel Task Force set up by the Minister for Transport and the Islands and is a member of the Scottish Transport Awards judging panel. Drawing on her previous experience working as an architect and urban designer in India, Singapore, England and Scotland, Daisy believes passionately in the importance of creating places for people: places that reflect and complement the communities that live in them. A music aficionado, a bookworm and a linguist, Daisy spends her time enjoying the Scottish outdoors with her husband and two children.