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What are the New Rules of the Road? Listen to Episode 2 of the ‘Re-routing the City’ podcast series
The second of the three-part series explores whether we need to create a new road etiquette. And, if so, how this might work.

Navigating through cities has become increasingly complex. E-scooters frequently raise safety concerns due to the lack of regulation around their use, while cyclists and drivers criticise each other for perceived infringements of the rules. Meanwhile, pedestrians are required to negotiate bustling pavements and unpredictable traffic. How can we create a system that allows for many different road users to co-exist harmoniously?

Episode 2 of the Applied + Disegno Re-routing the City podcast is titled ‘The New Rules of the Road’ and is available to listen to now through Disegno's website, Spotify and Apple Podcasts. This second episode in the podcast trilogy once again features host India Block alongside Applied’s founder and Creative Director Tim Fendley. They are joined by expert guest Julia Thrift who is Director of Healthier Place-making at the Town and Country Planning Association. Julia has particular expertise in the links between the design of our built environment and the quality of people’s lives.

Together with host India, the trio consider whether we need to create a new road etiquette. And, if so, how this might look and function. From the urban regeneration of Paris to the idea of the 20-minute neighbourhood, the conversation links public health, government policy, design strategy and the use of shared spaces.

From left to right: writer & editor India Block; Applied’s founder Tim Fendley; Director of Healthier Place-making at the Town and Country Planning Association Julia Thrift.

In the third and final episode which will be released in November, India sits down with Applied’s Creative Director Ruth Ross-MacDonald and guest Dom Hyams. Dom consults and educates internationally on a range of topics including diversity and accessibility.

Episode 2: The New Rules of the Road is available through Disegno's website, Spotify and Apple Podcasts

Listen via the links below:


Re-routing the City: Episode 2. The New Rules of the Road

India Block, Tim Fendley, Julia Thrift

Summary Keywords: places, work, nhs, council, city, cyclists, public spaces, design, healthy, walk, change, realise, wayfinding, road, years, good, map, cycling, space, minutes

India Block (0:06)

Welcome to "Re-routing the City" with Applied Wayfinding, a spatial experience design practice that makes complex spaces legible. "Rerouting the City" is a new three-part podcast series that navigates how we move around our cities today. Each episode, we invite an expert speaker from across neuroscience, academia, and city planning for a conversation with a member of the Applied team to discuss the new research and technological developments that could help reroute our urban spaces to be more accessible and enjoyable for all their users.

Hello, and welcome to Re routing the City: The New Rules of the Road. My name is India and I'm the deputy editor of Disegno, the Journal of Design. And I'm joined today by Tim Fendley, who is the Founder, CEO and creative director of spatial experience design practice Applied. And Julia Thrift, who is the Director of Healthier Place-making at the UK’s Town and Country Planning Association. Julia is an expert in the connections between how the design of the built environment impacts the lives and well being of the people who live and move around them. Tim and Julia will be discussing how navigating modern cities has become increasingly complex with competing safety and welfare issues around who gets to use our roads and streets. pedestrians, cyclists and cars all compete to share space. How can we design a system that allows for everyone to harmoniously share? And can we charge a code of conduct that sets out new expectations for how we should behave on or around our roads? Tim and Julia, hello. So first of all, I'd be really interested to know what your preferred method of transport is for moving around the city. And do you encounter any barriers or challenges there?

Tim Fendley (1:59)

Ah, I'm definitely a walker. I love finding out about our city, especially in a new City. And I do that by walking and taking it in, kind of slowly and gently. I mean, I do some cycling, I've been around on a motorbike, I've tried everything. But walking is my favourite.

Julia Thrift (2:19)

And I agree, I like walking much more than I used to do. I find nowadays I walk to meetings or see friends far further than I used to walk in the past. A lot of it's habit, I don't know, maybe it's habit or culture or whatever, but journeys that I would have gotten on a train or a tube to do, I'm now happily walk. I have had some tricky experiences. And it's mostly been when I've gone somewhere new. And so I've looked on a map, probably on my phone. And I thought, okay, I can get off the train here. And I can walk to wherever I'm going. And I'll go down that road because it seems quite direct. But what the map doesn't tell you is what it's like to walk down that road. And it could be really nice with trees and lots of people around and quite friendly looking. Or you can suddenly find yourself in some desolate, bleak place with litter and nobody else is there. And you suddenly think, what am I doing here?

Tim Fendley (3:16)

I actually had a similar experience Julia. I remember I was in New York for a meeting. I got up really early and it was a lovely morning. And I thought, you know what, I'm going to walk, I'm going to walk to this meeting, because I'm just going to see the whole city. And I looked at it, and it was about 11-12 blocks. And I thought, well, I'll give myself half an hour. Within about three blocks, about 20 minutes had gone. And I'm like, I just did not understand the scale of the place. And I got it completely wrong. I'd looked at the map and thought, yes, walkable. And it wasn't. And I immediately looked around for a yellow cab to try and make sure I wasn't late for the meeting. So just understanding distances is kind of, you can get it wrong sometimes.

India Block (4:05)

And that idea about a space or a route feeling welcoming versus feeling hostile is perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when you're thinking about city planning. But is that something that you think about in your line of work? And then I guess, Tim, is that something that you would think about with the route planning, like showing people routes that are more scenic or feel safer?

Julia Thrift (4:30) 

Yes. How people experience places is very much part of the work that we do at the TCPA. Thinking about how we can encourage people to be more active. And the reason that it would be good for people to be more active is it's unbelievably good for health. It's good for your mental health. It's good for your physical health, it wards off cancer, it does multiple, multiple good things to you. So helping people be a little bit more active every day. It pays off for society a lot. So having the confidence that if you set off on your journey walking that if you feel tired, you can sit down is quite important. Also things like public loose trees and green spaces and how places are cared for or not. If a place looks like somebody's taken a bit of care with it, it gives everybody confidence that they should be there and they will be okay. Whereas if it's a bit desolate, rundown full of litter, and doesn't look cared for people are much less likely to walk through it.

Tim Fendley (5:32) 

I think what you're saying there about giving people confidence is really important. And in the role that we play in cities and design, it isn't really… we can't really change the environment, we could recommend a place that would be better if it was redone or improved. But what we're there to do is kind of represent what it is, or suggest a way or a route or a set of destinations that people don't normally spot, and yet are really good. So a side route that is much more healthy to walk, but more difficult to navigate is kind of where we'd be kind of pointing people down. So that's kind of like our role and our involvement in improving that.

Julia Thrift (6:16) 

And I think your work does give people confidence, because if you set off walking, and you're somewhere strange that you don't know, it's not uncommon to go somewhere and there'll be a signpost, pointing you in the right direction. And you walk for five minutes, and then you'll get to a junction and there's no signposts there's nothing to tell you where to go next. And that's where you lose confidence about walking. Whereas systems like Legible London, you know, when you get to the next junction, there'll be another graphic or post or something that will tell you where to go. And so it is about knowing that not only the route that you can see ahead of you is okay. But that when you get beyond that, you'll still feel confident to get where you're trying to get to without getting lost.

Tim Fendley (7:01) 

We've got a term for that. The base requirement of a wayfinding system is to be predictable. So if it's predictable, you can trust it. And I think that's the word that we're using, and you've got some confidence. And that's one of the methods we use. And the challenge, I think Julia this is interesting, where many local authorities come in the challenges is that our country is littered with boundaries between authorities, who all do things slightly differently. So there is an issue where you wander over a boundary and now the system changes. And therefore that predictability is lost to some extent, not always the case, or some systems do work across boundaries, etc. But that is, I think, a challenge for the individual that I think reduces the amount of activity.

India Block (7:55) 

And also, speaking to what you're saying, the challenge of judging distance. The rings that you put on the Legible London maps, I find very useful. They're kind of ‘this will take you five minutes within the circumference; this will take you 15’. It’s so much easier to read than a scale that you have to perhaps do the math yourself.

Tim Fendley (8:14) 

And they're not really there for you to go measure against that. They're just to give you some idea of confidence. And we had a big debate when we were doing it, about what it should be. But what about people who don't walk very fast? What about people in wheelchairs? What about people who charge walk? And the view we took was that it's better to put a measure down and then you instinctively know you can measure yourself against that; ‘if it says five minutes I know it can do it in four because I’m a  quick walker.’ And everybody we've spoken to has used it in that way. We often over prescribe information when people can often work things out for themselves. And I think we should be engaging with how people understand context more than we do.

Julia Thrift (9:03) 

Yes. And it gets away from being overly technical as well. Most people in England I use a bizarre mixture of metric and imperial and miles and metres and kilometres and grammes and ounces and everything jumbles up. But as you say, if it says five minutes walk, and I think well, I can probably do that in five minutes. But equally if I was with somebody who's a bit slower - a toddler or an elderly person - I might think okay, let's say 10 minutes, but you still roughly know what you're talking about.

Tim Fendley (9:37)

An interesting one, we did an accessibility map for New York for Central Park. And we were very interested in the inclines, and they had a map of all the inclines and knew all the percentages, and we got this map and it had all of the numbers on it and all the percentages and we took it out talk to people, and we realised that we didn't find one person who understood what these percentages mean. So what we came up with was: this one's a steep slope; this one's a shallow slope. And just that definition of those two was actually all the people who needed to know that needed to know. So simplifying it and giving you a code to actually shortcut actually is often the way to do it.

India Block (10:15)

Julia, you've spoken about how important being active is to people's health. And I know you've written about this concept of social prescribing - could you go into that a little bit more? And what it means to, I want to say, sort of soft healthcare, but it's not necessarily just going to your GP and getting a prescription for medicine.

Julia Thrift (10:37) 

No, when the NHS was set up, 70 years ago, the sorts of illnesses that people had tended to be infectious illnesses. And people tended to be ill for a short time, maybe they'd go to hospital for a short time, and then people died relatively young. Now, partly because of the NHS and better public health and so on, many people live a lot longer, but we’re much more likely to have sort of long term chronic conditions, like diabetes. Things that don't kill you necessarily, you might live with them for years. So the NHS has tried to adapt to that. But what it means is a lot of people who go and see their doctor, what they don't need is a course of pills. They don't need three weeks on a pill, and then they'll be better. What they possibly need is to live slightly differently. And they might need encouragement and help to do that. So a classic example might be, I don't know, an elderly man, his wife dies, he's depressed, he doesn't know how to cook, he starts living off takeaways, doesn't go out and doesn't see people. And that's likely to lead to perhaps diabetes, or perhaps depression. And if that man goes to his doctor, there isn't really a tablet that's going to solve that problem. But what the doctor might be able to do is say, ‘well, why don't you go along to this club, there's some other men of your age there and you might make some friends, you might do some cooking classes, start to be able to cook food’. And that might be a much better solution than sort of more traditional medical solutions of tablets, and hospitals and things. 

So the NHS is now much more aware that sometimes what patients need, it's not tablets and healthcare, it's more clubs, social activities, friendships. Because having good friends is really good for our health. Having someone to speak to is good for your health, but also, we tend to encourage each other. So you might not feel confident about walking around the park on your own, or walking to the park on your own. But if you've got a mate with you, who says ‘oh come and you can do it’, you know, ‘let's just go along together’, that encourages you. So that's what social prescribing is about. It's getting away from really medical stuff. And this that's what somebody needs, and helping people change their lives to live healthier lives, with different methods such as clubs and that sort of support.

India Block (13:11) 

And I think it's interesting that you've used examples there of an elderly man, or perhaps someone who might feel not confident walking in a space like a park. So we'd probably assume that was someone who wasn't a cisgender white man. Tim, I'd be really interested to know, do you think about - with wayfinding projects - the routes or the ways of getting around for people that might not have the kind of physical or kind of social confidence to get around?

Tim Fendley (13:46) 

It really has raised up in recent years. But really, it should be designing for those people first, from the beginning. They're the people we should design for, because if it works for them, it will work for everybody. I really don't think it should be an add on. It shouldn't be ‘let's do this as well.’ It should be that's how you should design it. And I think the way to do that is to engage and listen and find out. So we've recently done some focus groups with a group of people aged over 60 wanting to know - how can they be more active? Julia, I love that idea of prescribing activity.  And they don’t want to cycle; they've done that. Many of them were cyclists but they're too old to do that now and because they're worried about falling off. Nobody else's fault, just they might and they don’t want to fall because that means hospital, they don't like that. But what struck us was there were many walking and cycling paths near where we were that they want to use. And they were saying they don't like using them. They don't go on these walking cycling paths because of the speed of the cyclists on the path. And I hadn't thought of that. I'm not of that group yet - I'm getting there. But I hadn't thought of that as an issue until we talked to them. And then I realised how I don't believe the cyclists trying to make it difficult for people. But inadvertently, this lack of ways in which they are interacting, is causing that group that we really want to be active, to be less active. I think that's, I think that's fixable, actually.

Julia Thrift (15:35) 

For one reason or another, a lot of public spaces have been designed for basically fit and healthy men, often designed by fit and healthy men. I don't think that's actually the problem, because as you've just demonstrated, there's nothing to stop anyone going and talking to other people who are different from them, and asking what their experiences are. But perhaps in the past that hasn't happened. And so we've got a lot of public spaces that work for actually a very small minority of the population. They often don't work if you're pregnant, and you need somewhere to sit down. There aren't enough public loos around which affects a huge proportion of the population. Many older people say they won't go out for a walk, because they're worried that they won't be a public loo wherever they're going. Equally if you've got toddlers, if you've got babies, can you get about? Places all around the world have demonstrated that once you start designing for the weakest, the least fit the smallest, the youngest, the oldest, that suddenly your public spaces are full of people and full of life. If you get the design right the people turn up.

India Block (16:43) 

That idea of the shared pathways that you raised from the focus group, I think that's really interesting that you think there's definitely a solution. And I'd be interested to hear what both of you think those solutions are? Because we do have to share our roads and our pathways, but at the moment, it's perhaps not the most harmonious kind of sharing. Is the solution more separate? Is it about putting barriers up? Is it about behavioural changes? How can you create places that everyone can use and use them safely at the same time?

Tim Fendley (17:20) 

I think that’s a really big question. I think there's been a little bit of a focus in this country on segregation as a way to try and solve that. The problem with segregation is our historical roadways don't allow a lot of tha. They’re too constricted. The other issue with segregation is - it maybe falls back to the conversation we just having earlier - is that it works best for that determined, experienced cyclist who needs that segregation to make sure that they're not in conflict with the road user, the vehicle. But even segregated paths have got to cross loads of other paths and need pedestrian crossings. So there's always an area where we need to share. From the work that we've done so far, and the observations that we've taken listening to people, I think there's a huge lack of expectation setting of how to behave between car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. aAd you could add in scooter drivers, you definitely can add in horse riders to that. And there are some Highway Code guides that help us there. Recently they've republished who's the important hierarchy. I think that was just restating what the Highway Code says, I don't think that was a change. But it shows you that there's a lack of communication, where are the public information films to tell us - this is how you do this. We used to have those. I'm dating myself growing up, but we had Charlie telling us what not to do. But I believe that there’s, and that needs to be done in many in a very three dimensional way, but I don't believe there is a really good code of conduct. For example: definitely a pedestrian and cyclist on that shared path. How do you do that? Who's got right of way? What is the speed you should go past? How do you make them aware? There's no agreed callsign, there's no - do you shout? Do you ring a bell? What do you say when you shout? We've gone and asked lots of people, we've asked that question: what do you do? We've got hundreds of answers. Some people go ‘oh, I don't ring a bell I think it's rude to do that’. And what do you do, they go ‘well, I try and shout at them and say I'm coming up on your right and they turn around and go what are you talking about’. So it's kind of like, everybody's kind of awkward. We're all dancing poorly. And there are examples where we dance well. So for example, you've probably all gone down the escalators in London Underground, and it says please stand on the right. Nearly everybody does that. And whoever doesn't often just gets tapped on the shoulder and - ‘excuse me, it's just you stand on the right’. And conflict is avoided.

Julia Thrift (20:07)  

I completely agree with what Tim says. And it's really complicated. Even among cyclists, there's a difference between someone commuting to work trying to go really, really fast, and a five year old going to school on their bike. So even just having separated bike routes and paths doesn't necessarily solve the problem. There are probably some things we can do in terms of designing infrastructure, and making sure that there are some routes that are definitely for people cycling very, very fast. And they make that clear. But there will be some places where we all have to share. And so we do need to think about how we do that. And I love the idea of some sort of public information - posters or adverts. You know, just you mentioned, Tim, on the tube that people do stand on the right. But there are little signs saying please stand on the right. Whereas when we're out in the wild in the open space of the town or city centre, there's nothing really suggesting how you behave. Maybe something saying, ‘Put your letter in this bin’, but not much more than that. 

But one of the other things to think about is the way that the design of a space encourages or discourages different types of behaviour. And if somewhere is designed with care, and it's looked after, and it's a place that we might feel proud of, I think we behave slightly differently from somewhere that's perhaps a bit fortified, and with horrible lighting, and barbed wire, and things like that, where it feels a bit more aggressive. So design is brilliant at giving us sort of unspoken cues and signals about what sort of space we're in. Yes, we probably do need a conversation about this. And we do need some public information signs. And we also need to allow designers to create spaces that will suggest to us how we might behave in them.

India Block  (22:10)  

And you mentioned the Highway Code getting republished there, Tim. I think it's good to state who actually has priority because not many people know it is pedestrians.

Tim Fendley  (22:20)  

Absolutely. It's pedestrians first, then cyclists, then cars. Actually, I think it's horses first… I'm gonna go and check. 

India Block  (22:33)  

You were talking there Julia about places looking welcoming. I think one of the things that is difficult about cities here nowadays is that there is this sense of hostile architecture. You were talking about seating - there are so few places to sit, but they tend to get taken out because people think that it'll encourage loitering or antisocial behaviour, or God forbid, a homeless person might sit down there. So they make seats uncomfortable. But that also means that someone will be less able to sit down there or won't find anywhere to sit at all. Similarly, these sound devices that some places put up to discourage younger people from gathering there. How can that be combated? Is that something that can happen at a local planning level? Or is that insisted upon by certain businesses, and there's nothing you can do about it?

Julia Thrift  (23:31)  

Well, it depends. In the past, most public space was owned by the council, and they were able to have some influence over it. Increasingly, in cities, there are public spaces that are owned by private companies. And that's very different. And they tend to look very slick and span and beautiful because they have the money to maintain them well, but they're not necessarily welcoming places if you don't have money to spend. So they are a separate and quite difficult category, I think. But generally speaking, most public spaces are managed by the local council. And there are things that the council can do. Lots of councils are realising that their populations aren't as healthy as they could be, and want to make a real effort to create healthier places. And in this country, there is a big problem with people being off sick. We've got two and a half million people out of work due to long term sickness. And economists are starting to realise that one of the reasons that the UK has quite a particularly low productivity is because a lot of people aren't well. And either they're not working, or when they are working they're not working at full capacity because they're ill. 

So the link between keeping people healthy and having a thriving economy is much more recognised than it was and some councils are now prioritising healthy placemaking. And if they put that into their local council plan - that they want to make sure that they create places where it's easy for everybody to be healthy - then that can filter down through all the different things they do, including planning. And they can get that into their local plan, which shapes all of the development that will take place in that place. So for instance, if a developer's putting in a planning application, the council can then assess it and say, ‘Well, does it meet our criteria for healthy buildings and healthy places?’ So there are things that councils can do. And it's starting to be recognised that enabling people to be active in their day to day lives is a huge public health issue. And it's affecting the NHS. And at the moment, it costs about a billion a year - the amount of physical inactivity that people aren't being active costs the NHS about a billion a year. So it's far cheaper to invest in prevention, and invest in helping people stay healthy and active, rather than waiting until they get very ill and then expecting the NHS to treat them.

Tim Fendley  (26:09)  

Can I ask a question, Julia? That kind of suggests that this goes all the way to the top of government, because the NHS budget comes directly from government and local authorities, and active travel comes down in different tree line. And that, you know, yes, we're making our place active, but they're not. It's the NHS that might see the benefit of that. Can you help me understand - how does the government try and connect those two together?

Julia Thrift  (26:38)  

I think it's fair to say it doesn't do it very well, but it's starting to change. So the government does now have targets around active travel and getting more people walking, and those are really good. But it also ties in with climate change. So the government's published a transport decarbonisation programme, which is to reduce the impact of transport on the amount of carbon that's produced. And if you follow all the evidence, you end up recognising that people need to walk a bit more and cycle a bit more. So at the moment, a huge number of journeys, about half the journeys I think, in most towns and cities are actually very short journeys. So this isn't about saying people must never ever drive. It's about saying, well, most of the people who are driving for very short journeys probably could walk or cycle. Obviously, some people couldn't, there might be very good reasons why somebody needs to drive. But the vast majority of those short journeys could be done by active travel - that would reduce the carbon emissions, it would help create a healthier population, and it would reduce air pollution, which is now recognised to be far more lethal than had been acknowledged even a few years ago.

Tim Fendley (27:51)  

It also helps connect communities; you learn more about your local area, you get to see other people, you explore the neighbouring area. And I think that's another factor -  there isn't really a downside to doing this.

Julia Thrift (28:08)  

No. And at the TCPA, we're promoting the idea of 20 minute neighbourhoods. And the idea is that places should have most of the things that most people need most days nearby, because you're only going to walk and cycle if the thing you want to get to isn't very far away. So if the school is just down the road, or the shop or the park is just down the road, then you will walk and cycle but if it's miles and miles away, of course you won't.

Tim Fendley  (28:36)  

And you know, what I see as a pattern here is this is all this can all be thought through. I don't think anybody in the decision making places are disagreeing with this, I think it's not been thought about… it's not been presented as a case in the right way. Because I can see it on a micro scale as well as the way you've described it on a macro scale. The way in which a transport budget will be spent on a new roundabout layout for a reason I do not know because the roundabout seemed fine. But yeah, I know that roundabout probably cost about a million pounds. And I'm like what could we do in terms of creating a walking route with a million pounds in that area?  A huge amount. And I'm like, that's just a matter of where the council has seen its priorities need to go. And I believe that people in the council are doing the best job based on what those priorities are. You know, I see people doing really good work and really, really care about what they're doing. But if it's, if it's not for the right end - we've not set the right objective - it's not going to deliver on what UK PLC needs. As you said - that was fascinating - because I think actually we could change this in five years. 

Julia Thrift (29:59)  

If you have a look and see what's happened in Paris -  it has been about five years - they've really transformed the city into one where walking and cycling are a pleasure. And there are two things here; all the evidence points in the direction of investing in walking and cycling, whether it's economic evidence, health evidence, environmental evidence, climate, whatever. All the evidence says do that. The politics is trickier than the evidence. So it's not just about evidence. And that's where we tend to get a bit stuck. But it is about shifting the investment to follow the evidence. And I was looking into how much we spend on roads. And the best figure I could find was that the UK spends about 11 billion pounds a year on roads. And in terms of how much we spent on active travel - walking and cycling - it was about 6.6 billion over 10 years. So walking, and cycling is really sort of getting the crumbs from the table. So even if the spending was shifted by 20%, then that would be a huge increase in the budget for making pavements nice and flat and wide, for having benches, for having public loos, for having better signage and wayfinding. So it could be done. But the politics is tricky, because we have short term political cycles, and the healthy population that might arise from this wouldn't be healthy for the next few years. And meanwhile, there'll be an election. And there'll be people who drive cars making a big fuss.

India Block  (31:38)  

I mean, I think there are ways of having things that don't change with every government change. I'd be interested to hear more about what you've seen with Paris, because as I understand that they've had a mayor who has been really committed to regreening the city, to creating a healthy capital.

Julia Thrift  (31:57)  

Yes, she has been really good at communicating a fantastic vision of what Paris could be like if it wasn't full of traffic jams. And you need those visionary politicians to say ‘things could be so much better’. And I think we're lacking that a bit in the UK at the moment. And not only could she set that vision, as mayor of Paris she has a much bigger budget and more powers than the mayors that we have in England. We live in a very centralised country, and it's actually very difficult for local mayors to do as much as they might want to. So in Paris, the mayor has a lot of power to make changes. She has given each little community neighbourhood area money to spend. So she said to them, okay, you know, what's in your area? What's missing in your area? This idea of having a 20 minute neighbourhood, or in Paris it's the 15 minute neighbourhood. And she'll say, ‘well, what do you need?’ And people say, ‘well, you know, we really don't like this, it isn't working for us. So we need one of those.’ And they get a budget to make that happen. And the other thing that she's been able to do is make sure that it works for everybody. So lots of people in Paris live in small flats, they don't have gardens, they don't have spaces to go outside. And she's done fantastic things like there was a dreary little road along the edge of the river Seine. I think it was some sort of access road. It was just a bit of tarmac, and she turned it into a beach. So there's sunbeds, there's palm trees, there's water spray, there's cafes. So if you live in a little flat high up in one of those lovely blocks in Paris, but you have no outdoor space, you can go down there, you can lie on the sun lounger, watch the water, speak to your friends, watch the kids playing. So what she's done by taking that road away, is she's provided something that benefits everybody. And so it's not just about taking something away. It's about giving something back that's even better. And that's the narrative that I think we need to have here. Because when you do create places that are walkable, where you bump into people, where you can sit down and have a chat, people love them. So there's always a fear of change. And if you just say to people, we're going to take this car parking space away and we're going to stop you doing that and you mustn't do this.. it's a terribly negative message. Whereas what Mayor Anne Hidalgo has been able to provide is this really positive vision for the future.

India Block  (34:33)  

So I suppose it's not just about changing people's behaviour in terms of getting them to walk more or cycle more and share better, but also it's about trying to change people's perspective that driving less or doing less short journeys isn't a loss.

Tim Fendley (34:48)  

Yeah, it's a bit carrot and stick though, isn't it? So all stick and what you can't do or having charges works to a point. But creates difficulties. And where are the carrots, where are the positive moves? And that's about communication. So some of the work that we're doing on cycling is not saying you can't cycle here, but or don't go on red, it's more like, ‘please only go on green’. It's just changing the language. The other one that's always got me is, ‘please don't attack our staff’ in the a&e. I'm like, whoever is going to attack the staff is never going to read that. So there's gonna be me, and I have no intention of attacking anybody who reads it, and now feels nervous, and, and bothered. And the whole, therefore the whole room does, and therefore the mood is all heightened. And that is not, that's the opposite of what you want to actually have. 

So back to your antisocial behaviour point. I just think it's a shame if we can't put amenities in because that's what we're worried about. I think you've got to tackle antisocial behaviour with different methods, not by not putting in amenities for people who could benefit from them. Because if you do that, where do you stop, basically, let's just not have anywhere anybody could sit, or any public toilets. And I think your point, Julia, is the more we care for those environments, the harder it is, the less that happens. We found very little vandalism of Legible London. And because it's tough, but it's well designed. It's considered, it's thoughtful. People tend not to - some of them, they use a few stickers on it to advertise things - but again, what we found is that as long as you've got a team coming in cleaning them off, people give up trying to sticker them. But when they don't get cleaned, they get worse, they fall into disrepute, not managed, and then they become part of this ‘it's a broken part of the city’. So I think maintenance, I think you've touched on that. How do you maintain the quality and keep it clean and keep it up to date is probably really important.

Julia Thrift (37:01)  

Hugely important. And I think it's something we struggle with in this country, I think there's sort of some mentality that isn't shared by other countries. So what we're quite good at doing is creating a brand new something - brand new building, brand new park. And we'll have the budget for building it. But there's usually not enough budget for looking after it. And that's been a consistent problem with public parks, that there's never enough money to look after them. And so, it's just so important, because once things start to unravel, and go wrong, and get dirty and rundown, the whole nature of the place changes, people's attitudes change. If people are proud of a place, I think they're much less likely to trash it. And the people who, if people do damage it, they'll be really ostracised. But once something's rundown and horrible, then nobody cares anyway.

India Block (37:57)  

And I think to your point about antisocial behaviour, I mean, what is antisocial behaviour? If it's just young people getting to enjoy a public space, there should be room for them to go. All of our youth clubs have been closed down, there's less, you know, sports facilities for them to use. There's an interesting project called Flickrum which is dedicated to trying to create public spaces that young girls and young women can use, because I think they use public space 80% less after the age of eight. Because they don't feel confident in public spaces, they don't feel it's well lit, there's no places to kind of sit and see without being seen. I think a lot of budget goes to the kind of mixed use sports courts. And I know that I walk home through like basketball courts, and it's fun to see them being used, but it's only ever boys or young men using them. So I think there's also that. Again, it's going back to what you were saying Julia about who is getting to use the spaces.

Julia Thrift (39:01)  

And who is asked about what they want in those spaces. It's no good just asking the people who are already there ‘what do you like?’ Because they're already there, you have to ask the people who aren't there. And ‘what would you like, what would make you use that park or that or that square or that space?’ And unless we do that, we're going to continue investing in the people who already have what they want and not investing in the people who perhaps need it a bit more.

Tim Fendley (39:28)  

And back to that point we made about the speed cyclists and putting elder walkers off. There's a very vocal cycling community that's made some really good strides. And I don't think at the detriment of, wanting to be at the detriment of pedestrians, but that isn't necessarily always the impact and how do we look after these people who don't have a loud voice? I think he's something that as a society we should be caring for.

India Block (39:59)  

And I think that goes back to as well what you were saying about air pollution. And now that we appreciate that it's such a killer, we've had air pollution listed on the death certificate of a child for the first time. And that was because her mother has been lobbying for that. But we also know that air pollution doesn't affect everyone equally. You're more likely to be exposed to it if you're living in a less kind of economically strong part of the city. We also know that those particulates hit children so much worse, because they're lower to the ground. Like if you're in a pram you’re in the absolute worst possible position to get a faceful of fumes.

Tim Fendley (40:42)  

I've got an observation here about what might be missing or a way of tackling this; everything we've talked about is kind of invisible. Pollution is invisible, lack of activity is invisible. The fact that it's not there, means you don't see it. And I've always been interested as a designer that ‘how can we make some of these factors more visible?’ Because then what I've noticed with people is that when it's obvious, and in front of them, they will respond and do something about that. And I think one of the prompts we've got with climate change is for years, it's not been, we've been told it's gonna get worse, I feel we can all agree we're starting to see more dramatic weather events. So we're starting to realise it's becoming a bit more visible. And it's kind of human nature to only respond when it's actually right in front of us. If you look historically. So I'm, as a designer, I'm always thinking, how can I help make it a bit more visible as an issue? Like with air quality I did some work on how we can produce live maps of what's the air quality so that you can look at that and go, ‘Oh, blimey, it didn't realise this invisible atmosphere out there.’ And it's the same with active travel - if there's a way of getting that data more out there, more easy to understand really quickly, I think it would help.

Julia Thrift (42:12)  

I think you're absolutely right. And when we worked with councils at the TCPA we are often invited in by the public health team, to talk to the planners and transport planners and other people there. And often what we do is we ask the public health team for their data about public health, but to show it on a map. And they've got all this data in the public health teams, they've got fantastic data and fantastic maps. But the planners don't often see that data and the counsellors don't often see that data. But if you show a map of the area - every place in the country there'll be some parts of that council area where people are quite healthy, air pollution is quite low, they're probably quite well off, they've got some nice parks. There'll be other parts on that map where everything is much more negative. People are much less healthy, there's probably really high air pollution, probably not much green space. And you can see where the problems are concentrated. 

And once you see it on a map, or people say oh, yes, yeah, of course that makes sense. But then you can say, ‘well, okay, as this area changes and develops, how are you going to make sure that the benefits go to those places where things are worse at the moment?’ And then you can start to have a conversation and say, ‘well, you know, we've got this big development coming in, and it's going to go there, but what could we do to benefit that area there’, and you can start having those conversations. So putting things on maps is brilliant, because as soon as people see it, then you can start having that conversation.

Tim Fendley (43:44)  

And those are going to have the biggest impact - the areas that are the lowest are going to get the benefit quicker.

Julia Thrift (43:51)  

Yes, if you're trying to get a healthier population, you need to focus on the people with the worst health. Because if you've got somebody who's already really healthy, and you make them 1%, healthier, 5% healthier, it doesn't make much difference to them, or to the NHS. But if you've got somebody who's really unhealthy, and you can make them five or 10%, healthier, that can have a big impact on life. It can really improve their life, and they'll need the NHS less. So we need to focus on the people and the places where health is worst. And one of the things I've learned from working alongside people in public health over the years is that every place is different, and every community is different. And places are really complicated - they’re systems of systems. And if you tinker with one thing, you can have really unexpected results somewhere else. So if you're trying to change a place - much better to work with the people who are there to try things out, and if it doesn't work, change it - to listen to people to go through an iterative process. And that means that you have to say that sometimes if it doesn't work, that's fine, that's part of the process. But that can be quite difficult in councils which are democracies. Because there's always, you know, a local paper saying, you spent 3000 pounds on this thing, and now you've scrapped it, it didn't work, you failed. And we've got to get over that, and help people understand that trying things out is fine. And I think some of the controversies around low traffic neighbourhoods are a little bit about, ‘you did this and it didn't work, you failed’. Whereas there have been low traffic neighbourhoods for years and years and years. And nobody bats an eyelid. And you know, some of the ones that were put in recently, this one where I lived -  and it was pretty good - but there was one bit that was really, really annoying, and everyone was very cross about it. Well, the council moved it, they left the rest of it, and everybody's fine with it now. And we have to be able to allow councils in particular to try things out and not see that if they have to change it in a year's time, not tell them that they've failed, but say ‘great you're learning’.

Tim Fendley (45:57)  

That is an example of being agile. But councils don't normally behave in an agile way. They're not, they're not brought up that way. They're not designed that way. And I get that, and I don't think there's anything they're doing wrong. But some of these things are much better implemented in an agile way. In other words, we're going to put this in for trial, and we're going to really listen to the reactions to that trial.

Julia Thrift (46:20)  

The problem is, realistically, many councils can't do that. And when we were researching our guide to creating 20 minute neighbourhoods, we spoke to the council in Paris, and in Melbourne, Australia, and in Portland, Oregon, to find out what they've done, and what we could learn from them. And it was so obvious that the resources they had were much greater than councils in this country. They were working much more closely with their communities, they were involving people in the process much more. And it's just very, very difficult to do that in the situation we're in with councils really struggling at the moment.

Tim Fendley (46:59)  

We do a lot of work in the US. And we do work with a lot of mayors. The power a mayor has in the US is - they really run that city. And they live and die by the success of what they say. They determine the local taxes. We worked in Cleveland and it wanted to encourage business tourism. So it raised, I'm not sure how much $1 income tax on the local taxes to, and it raised a billion dollars to create a huge huge conference centre and loads of facilities, it changed the planning laws to allow loads of new hotels to come up. And so it basically went, well we've got to compete with other cities, we're going to do something about this. And I found it, it's kind of like, the alternative is Detroit where the council have completely run out of money and had to fire police, police people and teachers and turn off the lights. And the federal government wasn't there to help them. So you're a little bit on your own. But that sense of again, responsibility for a leader of a city, I think is democracy, and is actually quite healthy. Obviously with those downsides if you could manage them, but I think we're way too centralised and having to follow centralised government kind of guides where they're actually not feeling the pain of what the issues are.

Julia Thrift (48:26)  

Yeah, I'd agree. And, and communities want different things. And again with our 20 minute neighbourhood work, it's not about imposing something on every community. It's about going to a place and saying, ‘does your neighbourhood work for you? And if not, what do you need?

India Block  (48:45)  

And I think that goes back to the political issue. Because if you speak to architects who were working before Thatcher crashed the London councils, that's what they had the power to do. And architects - I know the matrix, the feminist architecture collective, there were funds there for them to go and speak to communities that they were designing for and to say, ‘what do you need from this community centre? What do you need from this woman's refuge? What do you need, even from this bank?’ There were the funds there for them to go and speak to people and find out what they needed. But we have lost that. And the current system has, you know, become very convoluted and difficult and the council's don't have the independence to do that.

Julia Thrift (49:32)  

Now, there's a real risk that if you starve something of funds, then it doesn't work very well. And then it's easy to turn around and say, well, that's a load of rubbish, it doesn't work very well. And there's a risk with that. If we want to have really good places and a healthy population, we need to invest in it. And that doesn't necessarily mean we need more money. We just need to think more carefully about how we spend the money we've got I think.

India Block (49:59) 

I think we've come to a quite serious and

Tim Fendley (50:05)

We've solved some problems of the world.

India Block (50:07) 

We have! If everyone just listened to us and put this podcast into action, everything would be fixed Tim and Julia, thank you so much. I just wanted to ask, what is there, something that you can go out and do today that will lead to a healthier lifestyle or a healthier to do? Just something small.

Julia Thrift (50:26)  

I think we need to make places a bit more fun. And that can be really small things that can be mosaics and images and just, you know, places don't have to be all serious. So there can be interesting little details that make you smile. We need more of those.

Tim Fendley (50:45)  

I'm gonna go a different tack and just say, you know that journey that you always do that you don't think about? Just go a different way and go and experience something different.

India Block (50:56)  

Great. Thank you both so much. 

India Block (51:04)  

You've been listening to a Disegno podcast. For more podcasts visit This podcast was hosted and edited by Disegno. The panel was selected by Applied Wayfinding and Camron PR. Editing was by Abby Hall and Lara Chapman, and hosting by me - India Block.

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Grace Berry
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