EFI Data + Design Lab project is finalist for prestigious award

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Landscape Institute (LI) Award finalists announced – including Edinburgh Futures Institute’s Future of the High Street project.

The Landscape Institute (LI) Awards, which celebrate the work of the landscape profession through categories such as Excellence in Tackling Climate Change and Biodiversity Conservation, looked at landscape projects from all over the world, including China, Luxembourg and the British Isles. The 73-strong shortlist, up from 66 the previous year, covers an impressive array of projects, from a £250 million car-free, low-carbon housing development in Leeds to a waterfront master plan on the shores of the Yangtze River.

Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss one landscape at a time

Judges, which include representatives from various organisations such as Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Public Health England, selected the 73-strong shortlist, which covers an impressive array of projects. The range of different projects demonstrate increasing focus on improving physical and mental health and wellbeing, promoting sustainability and showing excellence in preserving heritage and culture.

The long-running entries returning for 2021 include Excellence in Public Health and Wellbeing, Excellence in Place Regeneration, Excellence in Flood and Water Management, and more. The Green Flag Award joined the LI Awards for the first time.

The EFI funded project ‘Future of the High Street’ was among the successfully nominated finalists in the category of Partnership and Collaboration.

The project – innovative combination of design + research

‘Future of the High Street’, which was delivered through EFI’s Data and Design Lab over six months from January to July 2021, combined citizen engagement with rapid prototyping, urban data and research. The Design Lab initiative was part of a collection of demonstrator projects delivered with Scottish Funding Council COVID recovery funds and the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative at the University of Edinburgh. Key to the project – and its nomination as Finalist – was interdisciplinary collaboration and partnership between the project delivery team comprising the Edinburgh Futures Institute and New Practice.

The aim of Future of the High Street was to better understand key high street challenges and opportunities, and prototype two small-scale ‘tweaks’ with potential to support the high street as a successful, vibrant and liveable place as we emerge from Covid-19.  An open-source toolkit of 6 ideas for ‘high street tweaks’ was developed through conversations, surveys and digital workshops with businesses, residents and organisations from two different high street project locations – Gorgie-Dalry in Edinburgh and Dalkeith in Midlothian. Two ideas were rapidly prototyped on-site with accompanying evaluation and user feedback to feed into next steps.

The project was unique in combining research and practice, with design outcomes genuinely responsive to data-driven insights and stakeholder engagement. Project lead and Urban Designer (CMLI) Jenny Elliott said:

“The partnership and collaboration between a project team comprising University of Edinburgh’s Futures Institute and architects New Practice was critical. Research and data-driven insights were primarily led by the University of Edinburgh – including blogs, films and research papers reflecting on and openly documenting and evaluating the project process, as well as studies of public life and how people use and experience the high street. New Practice led engagement and piloting, working closely with diverse stakeholders through digital co-design workshops, youth activities and a co-design process to refine and build pilots. It is fantastic that – through this Finalist nomination for Partnership and Collaboration – the Landscape Institute are recognising the benefits of working as part of an interdisciplinary and collaborative project team spanning design, research and practice.”

Partnership approach and evolution

The project also took a deliberately collaborative and open approach more broadly – with more partners and organisations invited to become involved via an Advisory Board as the project progressed. Representatives from more than 20 relevant organisations across Scotland and beyond were part of the project via its Advisory Board. From the Scottish Government, Architecture & Design Scotland, and Connected Places Catapult to UK High Streets Task Force, as well as key organisations relevant to the two local project locations (City of Edinburgh and Midlothian Councils), and other practitioners/leaders in this field – such as Calvium, CoLab Dudley and Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

‘Working out loud’

The Advisory Board webinars as well as regular monthly blogs and films allowed the team to build a professional community of interest around the topic, share best practice and learnings, forge connections and relationships, and discuss and seek input on the live project process. The open documentation of the internal project process, via webinars, blogs and films enabled a public sharing of the process and opened a wider dialogue resulting in additional informal collaborations.

The open-source project outputs (Public Life Studies, Toolkit of 6 Ideas, Project Report) extended this collaborative ‘working out loud’ approach – sharing the most requested and useful insights helpful to other professionals and organisations, including the Edinburgh Futures Institute’s ‘Data and Design Lab’.

November date for LI Awards

The awards ceremony, which will be hosted online on 25 November 2021, will feature keynote speaker, renowned architect and co-founder of Dark Matter Laboratories, Indy Johar. Winners will be judged against four main criteria: sustainability, value, professionalism and design.

Jane Findlay, President of the Landscape Institute, commented:

“The LI Awards are our biggest annual showcase of the power of landscape to transform, restore and repair. This year’s entries attest to the power of landscapes to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing, promote sustainability, build resilience to climate change, and help address the biological diversity crisis.”

Find out more about Future of the High Street:

Learn more about New Practice here:

View the full list of LI Awards 2021 Finalists:

Image credit: Jenny Elliott

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