Physical Infrastructure Design

CIVIC SQUARE
Neighbourhood Public Square
91 min readJun 20, 2024

Physical Infrastructure Design is authored by CIVIC SQUARE as a design manual for how Neighbourhood Public Square will make 3ºC Neighbourhood and Endowing The Future tangible through co-building regenerative, distributive-by-design neighbourhood civic infrastructure at the heart of Ladywood, Birmingham, held in common for the neighbourhood for generations to come.

This abridged selection of the wider Physical Infrastructure Design chapter material focuses on the design principles and methodologies behind Neighbourhood Public Square, context about the site, approaches to its phasing from land acquisition to deep retrofit and beyond and insights into the social-ecological outcomes of key spaces, recognising that the tangibility of physical infrastructure is where everything else converges.

Building on the previous scheme by Architecture 00 in 2019, this now reflects our depth and breadth of learnings since then and the urgency of responding to the changing social-ecological context we find ourselves in five years on, as we take the next practical steps of co-building the Neighbourhood Public Square openly and intentionally alongside our visionary design team, including Architecture 00 and Material Cultures.

Open Version Available For Download
Physical Infrastructure Design Chapter.pdf — March 2024

↗ A Full .pdf Of This Chapter Complete With Architecture Plans Is Available For Potential Investors + Collaborators. Please Contact immy@civicsquare.cc To Request A Copy.

Public Infrastructure Design is one chapter of the Neighbourhood Public Square publication, co-authored and co-built by CIVIC SQUARE.

The Neighbourhood Public Square seeks to demonstrate regenerative civic infrastructure at the heart of Ladywood, Birmingham, co-building and democratising access to the spaces, tools and resources for a bold, imaginative, distributed transition, held in common with the neighbourhood.

Within our wider work it represents a significant demonstrator for many layers of regenerative redesign around land stewardship, finance, governance, as well as building design, construction and retrofit. The focus of this is to discover the capacities and capabilities required for neighbourhood transitions in an ambitious, emergent and participatory way.

At the heart of this, the fundamental enquiry that we are continually seeking to build out, experiment with, prototype and nurture the possibility for remains, for us to answer courageously, boldly and tangibly together in the here and now:

What if the climate transition and retrofit of our homes and streets were designed, owned and governed by the people who live there?

In March 2023 our writings on Refounding CIVIC SQUARE 2.0 framed the context of our wider learnings from the first three years at CIVIC SQUARE, and the pivots that COVID-19 required us to make. This was particularly true for our core physical infrastructure demonstrator — the Neighbourhood Public Square.

Over the last year, we have reorientated and stepped into the next stages of tangible design from all we have been learning together with our peers and neighbourhoods, from the Neighbourhood Doughnut to activating on our streets to reimagine retrofit. We are working alongside visionary collaborators to build our design team and wider ecosystem in this demonstrator. Together, we are deeply committed to meeting the scale and breadth of the polycrisis, designing for future challenges and abundant possibilities ahead, including what climate predictions mean for the criticality of neighbourhood civic infrastructure.

Co-authored February 2023 — March 2024, this new publication reflects our progress, learning and insights at this time, and seeks to:

  • Open source research, reflection and proposition about the time we are in, the urgency of our collective action, and some blueprints for ways forward at the civic infrastructure and neighbourhood scale in collaboration with a range of visionary partners. We also recognise the risk of this, and offer principles to engage with the work respectfully.
  • Situate CIVIC SQUARE within a wider ecology of practice. Whilst we focus specifically on our work, starting with humility from where we are, we invite and recognise we can only thrive when there is collective investment and plural approaches beyond one organisation. We must acknowledge the scale of discovery, momentum, collective resistance and propositional demonstration requires all of us.
  • Answer a number of key questions rigorously that are cyclically requested within philanthropy and we believe keep us all stuck. We hope to push us all collectively beyond these, and towards transformative practice, together, in order to actively and thoughtfully meet the moment.
  • Invite a range of investments in CIVIC SQUARE’s Neighbourhood Public Square demonstrator from those looking to redistribute wealth into deep skills, curiosity and knowledges needed to build out the bold ideas within this proposal. This sits alongside complementary existing work, and understands that physical infrastructure is foundational to unlocking and nurturing the wisdoms, capacities and capabilities that already exist in our neighbourhoods, as well as cultivating new ones.

We warmly welcome you to follow along with this publication, through which we will be humbly and actively sharing everything that we can in the open as we go over the next few months, working out loud wherever possible along the way. This is an open invitation into conversations that require many of us, from many vantage points, and we hope you will build upon, discuss and share this as an open and generative provocation, and one that is designed to be distributed.

Neighbourhood Public Square in Ladywood, Birmingham | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

“Infrastructure, at its most fundamental level, is not about roads and bridges, cables and concrete. It’s about who we are, what we value, and what kind of society we want to create.”

— Eric Klinenberg

Neighbourhood Public Square will demonstrate regenerative civic infrastructure in the heart of Ladywood, Birmingham, co-building and democratising access to the spaces, tools and resources for a distributed and regenerative transition, held in common for the neighbourhood.

Since creating our previous physical infrastructure design scheme with Architecture 00 in 2019, we now know in more detail, with more modelling, more relationships and even more urgency the importance of establishing the conditions for longer term Neighbourhood Public Square demonstration and the retrofit of the CIVIC SQUARE site in Ladywood, Birmingham UK with a focus on rapid, equitable transition. This transformation of a 20th century industrial site into 21st century regenerative infrastructure will be a demonstrator for many layers of the deep redesign required, including finance, refurbishment, ecological building design and avoidance of demolition and retrofit, seeking to break ground to benefit those who follow after us, for many decades to come.

“You are at the meeting point of community (existing and future), public sector (lost and ineffective) and private sector (desperate not to get bad rep but wants to make money). What is interesting is how you will navigate all that creatively to create a better future for Ladywood.

The challenge you are addressing is: How do incumbent communities benefit from the vast inflow of resources which comes with a development like this? What are the economic, ownership and governance models which allow distributive-by-design solutions (as Kate Raworth would have it) to work, flowing a fair share of the resources to public value and the least well off? That’s a big challenge.

If you can find a model that cracks that you are solving a problem that communities face around the world, so Neighbourhood Public Square could be a really valuable model. The other thing is whether or not you succeed in terms of your development and the team will be fantastic learning, out of which will come all sorts of things we cannot yet predict.”

— Charlie Leadbeater, 2019

We have always understood physical infrastructure as the convergence point of all other layers of our work; where it becomes tangible, given form, and live entangled presence. We know that, amongst other things, outcomes and life expectancy can vary greatly depending on the services and social infrastructure you find in your community, making neighbourhood civic spaces far more than the sum of their parts.

↗ Read more in The Role Of New Infrastructures in Endowing The Future

Beyond its physical structure, whether or not Neighbourhood Public Square plays a continued and resilient infrastructural role in the neighbourhood in perpetuity is determined by how we get there together, the bonds that form between each of the many people and parts of the story, and how we distribute as many tools, resources, forms of infrastructure and learnings as we can along the way together, with a regenerative building one that, in the simplest terms, “generates more life”.

Artist Impression Of Neighbourhood Public Square As Viewed From The Top Of The Ramp
by Caspar Gruetzner at Architecture00

Key ideas to establish Neighbourhood Public Square with the most regenerative relationships to land, material and people as possible include:

  • The Neighbourhood Public Square calls for at least some of the wealth held by philanthropic institutional and individual wealth-holders being moved to ‘real-world endowments’. This involves moving endowments outside of extractive financial markets (which exacerbate the symptoms we are all trying to address) and into real world civic assets that can generate a multi-capital surplus (rather than purely a focus the financial returns) which can then be stewarded by community governance (rather than by institutions further from the problem space). → Find out more in Endowing The Future
  • The Neighbourhood Public Square will demonstrate the stewardship of assets in the context of the devastation of 3ºC futures, discovering the new public goods of what it means for us to build them, and eventually have them stewarded by people who live there in perpetuity for future generations. We not only need infrastructure to be in the hands of people, but that infrastructure also needs to start being orientated towards conditions for true anti-fragility in our changing climate. → Find out more in 3ºC Neighbourhood
  • The Neighbourhood Public Square must be founded upon a land agreement intentionally designed for regenerative relationships of all kinds: specifically a perpetual Doughnut Economics-inspired land covenant that enshrines the social and ecological provision of the site in perpetuity, thus the land and infrastructure of Neighbourhood Public Square will be held in common, and designed to distribute many kinds of value. → Find out more in Phases
  • The Neighbourhood Public Square will reuse existing structures, utilise biomaterials from our ecoregion, minimise energy consumption to cultivate circular regenerative supply chains and act in an infrastructural capacity to enable the wider built environment transition of the neighbourhood. → Find out more in Design Principles

Along with what becomes possible on the Neighbourhood Public Square site itself, our solidarity and connection to social and ecological struggles in our neighbourhood, wider city and beyond is total and unwavering. This document is first and foremost meeting a structural story of the civic infrastructure that we all need, not only writing a CIVIC SQUARE one. Our work is in service of the much wider structural shifts that we are fighting for together; that we have to continue to fight for, for all of us, locally and across the world. As our friends at Healing Justice London remind us; we get free together.

We will continue to support and stand shoulder to shoulder with organisers fighting for interconnected spatial, social, ecological and economic justice in the here and now, as well as design what we are able to achieve together in the longer term to benefit present and future movements to keep infrastructure in community hands, stop demolition, and prepare for the worst 3ºC futures we may face, whilst designing for the best of us too; all that can be far more beautiful than we could ever imagine today.

Artist Impression Of Neighbourhood Public Square As Viewed From Rotton Park Street
by Somewhere / UNIFORM Group

The work we have done and continue and aspire to do, in enabling neighbourhood-scale demonstrators, sits alongside ground-breaking initiatives in our own and other cities, including but not limited to:

The Neighbourhood Public Square will have practical relevance to both Neighbourhood Doughnut and Neighbourhood Transitions demonstrators, the wider city and neighbourhood who will co-build and co-steward it most directly. Just as neighbourhood GPs represented democratic shifts in access to public healthcare at the end of the war with the founding of the NHS, so is the significance of neighbourhood infrastructure in this time of deep transition and transformation, and the need to shorten the discovery and proving period for public goods to meet the urgency of this moment.

↗ Read more in the Endowing The Future chapter

The scale and scope of crisis means that no single actor alone could address what is needed. We require the power of all of us, including neighbours, streets, grassroots groups, local private sector, local VCSE (Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise) sector and local public institutions in addition to structures operating at larger scales.

We need philanthropy to endow its resources, possibilities, assets and imagination, not only to avert the worst of the current trajectories, but to seed just, regenerative, and distributive futures, that can invite the wisdom, creativity, energy and drive of us all.

We need to reimagine our relationships with the land beneath our feet, the materials around us, and to each other.

We need to be great enough to see the challenge, and rise to it together.

We invite you to explore the physical infrastructure design of Neighbourhood Public Square through this lens, starting from the underlying principles and methodologies that will form the foundations for the other layers of the Neighbourhood Public Square to be possible.

1 | Foundations

Whilst we understand many systems to be interconnected and all crucial to an ongoing redesign, time and time again we return to the roots: the land and our economic systems, the transformation of which will continue to form the foundation of our demonstration. They are the fundamental underlying causes of the hard-wired, deeply embedded rules and rights to extract that are codified into the platforms of our lives and democracies.

How we think and feel about them, and our subsequent actions, create and surface the many thousands of symptoms so many are now frantically working on — as described poetically by Thoreau in the 1800s: “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one, who is striking at the root.” The roots anchoring our world in social injustice and ecological harm are not simply technical problems to be solved by others such as the government; they are also challenges for culture and our own collective will as people — shaped by each of us, how we relate to our inner selves, our neighbours, society and the living world we are all a part of.

“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make, and could just as easily make differently.”

David Graeber

Each one of us is acting within patterns of relationship and behaviours that are either aligned to the dominant economic story of homo economicus (Rational Economic Man), or can be part of a new system arising founded on reciprocity, interdependence, and being deeply embedded within the ecosystems that support us. It is therefore vital that we actively orientate our postures, gifts and relationships towards a new shared goal of thriving in balance — as Doughnut Economics creates the compass for — to design as intentionally as we can, humbly learning and iterating as we go.

1.1

Design Principles

“The trick with design principles is not to see them as if law, as if a set of un-bending, precise strictures which must be followed at all costs, or ticked off like checklists. I prefer to see them as ingredients, like the ‘staples’ that sit under the Masterchef kitchen benches: the oils, vinegars, seasoning, fats, herbs and spices that you can combine and recombine, challenged with new ingredients and contexts, to create many different kinds of dish, old and new.

These principles should provide a clear sense of direction, but they should also be broadly generative, and applicable to a variety of contexts.”

Dan Hill, Working with Brian Eno on design principles for streets

The following Design Principles have been developed to align and communicate the larger values, perspectives, and frameworks that underpin the collaboration of our design team, contractors, peers, neighbours and more as we establish the foundations for regenerative distributive-by-design neighbourhood civic infrastructure together.

Neighbourhood Public Square Design Principles

Jump To

↗ Design with the Ecoregion
↗ Design for Reuse
↗ Design for Radical Reimagination
↗ Design to Distribute
↗ Design for Neighbourhood Stewardship
↗ Design for Adaptability
↗ Design for Social-Ecological Regeneration
↗ Design to Demonstrate

Co-creating Unfired Clay Bricks Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.1

Design With The Ecoregion

How do we consider and respond to existing ecological systems including biodiversity, geology, hydrology, landforms, and all other nuanced conditions that constitute the natural world?

“In 2019 we mined, dug and blasted more materials from the earth’s surface than the sum total of everything we extracted from the dawn of humanity.”

Ed Conway

We know that dominant construction methods depend heavily on extractive global supply chains, prioritising the development of the Global North at the material and social cost of the Global South, while simultaneously releasing enormous quantities of greenhouse gases into the planetary commons of our atmosphere.

↗ This is outlined in more detail in +1.5°C Is A New Age Of Imperialism in the 3ºC Neighbourhood chapter.

To meaningfully shift from degenerative by default to regenerative by design practice, we are seeking to take an ecoregional approach to as many design interventions as possible: from the supply of food and textiles, to the production of our built fabric.

Le Magasin Électrique, Arles, France

A building precedent that we take inspiration from in this regard is Le Magasin Électrique. Guided by a ‘bioregional approach’, this renovation of a former railway repair depot prioritised the proximity of resources, local expertise, employment and sustainability, seeking to demonstrate how existing under-valued local resources could be reimagined, reassembled and reconfigured to contribute to the bioregion’s adaptation to changing social and environmental conditions. The retrofit utilised a range of unique, locally sourced biomass, including sunflower pulp, Japanese knotweed, salt, and rammed demolition debris.

The project commenced with a comprehensive survey of the bioregion, mapping its resources, industries and waste streams, identifying flows of materials, labour, skills, and local knowledge. They focused especially on local ‘waste streams’ to incorporate into the building materials.

↗ Read more about the co-benefits unlocked through La Magasin Életrique designing with this principle in our forthcoming Radical Precedents chapter.

When we refer to the ecoregion specifically, we mean a measurable ecological network; larger than a watershed but smaller than a bioregion. To put this into context, 844 terrestrial ecoregion divisions were determined by Dinerstein et al. in 2017, compared to the 185 bioregions within the world’s biogeographical realm as proposed by One Earth.

846 Global Ecoregions Captured In The RESOLVE Ecoregions Dataset

Note: We recognise that such definitions are contextual and shift according to emerging theory and practice. In other contexts this term may be used interchangeably with a wider philosophy of ‘bioregionalism’, which typically refers to a more synthesised understanding of social-ecological interdependence, however, we’d like to remain specific and deliberate about our usage of this term, and this choice of terminology best reflects our current intention and comprehension.

As relatively large areas of land, ecoregions have characteristic flora, fauna and climatic conditions that can span across various watersheds with similar plants and animals. However they are determined by analysing the composition and distribution of both biological and physical phenomena, aka biotic (material that originates from living organisms, most of which contain carbon and are capable of decay) as well as abiotic (non-living chemical and physical parts of the environment that affect living organisms and the functioning of ecosystems).

Celtic Broadleaf Forests Ecoregion Map
Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

By adopting a principle of designing with the ecoregion, we ground our design practice in complex intersecting conditions including soils, geology, hydrology, vegetation, landforms, wildlife and beyond. It requires a nuanced understanding of the regenerative ecological cycles of our place, to guide us in which natural materials we may safely tap into without degrading ecosystems, and how biomass and production waste streams may be coordinated according to social need and planetary boundaries.

We therefore also use the preposition “with” intentionally in this principle, positioning ourselves within and as part of our symbiotic ecological relationships, taking postures for mutual flourishing, without biassing a falsely binary social or ecological ‘trade off’.

“We need time and space to study the Land, build our ecological knowledge, and to be in symbiotic Kinship with the Land. Therefore, we must advocate for our Land Back and redirect our time from capitalism to Kinship. Our great return to the Land will be rooted in ecology, the study of our home.”

Araceli Camargo

↗ Read more from Araceli in Can we transition from Economy to Ecology? as part of our Reimagining Economic Possibilities essay series.

↗ Read more about avoiding ‘shallow ecology’ value systems in the Local-Ecological lens of our Neighbourhood Doughnut Data Portrait of Place, led by Irena Bauman.

↗ Explore more about reimagining our relationship to land, material and each other through Retrofit Reimagined.

→ Read more below about how we are putting this principle into action through employing a Ecoregional Mapping design methodology.

↗ Find out more and explore your ecoregion using this tool: ecoregions.appspot.com

Material Reuse Hub Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.2

Design For Reuse

How do we identify and design to meet opportunities for strategic reuse to break the socially and ecologically destructive cycles of perpetual extraction and demolition?

“Improved design and building techniques will produce highly efficient new buildings, but more than 85% of today’s buildings are likely to still be in use in 2050. [We are examining] potential renovation activities that could improve the sustainability of existing buildings and the implications for embedded greenhouse gas emissions and resource use.”

European Environment Agency

In the scope of addressing carbon emissions, built environment sectors have typically privileged a focus on operational carbon over embodied carbon. Operational carbon only accounts for the emissions incurred whilst a building is operational, whereas embodied carbon refers to the emissions incurred throughout the whole life cycle of a building, including materials, transportation, construction, operational life, repair, maintenance, end of life and beyond.

This has resulted in a disproportionate focus on the development of new buildings with high standards of energy efficiency over the reuse and adaptation of existing buildings. The inherent problem of such an approach is that it does not take into account the enormous embodied carbon cost of demolition and new building, let alone consider further impacts on other planetary boundaries such as biodiversity lost from new material extraction.

How System Boundaries Play Out In Construction: The Possibility For Reuse And The Foreclosure Of Waste
System Boundaries According To EN 15804/EN

↗ More about the implausibility of looking at transition with ‘carbon tunnel vision, i.e. not addressing the systemic extraction and overuse of natural resources, is discussed in The Current Energy Transition Isn’t Viable in the 3ºC Neighbourhood chapter.

As it stands, the UK’s carbon budget is 2.32 GtCO₂e, meaning we will need around a 20% reduction each year between now and 2050. This is based on The Paris Agreement global carbon budget, and with a 83% chance of remaining below +1.5ºC, and meeting 2030 reduction targets. This is a more ambitious target than many budget calculations, often based on 50% likelihood, but one we are advocating for.

↗ Other calculations of the UK’s remaining carbon budget that reflect the stolen time and carbon budget from countries that it has historically oppressed and impoverished are presented in +1.5°C Is A New Age Of Imperialism in the 3ºC Neighbourhood chapter.

Even today’s lowest carbon, bespoke new build homes have a footprint of around 150 kgCO₂e/m², more than fifteen times what every new home will need to be in 2030. If we are to meet our most ambitious climate targets, in the built environment sector alone we will need to drop that footprint to 6.3kg, a fraction of even the best performing house today. Without profoundly transforming how we design, build, use, re-use, and live with the built environment around us, the +1.5ºC threshold is only a few years away. Put simply, we do not have the carbon budget or materials available not to adopt a principle of reuse in a way that can and must transform us.

Degenerative to Regenerative Supply Chains — Create To Regenerate diagram by DEAL

“Take — make — use — lose is a one-way system that runs counter to the living world. This century calls for economic thinking that unleashes the potential of regenerative design in order to create a circular, not linear, economy — and to restore ourselves as full participants in Earth’s cyclical processes of life.”

Kate Raworth

By adopting a principle of design for reuse, we can ensure that the amount of new materials required for the deep retrofit of the Neighbourhood Public Square is minimised, thus reducing the building’s dependence on socially and ecologically degenerative supply chains.

A building precedent that we take inspiration from in this regard is The Rediscovery Centre; a strong retrofit precedent with its refurbishment of a derelict district heating boiler house into a new social resource centre, incorporating its original steel structure and concrete slabs. Working within a wider demolition context, the project team sought to demonstrate the best practice in resource management, particularly the ecological value associated with the building’s structural, fabric and content reuse.

The Rediscovery Centre, Ballymun, Dublin

Beyond the principle of maximising use of existing materials which could be left in-situ, a material hierarchy underpinned The Rediscovery Centre’s material decisions:

  1. Reused materials resulting from the partial demolition of the old boiler house
  2. Building materials and construction waste available locally from other demolition or construction projects
  3. Sustainable, natural, renewable materials or those manufactured from recycled waste
  4. Materials with excellent thermal performance, low embodied carbon and environmental impact

Described as a combined effort that spanned the creative expertise of the architects, construction contractors and engineers, together the aim was to design waste out from the process.

↗ Read more about learnings, alongside limitations and contradictions, drawn from The Rediscovery Centre retrofit in our forthcoming Building Precedents chapter.

The Neighbourhood Public Square, through new material reduction and an ambitious retrofit to EnerPHit standard, will prioritise the most significant reduction of its embodied carbon and energy requirements throughout the whole life cycle of the building.

“The way we work has to change completely,
as well as the materials we work with.”

Summer Islam, Material Cultures

This principle also acknowledges the postures, behaviours and practical logistics of what it means to design for reuse to be possible and most effective, including the importance of active relationships and presence within our ecoregion, ability to experiment with, adapt and evolve our designs to utilise materials as they become available, the necessary knowledge, space and time to store them, and so much more.

Design For Reuse principle embodied in Neighbourhood Trade School classes

As we continue to be inspired by and learn so much from those organising and exchanging as a natural part of neighbourhood life, past and present, we acknowledge the importance of drawing upon the existing collective wisdoms, creativity and ingenuity of our neighbourhood(s), and their natural ability to connect, circulate and share resources, skills, care and more in reciprocal ways. Learning infrastructure such as Neighbourhood Trade School can resource and strengthen this further, which becomes particularly important as pressures on people continue to increase, and the spaces to come together and exchange in these ways continue to be lost. For example, in order to meet emerging financial recovery plans, Birmingham City Council is expected to sell over £750 million of assets, including 11 of the city’s remaining community centres.

↗ Read more about the role of civic infrastructure in relational, economic and material regeneration in The Role Of New Infrastructures in the Endowing The Future chapter.

↗ As just one of many great examples of reuse locally, discover Jericho Wood Shack and their ReUsers store in Sutton Coldfield, as documented in the Good News of B16.

→ Read more below about how we are putting this principle into action through employing Climatic Forecasting, Ecoregional Mapping and Regenerative Intervention Strategy design methodologies.

Making With Mycelium Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.3

Design For Radical Reimagination

How do we create the conditions to look beyond everyday challenges and status quo bias to imagine radical new futures for one another, and our homes?

“As we face up to material constraints, we’ll need to discover new immaterial abundances. The degrowth of material, energy and extraction could be accompanied by a growth in care, maintenance, participation, collective intelligence, new forms of logistics and virtual, augmented and other immaterial assets. To accomplish this will require investment in intangible, immaterial infrastructures.”

A New European Bauhaus Economy, 2023

Across the UK, multiple environmental and economic factors act as everyday stressors on the health of ourselves and our neighbours.

The disproportionate impact of these stressors manifests in biological inequities, defined by Centric Lab as “systematic, unfair, and avoidable stress-related biological differences which increase risk of disease, observed between social groups of a population”.

Data & Justice Deep Dive with Centric Lab at Regenerative Neighbourhoods Festival, July 2022 | BII Map of Birmingham

According to the Biological Inequities Index (BII), Ladywood has a score of 16 out of a maximum score of 20 — with 20 being the worst score for negative health outcomes. This data therefore indicates a significant presence of environmental factors associated with a range of heightened negative health outcomes across the Ladywood constituency.

↗ Read more in the Health dimension of the local-social lens in the Neighbourhood Doughnut Data Portrait of Place.

In our neighbourhood’s context of significant biological inequity, we can expect increased levels of stress hormones as a result of chronic exposure to environmental and psychosocial stressors.

This not only impacts the health outcomes of neighbours but also restricts our collective ability to imagine alternative futures and outcomes. We know that when people are subject to multiple stressors and social pressures, their everyday priorities tend towards survival and subsistence, rather than operating within a state of curiosity, exploration, and reimagination.

Retrofit Reimagined in Moseley Road Baths, Birmingham, September 2023 | Link Road Catwalk: A Dream Fund Commission by Gavin Rogers + Eric Scutaro

In order to collectively transition from extractive to regenerative political economic systems, neighbourhood creative capacity is fundamentally necessary and must be urgently rebuilt from the grassroots-up.

“Why are we having a crisis of the imagination in 2020 when our survival depends on our imagination to reimagine and rebuild everything? We’re in a perfect storm of media, politics, austerity; anxiety and trauma, that is causing our imagination to shrink when we need it to expand.”

Rob Hopkins

As a principle, therefore, Design for Radical Reimagination invites us to consider how the design of our places and practices work to mitigate the stressors limiting our imaginative capacity, while simultaneously building infrastructures of agency to unlock the possibilities in our neighbourhoods.

Olivia Oldham describes this further in the Imagination Infrastructuring vision as: “The imagination is defined by Yusoff & Gabrys (2011) as a way “of seeing, sensing, thinking, dreaming” that creates “the conditions for material interventions in, and political sensibilities of the world.” It is a “site of interplay between the material and the perceptual — a site for framing, contesting, bringing into being. Imagination is thus a transformative practice, which has the capacity to cultivate and foster alternatives to social, political, cultural and economic conditions; it is a prerequisite for changing the world for the better.”

In our own work, this has manifested through organising such as Department of Dreams, Re_Festival, Retrofit Reimagined, and multiple rounds of the Dream Fund, including specific fund most recently for street-based interventions on Link Road, which seeks to resource many people to explore and reimagine how our dreams of regenerative futures can be brought into the here and now in tangible ways in our places.

In our wider ecosystem, we acknowledge countless examples of designing for radical reimagination in practice, including but by no means limited to, The Spatial Imagination by MAIA, Emerging Futures Fund and Imagination Infrastructuring with Cassie Robinson, More Than Human Futures by Superflux, Radicle Civics by Dark Matter Labs, Imagination Sundial by Rob Shorter, Bold Dreams For Our Future by New Constellations, Time Rebels by CoLab Dudley (inspired by the work of Roman Krznaric), UNTITLED, From What Is To What If by Rob Hopkins, Play Prompts by Freedom & Balance, PLAYBOX by Emma Bearman, and the work of Angie Tangarae.

↗ For further reading, The Matter of Dreams: 2020–2021 looks at how the Department of Dreams and Dream Fund emerged, its design, early work, tools and our reflections on the necessity for imagination infrastructure.

Basic Tools Skills Class Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.4

Design To Distribute

How do we ensure widespread access to the spaces, tools, resources and infrastructures for a bold, imaginative, distributed transition, held in common with the neighbourhood?

We know that the magnitude of the climate and ecological crises means that everyone has a role to play in working towards just and regenerative economies. The vast majority of our learning and knowledge infrastructures, however, are coordinated according to the values and outcomes of our incumbent fossil fuel- and extraction-dependent political economy.

As shared by Scott McAulay from the Anthropocene Architecture School, for every 1 job in oil and gas we will need to transition towards 3 jobs in clean energy and 77 jobs in domestic retrofit. These figures (Climate Justice Coalition, 2022; Passivhaus Trust, 2020; UKEITI, 2020) demonstrate how the distribution of knowledge to achieve skills for transition must be a key priority for the outcomes of our design work.

As such, our design must strive to be fundamentally distributive — to ensure access and effectiveness, and to secure outcomes at the scale necessary for systemic transformation. Designing to distribute will manifest through multiple approaches in the Neighbourhood Public Square; including open-sourcing our learnings throughout the process, skills sharing, co-design, and understanding our Site As A Classroom.

→ Read more in 3 | Phases.

Over the past 5 years of organising as CIVIC SQUARE, we have been inspired by countless green shoots of distributive design within our existing neighbourhood and wider ecosystems. WeCanMake x Better Block Front Garden Retrofit Kits have been distributed across the neighbourhood and partner cities in the UK, leading to new initiatives led by neighbours themselves, and a whole host of stories and learning to inform the ongoing design of the kits, demonstrated through a Library of Social Infrastructure.

WeCanMake x Better Block Front Garden Retrofit Kits distributing agency over the built environment in neighbourhoods

“Everyone has a role to play in the climate crisis.”

Youba Sokona

WeCanMake have also developed an acupunctural housing model for Knowle West in Bristol that equips residents to understand and contribute to the design and building of their homes.

We may also identify numerous examples of distributive design throughout history to inspire contemporary work. Notably, the Walter Segal housing systems demonstrated how, through accessible and collaborative design, residents may understand and coordinate the assembly and construction of their own neighbourhoods. This approach led to the creation of the Walter’s Way and Segal Close neighbourhood in the 1980s. Later, the ‘Segal Method’ was updated and deployed in the construction of Nubia Way in 1997 by the Black-led self-build co-operative, Fusions Jameen.

‘The Segal Method’ Of Self-Build Construction Drawing in The Architectural Review

You may recognise this Design To Distribute principle as one of the Seven Ways To Think Like A 21st Century Economist from Doughnut Economics.

“Economies that are divisive by default must become distributive by design. That means going beyond redistributing income to redistributing wealth too, especially the wealth that comes from controlling land, controlling money creation, controlling technology and ideas.”

— Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth articulates that higher levels of inequality go hand in hand with ecological degradation. This is partly because social inequality fuels competition and consumption, but also because inequality damages community connections and trust: the foundations of the collective action needed to organise around social-ecological regeneration together.

“When people say: ‘You live the commons, you cannot talk about them, and even less theorise them’, I imagine that is because of the difficulty to give words to such a powerful and rare experience is that of being part of something larger than our individual lives… But words are necessary, especially for those of us who live in areas where social relations have been almost completely disarticulated.”

Silvia Federici, Re-enchanting world: feminism and the politics of the commons

At the heart of the operating model for Neighbourhood Public Square is a multi-economy approach that seeks to nurture a perpetual cycle of
neighbourhood and civic wealth creation through collective governance frameworks. This includes designing for reparative and regenerative divestment from financial markets into civic assets. We plan to invest surplus generated from programmes into a neighbourhood-level perpetual quadratic granting pool in order to harness the power of collective action for participatory and proactive change within our community.

A wide range of work and interventions can be supported, from Reimagining Neighbourhood Fundamentals as described in 3ºC Neighbourhood, to infrastructure improvements and social, ecological and cultural initiatives, so that the multifaceted hopes and needs of people across the neighbourhood are met. This approach will build from our experience running micro-granting schemes such as the Dream Fund, collaborating in Resourcing Racial Justice, as well as designing a street based quadratic granting approach with Dark Matter Labs as part of Neighbourhood Transitions.

↗ Find out more about the endowment of neighbourhoods to unlock and discover the capacities, capabilities and knowledges required for the people who live there to co-lead a courageous, bold and urgent transition, held in common in the Endowing The Future chapter.

→ Read about how the social-ecological covenant as part of the land acquisition for the Neighbourhood Public Square to be held in common with the neighbourhood will support distribution in 3 | Phases.

↗ Explore the Design To Distribute chapter of Doughnut Economics through our interactive miro world, created by Mona Ebdrup as part of our Doughnut Economics Peer-To-Peer Learning Journeys, co-hosted with Huddlecraft in 2022.

B16 Lunch Co-design Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.5

Design For Neighbourhood Stewardship

How do we respond to the need for long-term and resilient stewardship of neighbourhood civic space beyond conventional 20th century models?

As we have learned locally and globally, the resilience of public and civic space depends largely on how we underwrite their relationship to the land beneath them. In our neighbourhood, we have learned directly from two very different stories of civic assets in the community, both located on the banks of the nearby Edgbaston Reservoir: Tower Ballroom and Birmingham Settlement’s Edgbaston Reservoir Nature & Wellbeing Centre.

Fans of Harvest gather outside the Tower Ballroom in 1979 | Tower Ballroom demolition begins in 2022 after a 150-year strong history

1.1.5.1 | Tower Ballroom

Tower Ballroom opened in 1876 and began life as a roller skating rink before eventually converting to a dance hall in 1920 and finally operating in a more multi-functional capacity from 2000 to facilitate everything from weddings to boxing matches. New Order, one of the biggest bands of the decade, played there three times, and on the third occasion in 1986 they were supported by The Wonder Stuff and The Happy Mondays, with boxers Dick Turpin and Muhammad Ali both also visiting the inner city venue.

The Tower closed its doors in 2017 and was earmarked for demolition and housing development as part of Birmingham City Council’s Edgbaston Reservoir Masterplan. The demolition and development were strongly contested by a number of neighbourhood groups including Edgbaston Reservoir Collaborative (ERCO) and Friends of Edgbaston Reservoir.

Despite strong campaigning and alternative proposals to retrofit the site, the Tower Ballroom was sadly demolished in 2022. The future of the site remains unclear and, as of early 2024, the land itself has been listed for private sale, with organising from residents to protect the social-ecological sanctity of the reservoir ongoing, with our full solidarity and support.

The Tower Ballroom can be read as a cautionary precedent for contemporary civic infrastructure, one that informs us of the precarity of commodified land ownership without a long-term constituted provision for the future, the effects of which are ongoing, creating further threat of social and ecological degradation in our neighbourhood in how decisions are made and the future of the site is to be stewarded.

↗ Watch the Dreaming Tower Ballroom film, delving into the rich heritage of the Tower Ballroom, by Bertz Associates and Iconic Productions

1.1.5.2 | Edgbaston Reservoir Nature & Wellbeing Centre

Located just across the reservoir from the former Tower Ballroom site, Edgbaston Reservoir Nature & Wellbeing Centre offers a vision of long-term resilience. The land was originally owned by industrial pen-maker Joseph Gillott who placed a covenant on the land to ensure it would remain in community use in perpetuity.

Birmingham Settlement, one of the city’s oldest charities founded in 1899 by social reform activists, is now the sole steward of the land and has ensured the communal spirit of the site has been preserved through numerous social initiatives — from the community cafe to nature clubs — and the creation of the Nature & Wellbeing Centre.

The Red Shed, built on site in 2021, also boasts energy-saving triple glazing, with thick walls made of a clay block that uses recycled newspaper as insulation and a ground-source heat pump, using low carbon materials around some of the timber sheathing and cladding, and clay -based plaster.

“Long term care of the urban realm is the most important, but least celebrated aspects of contemporary city making. While many awards programmes endorse exciting new buildings, public spaces and infrastructure, the critical ongoing work of repairing, refurbishing and maintaining the city goes unrewarded.”

Open City

From the two very different endings to these stories, we can tangibly appreciate the importance of establishing the Neighbourhood Public Square according to a progressive land contract, ensuring a continued and resilient infrastructural role in the neighbourhood in perpetuity.

We see, therefore, that stewardship of our urban realm relies just as much on the constitution of our relationship to the land as it depends upon the governance structures of stewardship itself. As such, a core design principle for the Neighbourhood Public Square is to ensure that both layers of design stewardship are prioritised — neighbourhood civic infrastructure as a relationship to land, and as a relationship to one another.

Rainwater Capture Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.6

Design For Adaptability

How do we adapt to the scenarios modelled in our 3°C Neighbourhood research, from providing shelter from extreme weather events to facilitating emerging hyperlocal governance?

As laid out in both 3ºC Neighbourhood and Ladywood Climate Study, we can state with high levels of confidence that we are moving towards a climatic context of more frequent extreme weather events and increasing instability across broad-ranging social dimensions including food security, housing, freshwater availability and beyond.

This means that, despite our most careful planning and research, there will be numerous future outcomes that we cannot foresee with adequate resolution. With this in mind, adaptability in design becomes a principle of paramount value as we consider how the built environment may respond to a context of cascading instability.

Adaptation in design is not easily captured through any individual approach, framework, or method, rather it is a formal embodiment of contingency planning. Explained by architectural academic Jeremy Till, “It means that things might be otherwise, how the best-laid plans are disrupted by multiple events that unfold in space and how one allows, denies or accommodates those unknowns.” (Till, 2018).

In this way we will work together towards a Neighbourhood Public Square that embodies spatial anti-fragility; not only in a material sense, but also in a programmatic sense, as we embrace the reality that the site may need to perform emerging functions beyond the scope of our existing proposal.

From Complex Adaptive Systems: A Short Guide, Si

“Architecture, we imagine, is permanent. And so our buildings thwart us. Because they discount time, they misuse time… Almost no buildings adapt well. They’re designed not to adapt; also budgeted and financed not to, constructed not to, administered not to, maintained not to, regulated and taxed not to, even remodelled not to. But all buildings (except monuments) adapt anyway, however poorly, because the usages in and around them are changing constantly.”

Stewart Brand, How Buildings Learn

The principle of adaptability in design has recently been formalised into the Rhythmic Buildings framework by van Ellen et al in 2021. Within this work, three categorisations of adaptability are defined: adaptability to people’s needs; adaptability to our environment; and adaptability to the economy. A truly adaptive design must therefore take into account all domains of adaptability to ensure social and ecological resilience.

Framework For Adaptable Architecture And Rhythmic Buildings | Rhythmic Buildings - A Framework For Sustainable Adaptable Architecture. Van Ellen, L., Bridgens, B., Burford, N., & Heidrich, O. (2021).

Here we share precedents which indicate how each category of adaptation may be achieved:

Environmental Adaptability
The design of Nest We Grow allows for multiple microclimates to be achieved throughout the building.

↗ Discover Nest We Grow

Societal Adaptability
Floating e. V. incorporates lightweight and demountable construction so that it can adapt to an evolving curriculum and programmatic requirements.

↗ Read more in the forthcoming Radical Precedents chapter

Economic Adaptability
The Rediscovery Centre is a retrofitted industrial building that provides educational infrastructure for a circular economy, allowing productive processes to adapt to emerging economic requirements.

↗ Read more in the forthcoming Radical Precedents chapter

Upcycling Planters Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.7

Design For Social-Ecological Regeneration

How do we go beyond the ‘do less bad’ framing of mitigation, and identify opportunities for regeneration of social-ecological conditions?

To truly design in ways that are appropriate to the challenges of the 21st century, it will be necessary to go beyond slowing the degenerative outcomes of our work, and into active contribution to the restoration and flourishing of ecological conditions and the thriving of all people.

When discussing the social and ecological impacts of design and the built environment, standards and accreditations tend to prioritise a framing of mitigation or, put simply, ‘doing less bad’. However, in order to rise to the challenges and abundant possibilities ahead in our neighbourhoods it is essential to establish an ambition for our work to be both socially and ecologically regenerative in all areas.

From Mitigation To Regeneration In Design. Illustration Adapted From Bill Reed

This ambition requires appropriate tools and frameworks to help us orientate, and measure our progress. The Doughnut offers a compass for the goal of the economy as a safe and just space for humanity to prosper within the means of the living planet. Building on this work, The Doughnut for Urban Development provides a framework specifically addressing the regenerative potential for the built environment across 96 social and ecological impact areas.

These impact areas indicate routes that built environment design may take to ensure that we go beyond mitigation baselines of ‘Minimum Safeguards’ and even ‘Do No Significant Harm’ and instead seek to define ‘Significant Contributions’ to the regenerative outcomes of urban development:

Source: The Doughnut For Urban Development

“The focus is not just on reducing negative impacts — rather, positivity becomes a core value, and the question: How can the project contribute to regenerating the Earth system, both locally and globally? becomes an essential goal.”

The Doughnut for Urban Development

Straw Retrofit Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.1.8

Design To Demonstrate

How do we demonstrate pathways towards just and regenerative systems for wider contexts beyond the sites of change we have direct influence over?

We understand that no individual design intervention, no matter how bold and ambitious, can turn the tide of our incumbent political economic system and its foundational drive towards capital accumulation above all else. To address these structural conditions, it will be necessary for social-political movements to compel fundamental change at the scale of the nation and planet. This is not to say, however, that design has no role in the transition from incumbent systems to regenerative emergent systems.

“When a complex system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence in a sea of chaos have the capacity to shift the entire system to a higher order.”

— Illya Prigogine

Design has the potential to recast our understanding of what is possible and broaden the horizons of the outcomes we are collectively organising to meet. The principle of Design To Demonstrate therefore allows us to view design interventions not as silver bullets, but as proofs of concept for radical systemic change, as ‘islands of coherence’ in a collective endeavour to secure a safe, just, thriving economy for people and planet.

Micro-Site Housing Development By WeCanMake | Photo By Ibolya Feher

We are inspired by the demonstrations of WeCanMake and The Portland Inn Project. WeCanMake is based in Knowle West, Bristol and works to address local housing needs by developing micro-sites and placing their new housing development into a Community Land Trust. This work is conducted alongside neighbours using accessible modular construction methods, demonstrating the potential for neighbourhoods to meet their own housing needs without dependence on large developers or the government.

In Stoke-on-Trent, The Portland Inn Project are working to convert the Portland Inn Pub into a site for community cohesion and locally-led development through a Community Asset Transfer. The project aims to demonstrate the methods through which the people who live there may have agency of their own social and ecological needs, resulting in a wide variety of projects across mediums and scales.

We are also particularly informed by the work of Dan Hill and Designing Missions which outlines the effectiveness of demonstrator projects conducted by Vinnova in Sweden. Through this work, we can see the effectiveness of demonstrator projects from the scale of parklets to larger infrastructural demonstrator projects, such as the ambition of the Neighbourhood Public Square.

1.2

Design Methodology

In order to practically develop the proposal, implementation, and stewardship of the Neighbourhood Public Square in ways that embody these intentions, our Design Methodology outlines the specific approaches that have been implemented to put our Design Principles into practice.

When engaging in any construction project, it is important to critically acknowledge that typical processes of building procurement are fundamentally embedded in, and indeed form the cornerstones of, our incumbent political-economic systems of social and ecological extraction. Within this context, reviewing and challenging dominant methods of urban development and design practice is paramount to ensure that our work does not inadvertently reproduce the extractive logics upon which hegemonic development practices are founded.

Precedents Visit To The Enterprise Centre with Architype (May 2024) | Kwajo Tweneboa Speaking At Retrofit Reimagined At The Building Centre (September 2023)

This critical appraisal was informed by a broad range of influences: namely our own experiences of living, working, and growing in urban spaces routinely devastated by neoliberal policies; the built environment expertise of our partners at Architecture 00, Material Cultures and Architype; the industry-shifting coalition of built environment practitioners assembled throughout Retrofit Reimagined; and the extensive research undertaken to form our chapters on Radical Precedents, 3ºC Neighbourhood, and Ladywood Climate Study.

The resulting synthesis has produced a design methodology which seeks to demonstrate an urban development founded upon regenerative social and ecological principles; one that is rooted in the thriving of people and wider ecosystems in our neighbourhood, whilst simultaneously acting as a unit of a wider transition for all people and the whole planet.

The Neighbourhood Public Square design methodology can be understood through five key methods:

Jump To

↗ Climatic Forecasting — 3°C Neighbourhood
↗ Ecoregional Mapping — Material Cultures Research
↗ Social-Ecological Analysis — Neighbourhood Doughnut
↗ Regenerative Intervention Strategy — Doughnut For Urban Development
↗ Participatory Co-Production — The Front Room

In this section we will unpack how each stage of this ongoing methodology has been developed and practiced, referencing precedents from our ecosystem and reading to evidence the role of these emerging design methodologies as part of a wider transition.

Alongside Confronting The Consequences Of A Warmer Planet, We Need To Actively Reimagine How Our Neighbourhoods And Economies Function | Illustration by Carlos Peñalver

1.2.1

3°C Neighbourhood

Climatic Forecasting

“We can ultimately control how much warming the world experiences, based on our choices as a society, and as a planet. Doom is not inevitable.”

— Zeke Hausfather

The Method: Climatic forecasting lays out the fundamental conditions that any infrastructural project must consider to ensure long-term resilience according to best- and worst- case scenarios. Taking responsibility for designing for the best while preparing for the outcomes of a high emissions scenario, we used climatic forecasting to understand some of the worst-case future contexts for the Neighbourhood Public Square to tackle.

In this way, our research worked to understand the current risks UK urban neighbourhoods face over this century due to climate and ecological breakdown under a high emissions scenario, the likely result of which will be a rise in average global temperature of 3ºC. In addition to understanding direct ecological risk, the climatic research outlined in more in the wider Neighbourhood Public Square proposal works to capture secondary, tertiary, and systemic risks brought on by climatic shifts.

Full 3ºC Neighbourhood Chapter.pdf — March 2024

In Practice: Our climatic analysis has been conducted primarily through the Ladywood Climate Study led by Kavita Purohit, and our 3°C Neighbourhood research in collaboration with Dark Matter Labs.

The findings from 3°C Neighbourhood provided some of the core parameters that the design of the Neighbourhood Public Square must address and respond to in order to fulfil its infrastructural role in the neighbourhood, in particularly identifying risks of more frequent extreme heat; food and water insecurity; climate migration; rising costs of living and more that we must prepare for together.

Lived Experiences of +3ºC in UK Neighbourhoods by 2100 | Source: Kevin Anderson, Met Office

Following on from work by Dark Matter Labs outlining the foundational shifts needed for a future regenerative economy in the built environment, together we propose six Reimagined Neighbourhood Fundamentals that look to highlight possible ideas for shifting how we build, organise, and own our neighbourhoods. These shifts for the Neighbourhood Public Square and the wider neighbourhood(s) we sit within are detailed below:

  • Regenerative Resources
    Rewiring neighbourhood resource flows to encourage longevity, bio-materials and reuse as a default
  • Renewable Energy Systems
    Building the physical and institutional infrastructure for just local energy transitions
  • Retrofit & Densification
    Supporting neighbourhoods to maximise the space and materials that already exist
  • Recoding Comfort
    Creating the civic infrastructure and building standards for a hotter and wetter climate
  • Rewilding The Neighbourhood
    Finding opportunities for supporting civic-led blue and green infrastructure
  • Re-infrastructuring
    Rebuilding the social and organisational networks for a more unpredictable world

↗ Read more in the 3°C Neighbourhood chapter.

1.2.2

Material Cultures Research

Ecoregional Mapping

“Whenever we build, we either contribute to or counteract dominant processes of change. It is incredibly clear that the industrialised ways of making buildings with concrete, steel, and petrochemicals that came to dominate construction in the 20th century are changing the world in ways that are profoundly damaging, not only at the site of construction but across a vast network of sites of material extraction, processing, transportation, and warehousing.”

Material Cultures

The Method: Ecoregional mapping represents a key method through which the Neighbourhood Public Square will define both its material strategy and its place within existing and emergent supply chains. We are conducting our ecoregional mapping study in partnership with Material Cultures, a not-for-profit architecture practice working towards a post-carbon built environment through prototypical biomaterial construction methods.

This process aims to specify two key procurement opportunities for the site design: firstly, to identify locally sourced natural materials which may be incorporated into the technical design phase of the building; secondly, to analyse existing production and material waste streams in the region and identify how the site design may integrate such materials into the productive processes of the site.

Conducting our design processes according to an awareness of the material and productive cycles of our ecoregion will ensure that the Neighbourhood Public Square demonstrator may embody the highest level of ambition, not only through its own design, but also in the supply chains and material pathways that the demonstrator unlocks and reinforces.

Material Mapping for Neighbourhood Public Square, Material Cultures

In Practice: Although our ecoregional mapping work with Material Cultures is ongoing, we have already begun to gain a clearer understanding of the material and productive landscape that the Neighbourhood Public Square sits within. The material mapping work above indicates the key sites in our region that offer a variety of material opportunities to the Neighbourhood Public Square and wider neighbourhood.

Materials Matrix, Material Cultures

In addition to mapping these opportunities, Material Cultures have also developed a Materials Matrix — a systemic approach to categorising available materials according to key variables necessary to consider as part of the material specification process for our physical infrastructure design. Above you can see the Materials Matrix sorting potential material choices according to factors such as distance, u-value (how effective a material is an insulator), and global warming potential.

↗ Join our material mapping report launch and showcase in Birmingham together with Material Cultures on Thursday 5th September 2024.

1.2.3

Neighbourhood Doughnut

Social-Ecological Analysis

”Narratives that help explain where a community is, where it wants to go and how it intends to get there are an important enabler of transformation.”

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Chapter 17

The Method: The intention behind social-ecological analysis is to generate an understanding of how existing and prospective social conditions align and intersect with ecological health in the neighbourhood(s) around us.

To help explore big questions such as: What does meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet mean for the neighbourhoods where we live?, Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) created the Doughnut Unrolled tool to take us from the big goal of the Doughnut (a human(e) economy thriving in socially just and ecologically safe harmony) to four ‘lenses’ that allow us to explore the interplay between local aspirations and global responsibilities in our places, both ecologically and socially.

Neighbourhood Doughnut Resources Based On DEAL’s Doughnut Unrolled: Four Lenses Tool

The four lenses have been helpful and connected starting points for us coming together in as many convivial, dynamic, rigorous ways as possible with many people in their places over the last 6 years, including peer-to-peer learning journeys with hundreds of peers from across the UK, contributions and exchanges within an international commons, and countless rooted interactions big and small closer to home.

→ For some of the ways we took the four lenses methodology off the pages and into our neighbourhood, explore Participatory Co-Production — The Front Room in more detail below.

In Practice: In the wider scope of the Neighbourhood Public Square design process, visualising social-ecological interdependencies and trade-offs in this way has proved essential to making sense of the complex interplay between human and beyond-human flourishing in our neighbourhood.

The four lenses methodology made it possible to craft and co-create the first Doughnut Portrait Of Place orchestrated at the neighbourhood scale in the world, through which we brought together many different types of knowledge as part of long-term rooted collective work in our neighbourhood, with the result comprised of both a Data Portrait Of Place and a Community Portrait Of Place.

“Both hard and soft evidence is used, thereby avoiding the common trap of giving preference to the quantitative above all else, which is especially dangerous when working in areas of knowledge where reliable measurements do not yet exist or data is overwhelming.”

Helsinki Design Lab, Recipes for Systemic Change

The Data Portrait of Place is more directly derived from the DEAL methodology and associated tools launched in February 2022, and followed after the Climate Action Leeds team launching the Leeds Doughnut, which was a game-changer for our work. We were privileged to build a research collective together with Catriona Rawsthorne, Irena Bauman and Jenni Brooks to take the Neighbourhood Doughnut Data Portrait of Place further following their involvement with Leeds Doughnut, with Catriona Rawsthorne later joining our team at CIVIC SQUARE to continue applications of the Doughnut in our the long term work through the Neighbourhood Public Square.

↗ See findings from our own Data Portrait Of Place in A Data Snapshot of the Neighbourhood in the Neighbourhood section of this chapter.

Co-created 2020–2022, our Community Portrait Of Place was more about rich stories and a methodology that began to outline typologies of these entry points, and why we chose them. It wasn’t necessarily designed from the four lenses of the Doughnut Unrolled up, but these rather became a means through which we could richly synthesise the learnings, insights and deeply held knowledge in our neighbourhood towards a multi-dimensional, plural collective picture, starting from where we are, together, in everyday, deeply relational ways, whilst simultaneously orienting and mobilising towards co-building the futures we dream of.

This multi-faceted understanding has allowed us to develop practices grown from the four lenses tool by DEAL that open up opportunities for many people to map the connections between their lives and the world around them — indicating opportunities for social, civic, and climate infrastructure to build the regenerative capacity of these wider systems.

↗ Explore more about how we have been working with Doughnut Economics in practice in the forthcoming Doughnut As A Compass chapter

Social And Ecological Impact Areas Of Urban Development, The Doughnut For Urban Development

1.2.4

Doughnut for Urban Development

Regenerative Intervention Strategy

“Urban development has a choice to move away from destroying, degrading, polluting, and fragmenting natural habitat and biodiversity, and instead choose to design for clean outdoor air, regenerate ecosystems and implement ambitious nature-based solutions.”

The Doughnut for Urban Development

The Method: To ensure that the previous methods are implemented effectively through the design of the Neighbourhood Public Square, it is necessary to utilise a rigorous and holistic target-setting and monitoring design framework.

For this, we have been working with the Doughnut for Urban Development published by Home.Earth to understand the multi-faceted and cascading impacts that the physical and relational infrastructure of the Neighbourhood Public Square site will have on social and ecological conditions locally and globally. Co-authored by an extensive multidisciplinary team, the Doughnut for Urban Development, builds upon Doughnut Economics Action Lab’s work to specifically explore the question: what does the vision of the Doughnut mean for the urban spaces and built environments within which we live, work and play?

By utilising this framework, as a design team we are better able to identify opportunities for regenerative interventions and practices the site may enable. This has manifested in two key outputs from the Neighbourhood Public Square design process: designing according to regenerative co-benefits and establishing a Doughnut Dashboard for our site and the neighbourhood.

In Practice: Our work to design according to regenerative outcomes and co-benefits has been held in collaboration with Architecture 00. In this pursuit, we have mapped the Doughnut for Urban Development’s 96 social and ecological impact areas to identify which design interventions the Neighbourhood Public Square may focus on in order to yield the most regenerative co-benefits and design outcomes. This was also deployed by Dark Matter Labs in connection to identifying the Reimagining Neighbourhood Fundamentals, as outlined in 3ºC Neighbourhood.

The Doughnut Dashboard will be developed in collaboration with Architype to act as a holistic social-ecological compass for the Neighbourhood Public Square and the wider neighbourhood. Through combining the Doughnut for Urban Development’s impact areas with dimensions from our own Neighbourhood Doughnut (which uses the DEAL methodology, with a few additions of our own) the Doughnut Dashboard will establish a framework for ongoing nuanced monitoring of our building performance and the outcomes of neighbourhood governance and interventions on our wider urban context.

The Floating Front Room As A Neighbourhood Cafe (2020) | IPCC Zine Studio At The Big Lunch (June 2022)

1.2.5

The Front Room

Participatory Co-Production

“Democracy must begin at home, and its home is the neighbourly community.”

Eric Klinenberg

Method: At the heart of our approach to working in Birmingham for the last decade has been a deep set of open, human(e), humble values that focus on working with many people at the speed of trust, whilst inspiring action on the urgency and scale of transition needed.

Considering CIVIC SQUARE’s embedded role as part of Ladywood for the long term, participatory co-production is an organic method through which the process of designing, building, and stewarding the Neighbourhood Public Square is invitational, practised in the open, and fosters meaningful relationships for past, present and future neighbours to co-lead social, ecological, economic and climate transition together.

The first phase of CIVIC SQUARE was the beginning of an ambitious, long-term neighbourhood platform, taking heartfelt inspiration from home and heritage. Based on the significance of the front room of the home in so many cultures and communities, particularly those who immigrated to the UK in the 60s and 70s, from local savings groups to cooperative childcare, the front room has traditionally been a place where so many families and communities have grown their collective resilience, often in challenging times, as well as a place to express their social and cultural values.

1. The Floating Front Room As A Neighbourhood Meeting Place (2020) | 2. Planting A Neighbourhood Grow Room At The Big Lunch (June 2022)
3. Room To Grow On St. Vincent Street W As Part Of Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-Creation Week #4 (June 2022)
4. Storymaking With Pyn Stockman | 5. Solar PV Demo

Activated in focus in 2020, The Front Room in our work operated as an initial 3 year prototype designed to transition into the full CIVIC SQUARE proposal in 2022, acting as a physically-embedded example of the deeper, longer-term theory of change in practice. This included demonstrating a culture of being part of a network of affordable, welcoming spaces, large and small, formal and informal across the neighbourhood, in call and response with one another as part of a creative and participatory ecosystem, with neighbourhood, city, national and global relationships.

The Front Room has been the means through which to test, learn and grow smaller examples of each of the areas of the Neighbourhood Public Square, building upon learning and changing context. We will continue to utilise The Front Room as a methodology to ensure the Neighbourhood Public Square as a demonstrator is imagined, grown, and co-owned by the neighbourhood, creating the conditions for neighbours and ‘extended family’ to prototype, experiment, dream, co-design, co- create and co-build together, with a role for everyone, for generations to come.

Handmade Welcome Banner at Retrofit Reimagined, Glasgow (November 2023) | Neighbourhood Supper Club at Midland Sailing Club (April 2024)

In practice: The Front Room now maintains a methodology of designing for an open, inclusive ‘front door’ into CIVIC SQUARE that resources first and ongoing experiences of welcoming and being welcomed into all aspects of our work.

As we saw throughout Impact Hub Birmingham’s lifespan and now across our first five years of CIVIC SQUARE, people have experienced and engaged in countless different ways. Some journeys begin first with a coffee at The Floating Front Room or Neighbourhood Trade School, seeking connection with others locally, whilst others engage with something like Retrofit Reimagined and the big ideas and may discover more about the space and community through that deep work. The Front Room in practice understands all entry points and interactions are meaningful, valid and connected to the wider mission, which can run deeply and deliberately through people’s reason for being there, or be found as more of an unexpected feeling — of worth and trust, of safety, of not being alone, of dignity, equality, creativity, possibility and hope.

A. Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-creations Week #4: A Role For Everyone
B. Four Lenses Walkshops
C. Neighbourhood Science
D. Neighbourhood Mapping at Cultures In Common
E. Thermography Parties
F. Street In The Doughnut Video Game, Commissioned By The Space

A small handful of the participatory design methods we have utilised as pathways from the enabling conditions of The Front Room include:

Co-Creation Weeks
As part of the Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-creation Lab we hosted four dynamic weeks over the course of a year to co-author the first Neighbourhood Doughnut Portrait of Place together with many people from across the neighbourhood and beyond, launched in October 2022.

Find out more about Co-creation Weeks

Four Lenses Walkshops
Shared journeys around the neighbourhood unpacking history, influences, and outcomes of the built environment, utilising the DEAL four lenses framework to explore connections between outcomes across social, ecological, local, and global quadrants.

↗ Read more in our Neighbourhood Doughnut Portrait Launch DEAL story

Neighbourhood Science
Building upon the methodology of citizen science, Neighbourhood Science equip neighbours to get out in the field and strengthen their literacy and agency towards a deeper relationship to the environmental conditions of their places, using creativity, curiosity, and play to discover together how we can use our superpowers to defend the planetary boundaries.

Explore Neighbourhood Science

Neighbourhood Mapping
Documenting the collective experience and knowledge of our communities as it relates to place, starting from where we are.

Thermography Parties
Hosting house and neighbourhood tours to build a better understanding of energy efficiency in our built environment using FLIR cameras.

Future Visioning
Through a range of visualisation tools, from comic books to virtual reality, we have identified and represented a range of future outcomes for neighbours to explore to inform our collective work and processes.

↗ Discover more methods of organising in the Community Portrait of Place as part of our Neighbourhood Doughnut Workbook v1.0

↗ We have taken inspiration from methods and tools developed by Doughnut Economics Action Lab, Centric Lab, Carbon Co-Op, Architecture Sans Frontieres, to name a few, so be sure to explore their work directly.

2 | Site

2.1

A Brief History

The Neighbourhood Public Square site is situated on Icknield Port Loop in Ladywood, an inner-city district of West Birmingham. Prior to industrialisation and the construction of the canal system, the area was known as Rotton Park, an open area of grassland used predominantly for deer hunting. With the emergence of industrial production and infrastructure from the mid-18th century, a foundational political-economic transition transformed the land into a dense urban centre operating as an industrial core for the British Empire.

Workshops, factories, sawmills, glassworks, tubeworks, stables, and boat yards grew around the new infrastructure that linked Icknield Loop to the city centre by a 1km section of the Main Line Canal. During this period, housing was developed nearby to accommodate the workers required to operate and maintain the emerging industrial systems of the city. In 1932, the City of Birmingham Salvage Department, which collected, sorted, and burned the city’s refuse, opened what is now the Tubeworks site.

By the end of the 20th century, Birmingham’s large-scale manufacturing began to decline as the United Kingdom began to operate primarily as a service economy, enforcing factory work and production increasingly upon global south nations to ensure maximum profitability for global north enterprise. As such, industrial labour and space found themselves increasingly dispossessed in Birmingham and, indeed, all industrial centres of the UK. The shift from an industrial to a service economy led to increased unemployment and derelict spaces in the city with minimal investment.

The site itself was no exception to these processes; from 2000 to the present, Icknield Port has seen the gradual clearing of the site with light industrial uses occupying the buildings that remain. The main space, Tubeworks, has reportedly had a number of meanwhile uses throughout this period including as an Amazon storage facility and even as a film set.

The Factory | The Depot, Iknield Port Loop (2019)

2.2

Data Snapshot Of The Neighbourhood

From looking at the data gathered through the Neighbourhood Doughnut Data Portrait of Place, we can say with a fairly high degree of confidence that we are not meeting the needs of our own place, our collective responsibilities to each other or working within ecological boundaries.

In this section are selected extracts from our Neighbourhood Doughnut Portrait, published in October 2022. Discover the portrait in full at:
bit.ly/DoughnutPortrait

2.2.1
Local-Social

2.2.1.1 | Health
Ladywood has a high level of biological inequity, with a median Biological Inequity Index (BII) score of 16 out of a possible 20, where 0 is the lowest level of biological inequity and 20 is the highest (Centric Lab, 2022).

2.2.1.2 | Food
In January 2021, across Birmingham, 2.3% of adults experienced hunger because they didn’t have enough to eat; 11.8% struggled to access food; and, 12.4% of adults were worried about having enough food (Moretti et al., 2022).

2.2.1.3 | Housing
In 2021, there were 31,800 homes (63%) in Ladywood constituency with an EPC rating of D or lower. (Energy Efficient Infrastructure Group (EEIG, 2021). Using the threshold of all housing being EPC Band C or higher, our neighbourhood currently falls significantly below this. To reach this target, 63% of homes in Ladywood would need energy efficiency improvements.

2.2.1.4 | Social Equity
According to the 2019 IMD rankings for England, the Ladywood constituency is ranked the 7th highest for multiple deprivation, which is also the second highest of Birmingham’s ten parliamentary constituencies. Within Ladywood, 45 of the total 72 Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) are considered ‘highly deprived’ according to the IMD. That puts 63% of the areas in Ladywood within the top 10% of most deprived areas in England (House of Commons Library, 2019).

2.2.1.5 | Energy
In 2019, 23.1% (11,770 households) of the Ladywood constituency were in fuel poverty, just higher than the 21% of all households across Birmingham. Ladywood is the 9th highest constituency for fuel poverty in England. With the safe and just threshold of zero fuel poverty in Ladywood, the constituency currently falls short for Energy by a considerable 23%.

2.2.2
Local-Ecological

2.2.2.1 | House Biodiversity
Ladywood is scored at 0.33 (with the best score being 0.18 and worst score being 0.43, see figure below for all Birmingham context) on the Environmental Justice Index for Birmingham (BCC, 2022). Birmingham West locality is designated as a growth area in the Birmingham Development Plan (Birmingham City Council 2017), and so biodiversity in Ladywood is likely to come under further pressure.

2.2.2.2 | Regulate Temperature
Although there is significant investment into Ladywood for green and blue infrastructure, this is not evenly distributed and often found in the most affluent parts of Ladywood constituency, with many residential streets from the lesser affluent areas not even containing one tree. One such road is Link Road, and the connecting road, Summerfield Crescent, has a total of 1 tree on it, and that is in a resident’s front garden.

2.2.2.3 | Harvest Energy
According to a 2011 study, only 0.8% of Birmingham’s energy is generated within the city. The majority of this energy comes from the waste-to-energy plant at Tyseley Energy Park and from on-site generation at industrial sites. These sites typically use waste to generate electricity and process heat. (Birmingham Energy Strategy, 2010)

2.2.2.4 | Build & Protect Soil
The soil in Ladywood ward is varied, with seasonal wetness, slightly acidic but base-rich composition, and both loamy and clay textures. Whilst moderately fertile, it may have varied and impeded drainage. Additionally, it is likely that much of the soil, as well as the air across the city, is contaminated with heavy metal deposits (Atkins Ltd, 2009).

2.2.2.5 | Cleanse Water
In Birmingham, Hockley Brook scored ‘moderate’ for ecological indicators and failed on chemical indicators in 2019. Birmingham has come ninth in a list of the world’s best cities for sustainable water management.

Activating The Site

Since transitioning from Impact Hub Birmingham to CIVIC SQUARE in 2019, we have been working to activate the public South Loop Park with everyday organising and immersive celebrations, before first inviting neighbours to imagine possibilities together for the Factory building from inside its walls in November 2021. From the start of this process, we have been sure to move at the speed of trust, including meeting with elders and community organisers in the area long before arriving on site.

This organising has helped to bring the Neighbourhood Public Square site into public use with a range of neighbourhood interventions; from growing food and running skills workshops, to hosting speakers and guests to share dreams for the future of our places and the wider economy they sit as part of. This process has has allowed the vision for the Neighbourhood Public Square to become socialised amongst neighbours, local authorities, and visitors from around the world, emerging at the national and international scale as a recognised demonstrator project long before it opens its doors.

Ladywood Residents Dinner, Impact Hub Birmingham (2019)

3.2.1 | Ladywood Dinner
Impact Hub Birmingham (2019)

As part of over a decade of work in the city, particularly over the last 5 years we have continued building relationships and trust across a range of residents, projects and organisations in Ladywood and the local area across our team and community networks.

“My hopes for Ladywood are that it becomes a go-to place and loses its stigma; that we can change the ‘no hope’ spirit to hope.”

We had introduced the ideas and worked together with community members in a range of ways, including our housing and childcare mission areas, but brought these conversations together by inviting residents, organisations and community members young and old to a special dinner at Impact Hub Birmingham.

“Ladywood is a tough, loud crowd. Well done for engaging with it deeply.”

We were joined by an amazing group of people, from those working on small-scale community projects to those who have run groundbreaking organisations and businesses in the area for the last 25 years.

“I want more recognition of the Black community’s contribution to Ladywood.”

As well as beginning to foster collaboration and work together to co-design CIVIC SQUARE, we invited critique, worries and to ultimately to hear whether people wanted our involvement in the vision for this site in the neighbourhood to go ahead.

“Listen to the local community. We want planting spaces, involvement with lcoal schools, real creative play spaces, innovative ideas with recycling.”

In the many intersecting communities and cultures within our founding team, the insights and respect for ancestors are key to moving forward, so we asked the elders and existing community activists in the neighbourhood for their permission and wisdom around whether or not to pursue the Port Loop site, with some of the insights that were generously shared continuing to provide guidance, strength and courage years later, as well as ongoing dialogues and the honour of building together for the long term.

“If you don’t get the lease on Port Loop, please don’t give up on Ladywood.”

Play Out ’Til Tea, South Loop Park (June 2019)

3.2.2 | Play Out ’Til Tea
South Loop Park (2019)

We produced a fun day of free family friendly activity on Sunday 21st July 2019 to mark the opening of the new public South Loop Park at Port Loop in Birmingham. This was both to test the relationship with Urban Splash, looking at what it meant for us to make parts of the Port Loop manifesto a reality with residents old and new, whilst experimenting with how this felt for ourselves and existing residents of the neighbourhood. More than 1000 people attended the event, with extremely positive feedback, lots of learning of local politics, with many walking to the site from the local area.

As well as conversations in person and a barrage of tweets from attendees during and following the event, we commissioned local illustrator Jimmy Rogers to creative an interactive illustration, asking people to contribute ideas of what they think makes a good neighbour, and to share their earliest memory of play if they felt comfortable. The result was a playful mural, gathering together the impressions of local people and guests.

3.2.3 | The Floating Front Room
South Loop Park (2020–2022)

a place to come together, organise and grow resilience
a place of respect and nobility, to welcome and be welcomed
a place to safely express, share and nurture what’s important to us
a place to celebrate, to grow, to reflect and to grieve together

Originally intended as a precursor to the development of The Front Room cafe space as part of the Neighbourhood Public Square, we began working and hosting from The Barge on the adjacent canal at South Loop Park, anticipating activating it for community lunches, dinners, screenings and space to meet. As part of pivoting in the COVID-19 pandemic, which began shortly after we set up on board, we first utilised The Barge as a base from which to cultivate our new and existing neighbourhood relationships, and consistently and actively hosted here for 3 years.

Affectionately known as The Floating Front Room, this quickly established itself as an important meeting point in the area to connect neighbours together, acting as hub for noble hosting, mutual aid, and dreaming possibilities for the site together, as well as attracting visitors from across the city and beyond. The Floating Front Room enabled us to practice and refine what it means to create a space of welcome, care and connection in all seasons and conditions and adapt this across many aspects of our work, as well as learn about the impact and repercussions on neighbourhood relationships when care standards are not well maintained.

After 2022, the hospitality and condition-setting of The Floating Front Room function showed up in a number of different sites in our work across the neighbourhood as part of temporary pop-ups, directly supporting mission-related activity such as how we host spaces such as Neighbourhood Trade School, Neighbourhood Supper Club and more, as we shifted practical focus to prioritise the work needed to co-build the Neighbourhood Public Square as long term regenerative infrastructure.

→ Read more in Participatory Co-Production — The Front Room

3.2.4 | Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-creation Week #2:
A Safe And Just Space For The Neighbourhood
CIVIC SQUARE Studio (November 2021)

As part of the second Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-creation Week, we opened up the invitation for the first chance to spend time together in the physical space that will become home to Neighbourhood Public Square, through a 7 day open studio context based inside the Factory building.

Activities included early stage conversations about decarbonising our neighbourhoods through interventions such as neighbourhood retrofit,

This very special week was felt as a significant moment in history for this site and the wider neighbourhood to imagine what this place might be together, who we might all be here, and how we imagine our wider neighbourhood to be in 2030 too.

↗ Explore Co-creation Week #2: A Safe And Just Space For The Neighbourhood as part of the Neighbourhood Doughnut Co-creation Lab

3.2.5 | #BeyondBooks: Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan + Jason Reynolds ++
CIVIC SQUARE Studio (March 2022 — )

Beyond Books acknowledges and treasures space for reading, lending, purchasing and discussing what books are, have been and could be to us. Following on from countless book talks to packed audiences at Impact Hub Birmingham, and operating a neighbourhood book share and events from South Loop Park in 2020 and 2021, it was a special experience having the first of many Beyond Books events inside the Factory building itself, including Farzana Kkan in conversation with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan around her book Tangled In Terror: Uprotting Islamophobia, and Casey Bailey in conversation with Jason Reynolds on Oxygen Mask: A Graphic Novel.

Watch Farzana Khan in conversation with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan
Watch Casey Bailey in conversation with Jason Reynolds

The space also held DIY screenings of locally produced films such as Dreaming Tower Ballroom, alongside titles curated around dimensions of the Doughnut, such as We The Power and The Ants and The Grasshopper.

3.2.6 | Regenerative Neighbourhoods Festival: Dreaming Green Buildings
CIVIC SQUARE Studio (July 2022)

As part of our Regenerative Neighbourhood Festival, we welcomed Green Building MSc students and alumni from the Centre for Alternative Technology guide, inspire and provoke our imaginations. They hosted our team and neighbours to dream up the possibilities of what environmentally conscious, energy efficient, sustainable design realities might look like in our building.

From natural materials, to solar thermal, water source heat pumps, green roofs, insulation techniques, sustainable urban drainage and more, this increased our understanding of the true potential that retrofitted industrial buildings can have for neighbourhoods. We were also joined by Sue Riddlestone, founder of Bioregional and one of the co-founders behind BEDZed and heard more about the story of one of the UK’s first low carbon large scale mixed use developments.

3.2.6 | The B16 Lunch 2023
CIVIC SQUARE Studio + South Loop Park (August 2023)

Continuing an annual tradition of hosting our own take on ‘The Big Lunch’ in South Loop Park, as part of our fourth event we hosted a Neighbourhood Public Square exhibition inside the Factory space, including open enquiry questions around how the space would be used, sharing visualisations, updates, research, inviting ideas, questions and fears around the financing and governance of the site, and a radical hospitality workshop with MAIA.

Through a range of connected talks activating the space and further conversations around finance, governance, we heard from from Harry Naylor of Karis Neighbour Scheme, Kate Smith of Slow Food Birmingham, Gary Law of Burton ReRun, Melissa Mean from WeCanMake, Farzana Khan of Healing Justice London, Sham Murad of A is For Activism and Scott McAulay of Anthropocene Architecture School.

3.2.7 | Welcome To Site As A Classroom
CIVIC SQUARE Courtyard (May 2024)

In May 2024, we hosted our Welcome To The Site As A Classroom week, retrofitting our on-site polytunnel together with our friends at MJM Bespoke and JB Solar. Here we created a space to discover and manifest possibilities for the future of the Neighbourhood Public Square, along with our homes, streets and the wider neighbourhood, in the here and now.

From building water capture systems and honing tool skills to create planters, to learning about how solar panels could power the neighbourhood, the week facilitated opportunities to discover, test and create together as we explored big ideas in practical, tangible ways, with a role for everyone, and no previous experience required.

3.2.8 | Neighbourhood Public Square Supper Club
Midland Sailing Club (May 2024)

As part of our wider Site As A Classroom activation during May half term, this special edition of Supper Club was a more specific invitation to share in the next part of the story for CIVIC SQUARE as a physical site, as we take the next practical steps of co-building the Neighbourhood Public Square openly and intentionally with all who want to join, following 5 years of focused listening, learning, experimenting, co-creating, dreaming and resisting in the neighbourhood together, within a longer arc of building, organising and visioning as part of wider ecosystems and movements in the city.

In addition to the warm welcome and a chance to exchange over a nourishing meal that this monthly space is known for, the May Supper Club invited neighbours to explore the roles they can play in the next chapter of Neighbourhood Public Square, how this is situated in the collective journey with so many neighbours so far, and how we work together towards the shared goal of retrofitting the Icknield Port Loop site to be held in common for the neighbourhood for generations to come.

3.2.9 | Radical Building Precedents Visits
The Entopia Building, Cambrige + The Enterprise Centre, Norwich ++
(May 2024 — )

In order to support the design process and expand the evidence base for the Neighbourhood Public Square, CIVIC SQUARE organised visits to a selection of our Radical Building Precedents. In May 2024, we visited two projects by our design team partner, Architype — the Entopia Building in Cambridge and the Enterprise Centre in Norwich.

On these trips, we are looking in particular to identify how our Radical Building Precedents are meeting regenerative design principles, are stewarded by and operating in alignment with their communities and neighbourhoods, and how they are working to demonstrate the need for wider economic transitions beyond the local scale.

3.2.10 | Material Matter[s] Learning Journey
CIVIC SQUARE Courtyard
(May 2024 — )

Material Matter[s] is a hands-on, practical collective learning journey to fundamentally reimagine our relationship with materials and the systems that govern their production, distribution and end-of-life through a lens of material justice.

Hosted as a partnership between CIVIC SQUARE and Material Cultures, this learning journey is for people interested in learning the practical skills to embody and enact the regenerative material transition of our homes, streets and neighbourhoods to support a socially just and ecologically safe planet for all life.

The Material Matters learning journey is designed to open up this research and create a space for us to work out loud together. Running from May to September 2024, over four months we will learn together through dynamic exchanges with a range of peers from across the UK.

↗ Learn more about the Material Matter[s] learning journey

3 | Phases

Updated from our 2019 scheme, the phasing of Neighbourhood Public Square is designed to maximise generative co-benefits at every stage of the process and manifest our design principles in a variety of interconnected ways, including how to drive community wealth at the heart of the neighbourhood and generate energy as early as possible, and establishing resources and tools that can support the phases that follow later.

In our previous phasing logic, The Front Room Cafe + Community Kitchen was planned as the first space to open its doors, acting as welcoming from doorway in and initial prototype that would transition both physically out across the full Neighbourhood Public Square site, as well as hold a range of learnings to distribute. This still matters as much as ever, however — as outlined in Activating The Site — we tested this infrastructure in an adapted way together in South Loop Park through The Floating Front Room, as an operational neighbourhood cafe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

It goes without saying that a lot has changed since 2019. The deep retrofit phase now prioritises the Microfactory, Materials Lab, and Neighbourhood Print Studio in order for the Neighbourhood Public Square to be a working site at the heart of the neighbourhood as soon as possible, operating as a practical hub for making and organising, enhancing productive capacity; embedding regenerative knowledge and skills; and building the pathways towards both local adaptation and mitigation, informed by learnings from 3°C Neighbourhood, Retrofit Reimagined, Site As A Classroom and more.

→ Find out more about the Microfactory and all key spaces in 4 | Spaces

Neighbourhood Public Square Phasing Overview
Welcome To Site As A Classroom Week (May 2024)

3.0

Site As A Classroom

Throughout all phases of the Neighbourhood Public Square, we will be working to embody the values and principles of our Site As A classroom. Our intention is for every development phase to act as an open, inclusive, and collective space for our team, the neighbourhood, and wider national and industrial scales to learn from the ongoing demonstration of the Neighbourhood Public Square in real-time, as well as how we learn from what the site, ecoregion, neighbourhood, peers, precedents can continue to teach us, without end.

“Informal learning that takes place outside of school settings, such as in libraries and botanical gardens, in everyday life is increasingly recognised as a key arena for climate education, life-long learning and nurturing environmental citizenship and activism.”

Paraskeva-Hadjichambi et al. (2020), IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, pg. 947

Ongoing as a foundational multi-faceted practice in the years and decades ahead, establishing the Site As A Classroom together more intentionally now as we take the next practical steps of co-building the Neighbourhood Public Square openly and intentionally is a way we can continue a collective practice of learning in a myriad of ways throughout the process of putting the land into a neighbourhood covenant for social-ecological benefit, and the deep retrofit and co-build of the Neighbourhood Public Square, including what we need to collectively learn, decide, and practice around how it is designed, built, stewarded and financed. As a working site, it will continue to be an active evolving demonstrator for its lifetime for all who live, work, visit, play, learn and grow here, with near limitless potential opportunities to share and learn on-site, as well as what we can demonstrate and make possible for many other neighbourhoods around the world together, for future generations to pick up and take further.

This builds on so many experiences we’ve shared with you all, including Doughnut Economics Peer-To-Peer Learning Journeys, Ecological Health in Neighbourhoods, Neighbourhood Trade School, Retrofit Reimagined, learning from Centre For Alternative Technology, The Rediscovery Centre, Le Magasin Électrique, Ubele Initiative, Freedom & Balance, and countless others, and we openly invite you to bring your own examples for us to continually study and build upon practically together.

In particular, we have initially identified three key scales that the Site As A Classroom may operate at in order to indicate some of the different layers of possibility we intend to cultivate and give space to emerge.

Generous Waste at Co-creation Week #4 in South Loop Park | Front Garden Retrofit Kit Co-Build at The B16 Lunch (June 2022)

3.0.1
Site As A Classroom — Peer-To-Peer

In the everyday, the Site As A Classroom will facilitate collective learning, visioning, and mutual aid in the neighbourhood. Examples at this scale include neighbours sharing skills and knowledge through Neighbourhood Trade School classes, cooking, eating and caring together in the building, and wider learning infrastructure interventions on the building site, such as mapping those with current construction skills in the neighbourhood. In this way, the peer-to-peer layer of Site As A Classroom will ensure that the wider functions of the Neighbourhood Public Square demonstrator are embedded within, and enriched by, deep local movements and existing knowledges in our places, not as a nice to have, but a reason for being.

“‘Local’, ‘neighbourhood’, and ‘community’ do not have to mean small or slow. They can be the infrastructure engines of a new big and bold kind of economic future, one that is collective, regenerative and cares about the long view.”

Melissa Mean, What if the power and resources to build our neighbourhoods were in community hands?

We know the practices we need to meet future challenges and abundant possibilities ahead for our neighbourhoods are not just technical ones. How we take care of and relate to each other, the land beneath our feet, and the materials we (re)use not only inherently matters to us as people, but will fundamentally shape what becomes possible together for this site, and the future of our neighbourhood(s) more broadly. Therefore, how we unlock, trade and respectfully distribute our existing knowledges and wisdom, as well as all gaining new skills, capabilities, and confidences is vital for our collective goal of thriving, ecologically safe and socially just futures for everyone in the neighbourhood, as well as our kin across the world.

↗ Read more about how infrastructures rooted in community-level initiatives subsequently played a pivotal role in contributing to the health and resilience of communities and society as a whole, while evolving apace with changing needs, pointing to a possible course towards the next public goods in this country in The Role Of New Infrastructures in the Endowing The Future chapter.

We continue to draw energy from radical infrastructure such as The Black Panther Party Free Breakfast Programme, Brixton Black Women’s Group, and many others around the importance of developing muscles for organising consistent, secure spaces to imagine otherwise, and we must not underestimate the everyday as a site for generating sociological-political momentum as part of learning and building processes together for many people to be at the forefront of shaping new safe and just realities towards freedom and liberation.

Key spaces in the Neighbourhood Public Square such as the Cafe + Community Kitchen, Library, Theatre Of Dreams and Room To Grow particularly embody this layer of peer-to-peer learning in the site’s physical infrastructure design.

→ Explore these further in 4 | Spaces

Straw Building Workshop On Site As Part Of The Material Matter[s] Learning Journey With Material Cultures

3.0.2
Site As A Classroom — Skills For Transition

The term ‘skills for transition’ describes the knowledge and capacities that will be necessary for local and global economic transitions towards regenerative futures. We know this will require all kinds of skills and forms of knowledge, both technical insights and tools that are often locked in education institutions rather than freely available, as well as social behaviours and traits in how we can work, organise, make, build, relate and learn together to do more than any of us can do alone, for the common good of our places and shared resources.

“For a climate transition that is just and democratised, as much agency as possible should be devolved to the level of the community. This is not simply just a desirable principle, but it also builds a solid foundation for ambitious retrofit with a broad and deep scope through a process of co-design and trust-building.”

Dark Matter Labs

Our existing Skills For Transition learning infrastructure through Neighbourhood Trade School classes, and now more specifically the current Material Matter[s] Learning Journey underway with Material Cultures, connects the expertise of partner organisations with neighbours where they are to ensure that local economic transitions may be designed, owned and stewarded by the people who live there.

At present, the skills and knowledge necessary to deeply retrofit our homes and (re)produce systems that are foundational to life are overwhelmingly held in institutions and industry. In order for enough of us to be able to take meaningful action together we must practice a pedagogy of liberation which breaks skill and knowledge out from institutional enclosures and into the intellectual commons of our neighbourhoods. Collective learning and designing to distribute what we learn with others actively in turn, rather than simply having change imposed on us and our built environment, equips us with the knowledge, tools, resources and platforms we require to be at the forefront of our own climate transitions, not fall victim to them or be swept away by rapid change we had little agency or consent within. This makes it an essential component in our abilities to create conditions for thriving now, in the challenges and opportunities facing us and future generations to follow.

At every stage, in providing a live example of transition infrastructure, Site As A Classroom will create the intentional space, support, and tools for neighbours and visitors from further afield to continue to learn skills for transition to put to use in their context where their agency is highest and shape its design, ownership and governance over the long term, covering topics from biomaterial retrofit, rainwater capture and renewable energy generation, to setting up as a co-operative, lobbying and advocacy, and practicing regenerative finance skills.

Key spaces in the Neighbourhood Public Square such as the Microfactory, Materials Lab and Plant Room particularly embody this layer of skills for transition learning in the site’s physical infrastructure design.

→ Explore these further in 4 | Spaces

CIVIC SQUARE Visit The Enterprise Centre — A Building That Forged New Natural Material Supply Chains In East Anglia

3.0.3
Site As A Classroom — Demonstrator To Transform Industry

We know that, in its current state, the hegemonic model of built environment production is fundamentally degenerative to the social and ecological conditions of the Earth. On its current trajectory, should today’s practices remain unchanged, the EU-27 and UK construction sectors will burn through their 1.5°C fair share carbon budgets by 2026. The third layer of site as a classroom must therefore work to reveal and demonstrate the pathways through which built environment production may undergo a radical transformation; to mitigate the negative impacts upon which it is founded and eventually operate according to regenerative practices and principles entirely. To achieve this, the site as a classroom will act as a demonstration of what is possible: to reuse existing structures; to utilise biomaterials from our ecoregion; to minimise energy consumption; to embed within and create circular and regenerative supply chains; and to act in an infrastructural capacity to enable the wider built environment transition of the neighbourhood.

Through our Radical Building Precedents, we have observed how demonstrator projects can achieve this scale of impact — from Le Magasin Électrique developing new natural material construction methods in Arlés France to The Enterprise Centre revitalising thatching supply chains in East Anglia. These projects exemplify how built environment demonstrators may influence systems beyond the bounds of their sites, revealing necessary shifts in fields as broad as energy generation, land ownership, material production supply chains, insurance, warranties, and beyond.

“With such sustainable credentials it is not surprising that the Enterprise Centre is also a working demonstration building, attracting visits by over 150 companies even during construction. It has been a case study at conferences and is now a favourite destination for overseas visitors specialising in sustainable construction.”

Timber Development UK

Through the establishment and long-term neighbourhood stewardship of a systems demonstrator, the Neighbourhood Public Square will be able to contribute towards larger-scale shifts that enable regenerative neighbourhood infrastructure, beyond our home in Ladywood.

Phase One

Testing If It’s Possible To Link Property Value To Location In Real Time | Dark Matters Labs, A Smart Commons
Recurring Patterns In Property Agreements Can Be Categorised Into One Of 8 Classes
Open Systems Lab, To Redesign Ownership, We Need A Map

3.1.1
Phase 1A — Land + Building Acquisition

Our focus in phase 1 will be purchasing the land and existing building, which will lay the foundations for the other layers of the Neighbourhood Public Square to be possible.

As Open Systems Lab lays out, land plays and has played a crucial role in the historic generation and centralisation of wealth. The Neighbourhood Public Square aims to democratise this wealth so that land stewardship forms the basis of a thriving and flourishing neighbourhood at many social and ecological levels.

As demonstrated by the long-term vision for stewardship of Birmingham Settlement’s Edgbaston Reservoir Nature & Wellbeing Centre, described in more detail in the Design for Neighbourhood Stewardship principle, proofs of possibility for land held for common use in perpetuity are close by, and the ability to establish these foundations are a determining factor in the long-term efficacy of meaningful neighbourhood infrastructure.

The Neighbourhood Public Square must therefore be founded upon a land agreement intentionally designed for regenerative relationships of all kinds: specifically a perpetual Doughnut Economics-inspired covenant that enshrines the social and ecological provision of the site, thus preserving its systemic value for future generations and ensuring its contribution to the commons.

“Public investment in common infrastructure results in private profit through land value uplift — a problem which underpins our current model of urban development, fuelling land speculation and creating unequal and unsustainable neighbourhoods. We need to redesign our land economy in a way that starts by recognising public goods create private wealth.”

Dark Matter Labs, Smart Commons

We are guided by ideas such as A Smart Commons: A new model for investing in the commons by Dark Matter Labs which explores the impact of land value inflation on urban space, speculating on how such value may be distributed according to social and ecological necessity as opposed to operating purely as asset value inflation. A New Land Contract by Alastair Parvin delves into the origins of our existing land ownership systems, outlining its foundational role in reproducing inequity in the UK, and indicates several routes towards mitigating these conditions and working towards a more just system of land ownership through public land buy-backs, land value capture, and Open System Lab’s own Fairhold model of land ownership.

The land will initially be owned and stewarded by CIVIC SQUARE in trust and then transitioned to future fit ownership and stewardship by and for the neighbourhood. This will be much like an ‘exit to community’ model, whilst recognising that the design will not just be for community-centred ownership, but a neighbourhood stewardship model that centres people alongside more-than-human life, and honouring ancestors before us and future generations to follow.

This will pave the way for regenerative community wealth creation and enhance the collective ability of communities to invest in and manage shared future assets.

The Phoenix, Lewes. Visualisations by Material Cultures. Illustrations by Carlos Penalver.

3.1.2
Phase 1B —Pre-Planning + Pre-Development

“What is abundantly clear is the planning system will have a key role to play in this next decade… the big question is how far are we prepared to adjust and change? The overriding goal? That net environmental impact is positive.”

Tim Slaney, SDNPA, Director of Planning

In the development of our planning application, we are particularly inspired by the work of The Phoenix housing development in Lewes. The Phoenix team worked closely with thousands of local residents, three dedicated community working groups and more than 60 businesses and stakeholder organisations to evolve the project in response to community needs, such that the planning application was accompanied by many letters of support. In Section 6 of their Design & Access Statement, issues raised by community members are shared, alongside the actions directly taken to mitigate them, demonstrating genuine and active co-production.

↗ Read more in the The Phoenix — Design & Access Statement
↗ Explore The Phoenix Statement of Community Involvement

Building on the acquisition of the site and establishment of a perpetual covenant, we see the Neighbourhood Public Square planning process as a collective opportunity to galvanise and demonstrate how this process might be invited as an open, creative collaborative campaign with many people, both locally and further afield, able to contribute in a number of generative, imaginative ways. This continues processes of open working, inviting and sharing in order to build wider momentum, the outcomes from which would be designed to go far beyond unlocking what is possible only for this site, but into unlocking further possibilities across our neighbourhood, and other neighbourhoods around the UK and further afield, making it easier and more joyful for others who come after us.

Phase Two

3.2.1
Phase 2A — Enabling Works

Phase 2A intends to activate the space to incubate our collective imagination of what the future of the site and neighbourhood may hold. Even prior to commencing formal works on site, there are a number of methods to achieve this, including light touch interventions such as a polytunnel and raised bed structures, storage space for reclaimed materials and procurement aligned with circular economic principles.

Through this phase, the site will be ongoing as a classroom to learn, co-build and demonstrate together; a methodology that will continue throughout its lifespan as outlined above. This phase will also ensure the safety of the site for occupation.

3.2.2
Phase 2A —Site As A Power Station

Phase 2B represents the commencement of retrofit works beginning with roof repair, alongside an ambitious deployment of solar photovoltaic panels, allowing the site to begin its operational life cycle as a power station for the neighbourhood. A range of renewable sources will support energy generation in the neighbourhood whilst the site isn’t fully operational, and as we move to full occupancy and operation will also support energy costs in the building, thus enhancing surpluses which will be invested into a neighbourhood granting pool.

Through this, it will drive community wealth at the heart of the neighbourhood and tangible energy and financial resources being generated early on in the construction process.

Every Street A POWER Station, Walthamstow | Solar PV Exhibit, Centre For Alternative Technology

For this we take inspiration from Hilary Powell and Dan Elelstein’s project building a solar POWER STATION across the rooftops (streets, schools, community buildings) of North East London, working with art and infrastructure to tackle the interlinked climate/energy/cost of living crises, along with We The Power, Centre For Alternative Technology, around the potential for literacy, agency and wider movement building. We acknowledge this phase will have a particularly active connection to street demonstration, Skills For Transition exchanges, and wider community solar organising and collective energy possibilities for neighbourhood(s).

Prioritising the development of community assets in the phasing ensures that the Neighbourhood Public Square immediately contributes to regenerative social and ecological conditions in the neighbourhood, putting into practice being part of a networked series of spaces.

Phase Three

3.3.1
Phase 3A — Microfactory, Materials Lab + Neighbourhood Print Studio

Phase 3A acts as the first stage of deep retrofit on site, commencing with the delivery of the Microfactory, Materials Lab, and Neighbourhood Print Studio in the space currently referred to as the Depot.

These spaces will enable the Neighbourhood Public Square to operate as a practical hub for neighbourhood making and organising, enhancing productive capacity; embedding regenerative knowledge and skills; and building the pathways towards both local adaptation and mitigation.

→ Find out more in 4 | Spaces

These spaces were prioritised in the deep retrofit phasing to establish the Neighbourhood Public Square as a working site at the heart of the neighbourhood. In addition to the early provision of vital neighbourhood civic infrastructure, the creation of the Microfactory and Materials Lab will further enable regenerative procurement methods and practices to complete Phases 3B — 3D of the Neighbourhood Public Square delivery.

3.3.2
Phase 3B — Cafe, Community Kitchen, Town Hall + Plant Room

Phase 3B, through the provision of the Café, Community Kitchen, and Town Hall, will establish the core of Neighbourhood Public Square’s civic infrastructure in the neighbourhood. These spaces will provide crucial social capacities to the site: including the provision of food; shelter from extreme weather conditions; and space to facilitate the emergence and reproduction of hyperlocal governance. Additionally, the Plant Room will house the energy system for the Neighbourhood Public Square; producing renewable energy generating infrastructure for the site and wider neighbourhood, as well as providing a space for visitors to learn about innovative building energy systems, furthering the site as a classroom.

→ Find out more in 4 | Spaces

In this way, the phasing of the Neighbourhood Public Square ensures that the first two key priorities for the site’s deep retrofit are to build the ecologically regenerative production capacity, and facilities to bolster the social foundations of the neighbourhood.

Neighbourhood Public Square From The Canalside, Showing The Plant Room, Town Hall, Cafe + Community Kitchen and Library of Things | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

3.3.3
Phase 3C — Library, Studios, Cycle Hub, Theatre Of Dreams, Room To Grow

Phase 3C will provide the Library, Cycle Hub, Studios, Theatre of Dreams, and Room To Grow. This phase concludes the work on the physical structure of the Neighbourhood Public Square, meaning that the building will begin to function at full capacity and demonstrate its operational potential. At this phase, the Neighbourhood Public Square will enhance neighbourhood learning infrastructure through the Library, contribute to active transport systems of the neighbourhood through the Cycle Hub, further support neighbourhood organising and provide imaginative infrastructure through the Theatre Of Dreams, and offer thermally and functionally adaptable convening space with Room To Grow.

→ Find out more in 4 | Spaces

Neighbourhood Public Square From The Courtyard, Showing Room To Grow Open For A Community Iftar
Illustration by Sonia Dubois

3.3.4
Phase 3D — Waterside + Courtyard

Phase 3D concludes works on the Neighbourhood Public Square, prioritising the external conditions and landscaping of the courtyard and waterside. These areas will operate as multi-functional spaces that can facilitate a variety of activities including co-building, workshops, outdoor eating and convening, and access to the canal system for neighbourhood water sports organisations. These spaces will also ensure a first layer of defence for the Neighbourhood Public Square and local area from surface flooding by integrating Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems into the design of external areas of the site.

Artist Impression Of Neighbourhood Public Square As Viewed From The Canal, 5 Years After Opening
by Caspar Gruetzner at Architecture00

5 | Spaces

CIVIC SQUARE Dreaming & Planning Night at Impact Hub Birmingham (2019)
Physical Infrastructure Design Sharing at May Supper Club: Neighbourhood Public Square, Midland Sailing Club (2024)

“We need positive, good quality space to honour the community and reflect their worth.”

Carol Booth Davies

Since our time at Impact Hub Birmingham until 2019, we have been exploring how to build on what we know about how people come together in internal and external spaces of many typologies, actively drawing upon local ideas and contributions from throughout our time in the neighbourhood and long before, alongside learning from other amazing projects around the world.

Building on our 2019 physical infrastructure scheme, each key space that forms part of the Neighbourhood Public Square is now brought to life with rich illustrations to convey the intangible qualities of each space, such as atmosphere and relationships, alongside relevant Doughnut For Urban Development tags to communicate just some of the social-ecological co-benefits that each space is designed to generate, at both local (site) and global scales, in line with Design Methodology 04 — Regenerative Intervention Strategy.

Organised like a journey through Neighbourhood Public Square, you’ll be able to spot many tools and ideas outlined in this chapter and more broadly across the Neighbourhood Public Square proposal, including the Doughnut Dashboard, distributive by design furniture co-builds, neighbourhood science activities, and so much more, as we imagine together what Neighbourhood Public Square might look and feel like, but more importantly what impacts it may be able to have for the neighbourhood to meet future challenges and opportunities together.

Cafe + Community Kitchen at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.1

Cafe + Community Kitchen

On arrival at CIVIC SQUARE, the cafe greets you as a welcoming Front Room to the wider site, as well as being a place to convene and organise in its own right.

This builds on our understanding of coffee shops as homes for social change, Impact Hub Birmingham, and 3+ years of The Floating Front Room as a critical part of neighbourhood social and physical infrastructure during times of crisis.

The connected community kitchen will host cooking classes, batch cooking, on-site catering and be available to hire for events. Powering breakfast clubs, supper clubs and more, daily activity will be founded on generative loops of growing, harvesting, eating, sharing and composting together.

A. Trade School Class with The Spice Club at Impact Hub Birmingham
B. The Floating Front Room
C. Hackney School of Food
D. Celebration Dinner at Impact Hub Birmingham
E. Cozinha Comunitária das Terras da Costa, Almada, Portugal
F. Civic House, Glasgow, UK
Theatre Of Dreams at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.2

Theatre Of Dreams

At the heart of CIVIC SQUARE, the Theatre of Dreams is a 200-seat community theatre designed for adaptable, dynamic participatory hosting. Fully equipped for neighbourhood town hall meetings and local events, it also embodies an inspiring destination venue for hosting climate justice conferences, festivals, and immersive performances.

Learning from hosting large-scale, bold convening such as TEDx Brum, Re_ Festival, Regenerative Neighbourhoods Festival and Retrofit Reimagined, this is a space dedicated to exchanging ideas, open compounded learnings, and reigniting imaginations to dream beyond our current paradigms.

A. BLMUK Brunch at Impact Hub Birmingham
B. Retrofit Reimagined at the Centre For Alternative Technology
C. High Line Park, New York, USA
D. TEDxBrum
E. The B16 Lunch in South Loop Park
F. LocHal Public Library, Tilburg, Netherlands
Town Hall at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.3

Town Hall

The Town Hall welcomes collaborative co-working of all kinds, with resources for freelancers and early-stage organisations focused on social, ecological and climate purposes. It is also the open plan welcoming home for Open Project Night, for distributed neighbourhood organising, local groups to meet, and facilities for gathering together to put big ideas and learnings into tangible form and practice.

COVID-19 showed us how critical it is to use our time together in person for generative working and sharing, and the Town Hall is designed as a versatile space that attracts all kinds of people from across the city and UK working towards common purposes to exchange practice.

A. Town Hall at Impact Hub Birmingham
B. Retrofit Reimagined at The Building Centre
C. Impact Hub Oakland, USA
D. Retrofit Reimagined at Knowle West Media Centre
E. Retrofit Reimagined at Civic House
F. Karper K., Amsterdam, Netherlands
Library at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.4

Library

As part of a practical and bustling neighbourhood entrance, a friendly, accessible Library of Things offers a shared library of tools and equipment for making, building, care, repair, maintenance, cooking, growing and more. Material cycling, seed libraries, plant swaps and human libraries of skills in our neighbourhood will be everyday exchanges.

Building on Beyond Books and Brum Zine Fest, our book and zine library will support the democratisation of knowledge, sharing of stories and intergenerational learning through a range of media, resourcing neighbours to take ideas off the page with creativity, agency and dignity, as well as contribute their own.

A. Library of Things, Upper Norwood Library, London, UK
B. Beyond Books at Impact Hub Birmingham
C. Lea Bridge Library, London, UK
D. Radical Reading Room, Wales, UK
E. Pingtan Book House, Huaihua, China
F. MOUNT ZINE, Tokyo, Japan
Cycle Hub at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.5

Cycle Hub

The Cycle Hub is a connection point for accessing key resources and facilities for active travel in the neighbourhood and beyond, from cycle, scooter and skateboard repair surgeries and classes, to safe storage, cycling and skate lessons, cycle hire and much more.

As a place to meet, refresh and share together, this infrastructure supports the cultural shifts to embrace mobility in a way that is accessible and ordinary for many, reducing emissions and cleansing the air. Learning from the last three years of demonstrated power from CIVIC SQUARE being accessible by foot and bike, this is a site focusing on maximising the ways to get here without relying on a car.

A. USIN, Vénissieux, France
B. Denver Bicycle Cafe, USA
C. Urban Canyon, Amsterdam, Netherlands
D. eZo cycle at The Floating Front Room
E. Lock 7 Bicycle Cafe, London, UK
F. Club Espresso Bar, Montreal, Canada
Studios + Meeting Rooms at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.6

Studios + Meeting Rooms

In complement to the open Town Hall, Library, Theatre of Dreams and other key public areas, a range of contained studio spaces and variety of meeting rooms will support connection, deliberation, and work of all kinds to happen between teams, neighbours, peers, funders and more, with access to the wider space to make connections with one another and compound ideas.

From private offices for organisations and focused studios for artists, to hosting formal and informal meetings, team visits, local organisers and focused workshops as part of larger scale festivals and convening, these spaces will foster relationships, collaboration and strong networks. connected around purposeful organising towards a social-ecological equilibrium.

A. Open Project Night at Impact Hub Birmingham
B. Desvio, Lisbon, Portugal
C. Impact Hub Westminster, London, UK
D. La Laguna, Mexico City, Mexico
E. JOOLZ, Amsterdam, Netherlands
F. LaunchLabs, Basel, Switzerland
Room To Grow at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.7

Room To Grow

From across the courtyard, Room To Grow greets you as an open, porous space to eat, share, connect, and tell stories together, bringing together outdoor growing space with neighbourhood hospitality.

Here you will find regular neighbourhood dinners, pot luck lunches, food for thought conversations and breakfast clubs, as well as special celebrations through the year that are pertinant to the local neighbourhood, such as community iftars, Bandi Chhor Divas, and the annual B16 Lunch.

This becomes the perfect backdrop to connect with our local ecology whilst warmly hosting guests, discussing neighbourhood opportunities and big ideas.

A. The Big Lunch in South Loop Park
B. Sexy Salad at Impact Hub Oakland, USA
C. Peddling Pantry at The Floating Front Room
D. Neighbourhood Supper Club at Midland Sailing Club
E. Hub Iftar at Impact Hub Birmingham
F. Geffrye Museum Allotment, London, UK
Plant Room at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.8

Plant Room

Coupled with the external eco gallery at the top of the ramp, the Plant Room will both act in an operational capacity for the regenerative system functionality of the building, and be part of the site as a classroom approach, making regenerative building strategies and science visible in the open to all visitors to learn from.

Components are likely to include things like heating systems, energy converters, digester units for processing food into biogas, and grey water treatment. Practically speaking, this would be where regular maintenance checks, readings, measurements, and updates take place, alongside wider education and interaction.

A. Exhibition Displays at the Centre for Alternative Technology
B. Natural Material Display by Material Cultures
C. Lecture at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales, UK
D. SolarVille Exhibit by Space10
E. Rainwater Capture at the Bullitt Centre, Seattle, USA
F. Building System Display at Le Magasin Électrique
Microfactory + Materials Lab at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.9

Microfactory + Materials Lab

A shared access makerspace and Skills for Transition school opens learnings and experiences around making, repairing, recycling and the hands-on retrofit our homes and streets together, as part of wider movements of neighbourhood practice and demonstration.

An active working space for colearning, experimenting, iterating and developing new skills, here new material possibilities, connections and capabilities will be fostered to enact a co-led, creative, bold neighbourhood transition.

Tool and material libraries support the wider Library lending and learning across the site, designing to distribute resources.

A. Skill For Transition Class with Centre For Alternative Technology
B. Buurman
C. Homegrown Exhibition by Material Cultures, London, UK
D. WeCanMake Front Garden Retrofit Kits at KWMC Factory
E. WikiHouse
F. Material Connexion Bangkok
Neighbourhood Print Studio at Neighbourhood Public Square | Illustration by Sonia Dubois

4.10

Neighbourhood Print Studio

In conjunction with the Microfactory, a multi-functional Neighbourhood Print Studio will nurture new and existing crafts, ignite imagination, and increase agency, creating new platforms for collective dreaming, storytelling and wider movement building locally and globally.

Equipping neighbours with the means of production will allow many people to design and publish their own propositional newspapers, zines, banners and other artefacts, aiding the metabolic flow of connected neighbourhood networks, ability to archive and document, and utilisation of political voice.

In-keeping with regenerative practice across the site, DIY techniques, natural and cycled materials will be deployed playfully and joyfully here.

A. Brum Zine Fest at Impact Hub Birmingham
B. Good News of B16
C. BAB Lab at Neighbourhood Trade School
D. Retrofit Reimagined at Centre For Alternative Technology
E. Rabbits Road Press, London, UK
F. Generous Waste at The Floating Front Room

5 | Team

The Neighbourhood Public Square represents an ambitious demonstrator project which must draw from multiple specialised areas of built environment theory, knowledge, and practice. In order to meet the standards of an exemplar demonstrator, we have worked to assemble a design team that has come to define their respective domains of built environment practice.

CIVIC SQUARE has initiated partnerships with long-term collaborators Architecture 00, along with new commissions with Material Cultures and Architype in the design of the Neighbourhood Public Square.

The Neighbourhood Public Square design team, in addition to their practice expertise, each holds instructive portfolios of projects that have demonstrated how built environment practice can better work to fulfil the social and ecological needs of the 21st century and beyond.

CIVIC SQUARE Team On Site (December 2023)

5.1

CIVIC SQUARE

In the development of the Neighbourhood Public Square, CIVIC SQUARE will act as project stewards: ensuring the design aligns with the social, civic, and ecological needs of the neighbourhood whilst simultaneously demonstrating pathways for wider built environment transition.

Over the first four years of CIVIC SQUARE, we have grown into a strong, multi-disciplinary team who proudly exemplify a range of interconnected skills, talents, passions and backgrounds.

We adapted and evolved our emerging shape, from early strategy documents and planning, to testing and trying live over the life of the organisation so far through a design-led approach, and continued to learn more about how we organise in practice through regular adaptation.

We believe deeply no one organisation can do this work alone, and recognise long term collaboration can’t be rushed or shortcut. We recognise that our ambitions can’t be achieved alone. For us the organisation is not the end, it is not why we do this, it is an important means to achieve ambitious collective missions. Over the last 10+ years we have developed a broad range of deep partnerships, and are proudly part of an ecosystem of partners and collaborators that we work closely with over the long term, in a range of different ways, with new connections being multiplied and struck all the time, as part of an open, generous network for collective liberation.

↗ Find out about members of our team in more detail, including the assemblage leading on our Neighbourhood Public Square demonstrator, in the forthcoming Team & Governance chapter

Find out more about our longer arc of organising and learning in the open in the forthcoming Track Record chapter

↗ Learn more at civicsquare.cc

5.2

Architecture 00

Architecture 00 is a long-term partner of CIVIC SQUARE and has co-developed the physical infrastructure design for the Neighbourhood Public Square since 2018.

Since 2005, Architecture 00 have worked on a broad range of projects from urban design to large-scale retrofit of industrial sites. Architecture 00 is part of a wider organisational ecosystem of boundary-pushing practice, research, and strategy consisting of Studio Weave, Dark Matter Labs, Wikihouse, and more.

In the Neighbourhood Public Square design team, Architecture 00 has led the development of the spatial strategy for the proposal and identified opportunities to incorporate regenerative design in both our material approach and in the programmes facilitated throughout the building. The collaboration thus far has led to a bold updated proposal for a number of infrastructural civic roles that the Neighbourhood Public Square may fulfil for the neighbourhood and beyond.

The Foundry | LJ Works

5.2.1 | Architecture 00
The Foundry: Social Justice Centre

Flexible workspace for organisations working in social justice and human rights, as well as an events space and a community learning resource. Environmental Justice is closely aligned to Social Justice — as such, the brief for the project included high aspirations to be environmentally responsible despite the existing early 20th Century former factory achieving an EPC G-Rating. Through basic design decisions, 00 have managed to make the new building achieve an EPC A-rating through coupling the new and existing elements of the scheme.

5.2.2 | Architecture 00
LJ Works

Working with local community stakeholders and civic partners to design and deliver 2,000m² of affordable co-working space, studios, flexible maker space and a food business incubator scheme. The Project is being led by Lambeth Council and initially operated by Meanwhile Space CIC. After 5 years, a Community Asset Transfer will take place handing over management responsibilities to the steering group of local organisations which initiated it.

↗ Learn more at architecture00.net

5.3

Material Cultures

Material Cultures are a not-for-profit architecture practice that brings together design, research and action towards a post-carbon built environment.

The practice works at the intersection of architectural design, engineering, systems thinking, digital technologies and material science. Their built environment work focuses on prototypical buildings, an approach which seeks to reveal what is possible when social and ecological outcomes are placed at the forefront of design and research processes.

In the Neighbourhood Public Square design team, Material Cultures are conducting ecoregional mapping to identify local material cycles that may be incorporated into the building to minimise embodied carbon and wider ecological impacts of the proposal. This research will also inform the participation design of the Neighbourhood Public Square, exploring what sort of productive capacity the Neighbourhood Public Square might step into in order to provide natural building materials to the wider neighbourhood and region.

In addition to their research capacity, Material Cultures are a partner in the €9.4 million INBUILT Project. Part of this funding will support Material Cultures to co-ordinate the retrofit of Phase 3A of the Neighbourhood Public Square with experimental natural materials including mycelium, wood waste, and recycled textiles. This partnership represents the only INBUILT Project to be conducted in the UK.

The Phoenix

5.3.1 | Material Cultures
Phoenix Housing

A development of over 700 homes in Lewes on the south coast, the Phoenix is designed around the community that will inhabit it. Forms such as stoops, courtyards and decks assume lead roles in what is an intentionally, but subtly, theatrical architecture. The urban and architectural design create a base, a stage, on to which community can be cultivated and interwoven.

5.3.2 | Material Cultures
Wolves Lane Horticultural Centre

Material Cultures and Studio Gil are working with a consortium of organisations including Ubele and OrganicLea to reimagine the former council plant nursery at Wolves Lane in Haringey, North London. Rooted in principles of social justice and agroecology the community-driven project puts food at the centre of its educational, community, enterprise and wellbeing activities.

↗ Learn more at materialcultures.org

Seb Laan Lomas, Scott McAulay + Christian Dimbleby from Architype showing us around The Enterprise Centre

5.4

Architype

Architype is a London-, Hereford-, and Edinburgh-based practice at the forefront of climate action in architecture and the built environment.

Consistent throughout their portfolio are exceptionally high-performing buildings achieved through Passivhaus design principles and standards. For over 35 years, Architype has represented one of the most compelling voices on climate action from the architectural profession and has consequently accumulated a team with crucial skillsets from whole-life carbon assessments to the development of boundary-pushing energy generation and monitoring systems.

In the Neighbourhood Public Square design team, Architype is supporting us in our work to achieve EnerPHit standards of energy performance — the Passivhaus standard for retrofits. In addition to this, Architype will be working alongside the wider design team to uncover new models of building and neighbourhood performance monitoring to ensure the regenerative outcomes that the Neighbourhood Public Square is designed to facilitate.

The Entopia Building, Cambridge | The Enterprise Centre, Norwich

5.4.1 | Architype
The Entopia Building

As the hoardings communicated during the refurbishment, the building is not an ordinary office retrofit, but urgently needs to become one if the climate emergency is to be addressed. The Entopia Building is Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)’s ultra-sustainable home in the heart of Cambridge. From the outset, the Entopia Building project aspired to demonstrate and highlight how global trends and challenges can be addressed meaningfully at the scale of a single building.

Find out more about The Entopia Building in our forthcoming Radical Precedents chapter

5.4.2 | Architype
The Enterprise Centre

The Enterprise Centre at The University of East Anglia, dubbed by the press as the UK’s greenest building, has been designed and delivered to achieve the Passivhaus standard and a BREEAM outstanding rating. The new university building aims to encourage new sustainable businesses from graduates who emerge from its academic research programme and those involved in activities within the wider Norwich Research Park.

The concept comprises a new building and landscape that is an exemplar of low embodied energy and carbon construction technologies, through the use of natural and bio-renewable materials sourced through local supply chains.

The building is an important element of the demonstration, awareness and bespoke support process; providing live and historical data of the performance of renewable materials in a format that is industry standard. By being able to physically see the materials and data change over time and understand the impacts, this is the first international building to offer Passivhaus performance alongside renewable materials.

↗ Learn more at architype.co.uk

We will be continuing to build out the full Neighbourhood Public Square design team from here, so if you are working boldly in planning, ecological construction or related fields and are committed to regenerative transition for the built environment, please get in touch at info@civicsquare.cc.

Additional Materials

If you are looking to move wealth or philanthropy boldly, you can request our Investment Ask chapter and additional materials the form the Physical Infrastructure Design chapter by contacting immy@civicsquare.cc.

Wider Proposal

Physical Infrastructure Design is a chapter of the Neighbourhood Public Square proposal co-authored and co-built by CIVIC SQUARE, alongside named partners, collaborators and neighbours, in March 2024.

Further chapters of the Neighbourhood Public Square proposal will be shared over the next few months. These include:

↗ 01 | An Invitation
↗ 02 | Key Principles
03 | 3ºC Neighbourhood
↗ 04 | Ladywood Climate Study
↗ 05 | Doughnut As A Compass
↗ 06 | Our Track Record
↗ 08 | Radical Precedents
09 | Endowing The Future
↗ 10 | Investment Ask
↗ 11 | Team & Governance
↗ 12 | Call To Action

Get Involved

Timber Festival
5th — 7th July 2024

Material Cultures Report Launch + Showcase
5th September 2024

The B16 Lunch
7th — 8th September 2024

This chapter is proudly produced alongside Architecture 00 and Material Cultures, with our particular thanks extended to the following people:

Architecture 00

  • Filippa Hellsten
  • David Saxby
  • Anna O’Leary
  • Joe Ridealgh
  • Caspar Gruetzner

Material Cultures

  • Summer Islam
  • Daria Moatazed-Keivani
  • George Massoud
  • Francesca Leibowitz

We also give our deep gratitude for the following additional contributors:

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CIVIC SQUARE
Neighbourhood Public Square

Demonstrating neighbourhood-scale civic infrastructure for social + ecological transition, together with many people + partners in Ladywood, Birmingham