Why digital should be in the DNA of your regeneration project


4 minute read
Jo Morrison

Jo Morrison

Director of Digital Innovation & Research

Digital Placemaking

Digital Insights


BT’s chief marketing officer Zaid Al-Qassab caused a stir recently when he drew a line under ‘digital’. “Stop using the word digital,” he implored at an Advertising Week Europe panel; pointing out that when he worked in print he was never referred to as a “paper marketer”.

To Al-Qassab, the problem with the term ‘digital’ is clear: it distorts your focus, creating an intellectual framework that shifts attention away from people and users. It also suggests a separation between practices where there isn’t one; savvy marketers need to think holistically rather than in individual channels.

What isn’t digital (or becoming digitised) in 2017? It’s become so integrated to everything that identifying the border of where digital starts and stops is meaningless. Instead of ‘digital’ work, just think about work. Instead of wondering what ‘digital’ skills you need, just say skills.

Al-Qassab’s thinking applies to how we approach a complex task like regeneration, too. We talk about ‘digital placemaking’ because too often, placemaking projects don’t factor digitally enabled experiences as an inherent characteristic of a location when really these experiences should be integral to placemaking. Similarly, the spaces in regeneration projects shouldn’t be conceived of as just physical. Instead, they are hybrid spaces; an alloy of physical and digital.

By thinking in deeper terms than just digital and non-digital, we’re able to unlock previously overlooked opportunities for regeneration projects. We live, consume and move within hybrid spaces, so ultimately the challenges we face in a regeneration area exist in a hybrid space, too.

Technology can expand the ways people experience a particular location. We can, for example, use mobile technology to guide people through the history of an area, reigniting past voices and turning a pedestrian into a historian.

What digital placemaking could look like

Ultimately, the goal of regenerating an urban place is to make it a destination where people want to keep spending time.

Recently, we conducted research into how the creative use of digital technologies can positively impact upon the success and sustainability of a major regeneration project. The subject of the research was the Porth Teigr development, which sustainable developer igloo identified as being core to the long-term regeneration of Cardiff Bay.

Once the heart of Cardiff’s docklands, the area was the world’s busiest port during its 19th century peak, but fell into severe decline in the 20th century. Igloo is now redeveloping the area into a vibrant mixed-use area; building 1,000 new homes, 1.2 million square feet of commercial space and community facilities. As digital placemaking specialists, Calvium was commissioned to explore how digital placemaking can contribute to the social, cultural and economic prosperity of Porth Teigr.

We quickly discovered that people don’t need to be taught to visualise their local public space as a hybrid space. The technology they use has already acclimatised people to the notion: they simply need a framework for what they already do.

In summary

The virtual, argued the legendary French theorist Gilles Deleuze, is also real. Put into everyday terms, he was saying something composed of software is no less real than something composed of matter.

In the 60s and 70s, when Deleuze made his claim, society was still almost completely analogue, and had barely started reckoning with the computer. The internet, still in its infancy, was a rudimentary network limited to military, academic and bureaucratic specialists in the US.

Fast forward to now. We live in a world where Deleuze’s words seem like a statement of the obvious.

The digital is part of our everyday reality. For regeneration projects, this means considering hybrid space as a key strategic element for the successful development of public spaces, and embracing digital placemaking to enhance the ways that people experience those places.

To read more about how we approach hybrid space, download our in-depth report on our Porth Teigr project here.

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