Romy Rawlings, Commercial Director at Vestre Ltd, discusses the right to public access for everyone, and the importance of fostering a sustainable, accessible and inclusive community spirit
Our towns and cities are growing, and more people than ever before are living closer to each other. At Vestre, we aim to help create oases where people can sit and watch life go by, meet friends, or socialise with strangers and begin to build new communities.
In Scandinavian countries, the right of public access, or allemannsretten, legislates that the urban environment is open to everyone. This is simply not the case in many parts of the world, including the UK, and we hope to encourage a more democratic approach to our outdoor spaces so that everyone can fully and freely enjoy them.
When we talk about sustainability, one of the key values that Vestre has been built upon, we encourage everyone to save the world. A little. In the same way, we are keen to inspire others to change the world. A little. For any place to be considered truly sustainable, it must be built upon all three of the key pillars: economic viability, environmental protection, and social equity. Sadly, due to a current focus on the ‘green’ part of sustainability (quite understandably, given the climate emergency), it is often social aspects that are overlooked or outright ignored.
Whatever our responsibilities in the public realm, we all have the power to make a positive difference – by reducing inequalities (in line with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal no 10). This is even more important as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic since so many social inequalities have been brought under the spotlight and found to have deteriorated even further. We can address these imbalances in many ways: By refusing to accept hostile design, ensuring every proposal is based on the principles of universal design to ensure access for all, creating gender-neutral spaces, and generally by reflecting the needs of everyone in the neighbouring community.
As part of our current recovery, we must ensure that residents, visitors, and workers alike feel safe as they return to a more normal life. Outdoor furniture can support this by providing caring and comfortable places for people to meet, chat, eat, drink, and relax in one of the safest environments available. As provision increases on our high streets and across surrounding urban areas, the demand for facilities that sustain outdoor life has grown enormously but, without careful planning, we risk alienating some of the most vulnerable members of society. The thoughtful design, selection, and placement of furniture will ensure that these ongoing protective measures support our changing needs without compromising vital obligations around both accessibility and sustainability.
There are many aspects of urban life that lead to difficult conversations, and perhaps none more so than the subject of anti-social behaviour. Rough sleeping, skateboarding, and the gathering of ‘undesirable’ groups of people in public spaces are considered some of the most common in our sector and consistently bring about complex discussions around how these activities might be discouraged. Most of the social issues arising can only be dealt with by policy – whether from local or central government – and there is very little we can do as a furniture manufacturer to bring about the immense change that’s desperately needed in many of our communities.
However, we can all do a little, and we must. If all these small interventions are to bring about real change, we need greater collaboration and for everyone who has an interest in the public realm to pull in the same direction. That includes local authorities, the third sector, community groups, designers, the police, etc. A holistic approach, across all agencies, can address seemingly impossible challenges. For instance, through their ‘Housing First’ Programme, Finland has significantly reduced homelessness, while rates are steadily increasing in most other European countries.
In our own way, what we at Vestre elect to do is refuse requests to offer hostile designs that will deliberately prevent activities such as rough sleeping or skateboarding. In this way, we aim to support the right to public access for everyone by upholding key Nordic values in every country in which we operate. This makes for difficult conversations, but it is these debates that will change the world. A little. So, please get in touch if you would like to be a part of this change.
Please note: This is a commercial profile
© 2019. This work is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.