The Ranty Highwayman)
I’VE BEEN INSPIRED TO WRITE ABOUT COMPETENCY THIS WEEK. WHAT IS IT? HOW DO WE MEASURE IT? WHO DECIDES IF SOMEONE IS COMPETENT?
This post is inspired by a Twitter discussion with Sea of Change Film who were asking what qualifications were needed to design roads in the UK. The question was prompted about issues in a “shared space” scheme in Preston.
Now, as you may know, I don’t like the catch-all term “shared space” because each situation and each street is often different, but I get its use by campaigners where they are trying to highlight some common accessibility issues (especially for people with visual impairment) such as;
- Lack of controlled crossings (signals and zebras),
- Lack of kerb upstands,
- Lack of contrast between footway areas and carriageway areas,
- Lack motor traffic reduction where the other three points persist.
Anyway, this is not a post about the subject, just an introduction to set the scene on one particular angle on what I think competency might mean (and I’ll come back to this later). Before I go on, I must recommend that you watch the Sea of Change film (especially if you are a street designer);
OK then, competency? A dictionary definition is;
Having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.
Immediately, the word “successfully” is open to debate because success means different things to different people. One measure of success could be measuring a completed project against its stated objectives – how well did we solve the problem? The pitfall here is the one of defining the problem in the first place. Let’s use the example of Exhibition Road in London. I’m using it partly because I’m being provocative and partly because it is a “shared space” scheme which relates to the introduction to this post.
For those who don’t know Exhibition Road, it is one of London’s big tourist destinations with the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and others situated along its length. Following a long development phase, the street was transformed from a “traditional” wide London street of narrow footways and lots of (motor) traffic lanes into something that provides far more pedestrian space and at a high level, a far nicer public space.
The scheme also included a complex reworking of local streets in the area to get rid of various one-way systems. So was it a success and were the people involved in its design “competent”?