Shaping a city through persona thinking

How would we shape the city if we did it from a person’s perspective? Forget the area schedule, and the 1:2000 plan drawings, forget the CGIs and the logistics. Instead think of what different people want, and how they feel and how they move through the planned development.

I was lucky enough to be involved with the Green Sky Hackathon which was just such an endeavour. It was held in partnership with Open City, Buro Happold and Argent Related, at the lovely offices of Fielden Fowles Architects. Argent, of Kings Cross fame, are now in Partnership with the American developer, Related to form Argent Related and are testing their mettle with the Brent Cross South site, a development of 7,000 homes and offices for 25,000.

The purpose of our Hackathon was to get 20 bright young things from across the industry in a room, to see what they would make of Brent Cross South by taking a people centred design approach. Open City did a great job of picking a mix of participants from across the construction industry including town planners, architects, engineers and even sound engineers.

Group shot of the event participants

The day was facilitated by Sven Mündner from Beispiel and started off with the participants split into four teams and drawing straws for one of four personas they would go on to design for. After a short briefing about the site by Argent and an introduction to wellbeing from Buro Happold the teams got started and by the end of the day this is what they had come up with…

Team 1:
This team had the persona of a retired male, who had lived in the area before the development. They identified the key issues that he faced as a potential isolation from the community and deteriorating physical fitness.
To remedy this they developed a community sports centre that could act as both a place to drop in (for a cheap drink!) and a place to take part in activities, such as walking football.

Team working on their persona concept
Team working on their persona concept

Team 2:
Taking the persona of a shopkeeper who commuted into the area to work at a local shop. Team two explored his key challenge was economic survival for his shop when there was a brand new Brent Cross shopping centre opening next door.
They imagined a re-awakening of the high street around Brent Cross South. With a focus on integrating the five ways to wellbeing into the public realm, so that people had places to be active, connect, give, keep learning and take notice (an approach that Buro Happold has taken on some of its latest projects).

Masterplan map by Team 1
Sketch by Team 1

Team 3:
Our third team had the persona of a twenty something woman, which was handy because the whole team were twenty something women. They identified the route back from Brent Cross tube as something that would undermine people’s sense of safety. There were particular parts of this fifteen minute walk that stood out, such as the underpass that goes beneath the A41, the walk around the back of a supermarket. Of course these would only be exacerbated when large parts of this route were in construction. They identified a number of interventions that could enliven these spaces and therefore improve the perception of safety on this route.

Sunlight analysis carried out to inform the location of Team 4’s semi-external co-parenting space

Team 4:
The final team took on the persona of a forty year old mum. They chose childcare as the key issue in particular the challenge around balancing work, social life and child care. Their solution was a co-parenting hub, where you could bring your children and carry out some of the work, socialising and life admin that you try to do when you are around your kids but sometimes you need to keep them at arms’ length.

The winning team!

On the day Team Three won, but I think we were all winners! Buro Happold got to test out some of our latest wellbeing approaches and see what happened when they were let loose on a Hackathon.

Argent Related got a bag full of great ideas to take forward for Brent Cross. And everyone got to collaborate across disciplines and without the restrictive labels of their everyday professions.

It was also great to hear some really insightful feedback from the judges on the day. All in all a great start to Green Sky Thinking week.

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