The Deep Place approach to sustainable placemaking

Deep Place is a holistic approach to sustainable place-making. It is grounded in an empirical concern with how to achieve more economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable places and communities. It seeks to overcome what it identifies as the harmful consequences of the current dominant Neoliberal economic paradigm. Although it is not anti-capitalist, it recognises the weaknesses and failings of Neoliberalism, which is exploitative of human and natural resources as factors of production. There has been a significant drive toward Neoliberalism since the 1980s, and the costs in terms of increased inequality are all too clear (Ostry et. al., 2016). The UK is now one of the least equitable countries in the world. Income inequality has been well above the OECD average for the last 30 years. The average income of the richest 10% is 10 times that of the poorest 10%. Between 2005 and 2011 the average income of the poorest 10% in the UK fell by a further 2%, and the share of the top 1% of income earners has grown from 6.1% in 1981 to 12.9% in 2011. (OECD, 2015)

Deep Place is based on the premise that the economy is socially constructed, and it therefore argues that it can be socially reconstructed. Even some of those who have been so closely linked to Neoliberalism, such as the IMF, are now appearing to accept the significant economic and social damage that arises from the inequality it causes. Key people within the IMF have now argued that policy makers should be more open to redistribution (Ostry et. al., 2016). At the same time, the Capital Institute has argued for a form of ‘regenerative capitalism’. They suggest that ‘…today’s greatest challenge is to address the root cause of our systemic crises – today’s dominant (Neoliberal) economic paradigm and the financial system that fuels it and rules it – by transitioning to a more effective form of capitalism that is regenerative and therefore sustainable over the long term’ (Fullerton, 2015, p. 12). Deep Place does not deny the complexity of global economic interrelationships; indeed, it fully recognises the difficulties and implications of managing and controlling these hugely complex circumstances. The impact of the 2007/8 Global Financial Crisis and the as yet not fully understood consequences of the decision of the UK in a referendum to leave the European Union, clearly illustrate the limitations of national governments to control such forces. That is why Deep Place is place-based. It argues that more localised action can often have a significant impact on strengthening community resilience against these external forces. In order to be most effective however, it contends that local action needs to be coordinated and fully integrated: it needs to be whole-place.

In 2014 the report on the Tredegar Deep Place Study, ‘Toward a New Settlement: A Deep Place Approach to Equitable and Sustainable Places’ (Adamson and Lang, 2014), was published. It sought to address one core question: what type of economy and society do we need to create to achieve economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability by 2030? The research was concerned with a solution to the seemingly intractable problems of continuing inequality and poor economic performance in disadvantaged communities. Although the report was largely well received, including an acknowledgement of its innovative approach in the National Assembly for Wales Communities Committee Report on Poverty in Wales (2015), and significant national and international interest, progress in taking it forward has been limited. The central reason appears to be the lack of a ‘coalition for change’ locally to take ownership of it, and despite some notable supporters, so far it has failed to garner the support of some critical policy-makers. Since the publication of the Tredegar report there have been some notable contextual changes in Wales. The new Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 places a sustainable development obligation on devolved public bodies, including Welsh Government, to consider the needs of future as well as current generations. Deep Place offers a powerful tool to pursue this legal requirement, and the Well Being Plans required to be delivered by each Public Service Board (PSB) for every county in Wales offers a potential mechanism to ensure a ‘coalition for change’ to support its implementation. This Pontypool Deep Place Study, supported by the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University, has received much welcome support from the Economy and Enterprise team at Torfaen County Borough Council (CBC), as well as from those officers at the Council who are now currently developing the Well Being Plan for Torfaen. Together with additional support being given to the Council in relation to other communities in the County, it is hoped that this report will influence the development of the Well Being Plan for Torfaen.

All Around Us: The Pontypool Deep Place Study