Places Need Leaders – Part I : Summary

©  Architecture and Design Scotland 2011 uk

Trevor Davies and David Adams
Professor David Adams holds the Ian Mactaggart Chair of Property and Urban Studies in the University of Glasgow.


This study which follows on from “Delivering Better Places in Scotland: learning from broader experience”.  Published in 2010, it investigated eight case studies elsewhere in the UK and Europe.  It provided valuable lessons from them about the process of delivering better places and set out a framework for action in Scotland.  It laid out three critical elements of that framework.  These were good leadership, the co-ordination of delivery and investment in the stewardship of place over time.

Places Need Leaders now looks at the first critical element: that of leadership.  Because good leadership is first in order – but also first in importance.

This is not a definitive study; rather it sets out the scope of the issues. Part two asks why the quality of place is important to all of us and examines the nature and task of local leadership.  Part three examines improvements we consider necessary if local leadership is to deliver successful places.

Our study suggests that good leadership asks, and answers, two deceptively simple and fundamental questions:

What do we want our place to be like?

And how do we get there?

Where we live affects how we live and how well we live; the quality of our place shapes the well-being of each one of us. Taken as a whole, the quality of our places affects the well-being of our entire society, our economy, our environment. Some places are successful in improving our well-being.  Others are not; and, if they are really bad, they may lessen our well-being – harming our economy, society and environment.

For all those concerned with policy, the quality of place matters. It helps, or hinders, efforts to achieve economic, social or environmental goals. For politicians in particular, looking to the success of their place helps them do what they were elected to do.

Those in all levels of government, especially locally, need to know that places, successful or unsuccessful, don’t just drop from the sky: they are made by our human action, either through thought and deliberate deeds – or through accident. Those that are thoughtfully and deliberately made are likely to  carry and embody the dreams and aspirations of the local leaders who helped make them.

Local leaders come in three guises – elected politicians, community leaders and professionals. The eventual quality of place will be better if that triangular federation of place-making leadership is strong, trusting and forthright.

For all those leaders there are two questions they must ask themselves.  What do we want our place to be like?  And how do we get there?

The first is a question about desire, about culture, about aspiration. Its answer – and it will be different in each place and to each leader – will be rooted in the values that leaders can articulate and entice others to share. The ability to understand and articulate such values can be learnt.

But something is awry; our place-making is failing. Our places, especially new ones, are not as good as they ought to be. Almost all the professionals involved in making or re-making the built environment in Scotland say that, by and large, the best and the average places in Europe are a very long way ahead of the best and the average places in Scotland. They work better for the people who live and work in them.

Scotland needs better place-making. So how do we get there?

Leadership is of first importance. It comes in two parts: ‘leadership ability’ – the skills, knowledge and competence of individuals to lead –  and ‘leadership capacity’ – the resources, processes and legal powers through which the leadership ability of individuals within an organisation is either facilitated or hindered. If Scottish place-making is to be improved then ability and capacity must be developed together; they are two sides of the same coin.

To improve the ability of leaders it will be necessary to look at improving the sourcing of leaders, at providing quality education and at offering support. We think it probable, if appropriate delivery vehicles were established, nationally and locally, to educate and support local place-making leaders, these would uncover ways to help in the sourcing of them too.  As people realize the excitement of the potential for improving their place, more might step up to the mark.

Successful places require good leadership and good leadership requires the capacity to act.  The supply and abilities of individual leaders are, of course, important.  But just as important is the environment within which those individuals work.  This environment is wide – everything from the culture and forms of governance of their organisations to the laws, procedures and resources which either constrain or lend strength to their actions.  This is what we mean by the capacity for leadership.

It is in improving the capacity for leadership that the most significant challenges present themselves.

Places are made through the interaction of public and private institutions and interests, through the state on one hand and the market on the other. So in this study the examination of where improvements might be sought in our leadership capacity is organised by looking at ‘state’, ‘market’ and ‘state-market relationships’.

Today, in Scotland, the local aspect of the state is hollowed out, lacking the necessary powers, and it is congested by many agencies, all with their own priorities. Part three of this study asks serious questions about how local governance might be significantly improved.  The local state in Scotland lacks powers comparable to those by which the local state elsewhere in Europe shapes places, places that are more successful than ours. Scotland needs to ask itself why those powers are not provided. The culture in much of the local state must be questioned too and ways to change it sought.

Place-making leaders in the local state and elsewhere need much greater understanding of the nature of the real estate market, especially of the nature of risk and value, but in particular the understanding that the market, like any market, is a social construct, shaped by human actions, and can itself be shaped in turn by actions of the state.  Providing this understanding is part of the task of improving leadership ability.

Crucially, it is in the relationship between state and market that places are made. So special emphasis must be placed on improvements in how the state might shape the real estate market – on state-market relations. Without such improvements Scotland will lack leadership capacity and we are likely to  continue to see the prevalence of ‘default urbanism.’ There is certainly scope for leaders of improved ability to use existing powers to greater effect in shaping the market. But part three suggests a range of new legal instruments is required to allow the local state to effectively shape the real estate market.  New tools can be provided to allow the provision of collective goods – the infrastructure of utilities, public transport, public realm and open space – in advance of development. Means can also be found to enable the local state to acquire at least temporary ownership of significant development sites. And greater upstream resources, perhaps from later participation in site value uplift, can be developed and devoted to creating effective spatial development frameworks by the local state. Lastly, new local public institutions can  be devised to spread risk and enhance, even realise for the public good, the increased long-term value from creating successful places.

“Delivering Better Places in Scotland” was funded by the Scottish Government, with the participation of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, the Scottish Centre for Regeneration and Architecture and Design Scotland.  On publication its findings were fully endorsed by them.  It was written by a team at the University of Glasgow.  It can be found at Resource/Doc/336587/0110158.pdf