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Department of Architecture


The urban room, a concept with a rich history, is a place for the community, the university, local authorities, industry, practice and other organisations to come together to discuss – and do research on - the future of their city. Terry Farrell popularised the term ‘urban room’ in the Farrell Review (2013), with the idea now being modelled by the Farrell Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne. When I was Head of the School of Architecture in Sheffield we set up Liveworks which is still going to this day under the leadership of Carolyn Butterworth who has recently written an excellent toolkit for making an urban room . This is available via the Urban Rooms Network website, a platform that charts the rise of urban and rural rooms across the nation.

Urban rooms are central to Community Consultation for Quality of Life, a collaboration between the Universities of Reading, Cardiff, Ulster and Edinburgh with the Quality of Life Foundation and the digital platform Commonplace funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Our aim has been to improve the way community consultation on planning happens, both digital and interface through the implementation of pilot projects across the UK. One result has been the development of an Inclusive Consultation Toolkit which offers some clear and simple tips for making consultation better. Consultations took urban rooms in each of the four UK nations, each with a virtual interface. The research has shown with great clarity that people want opportunities to do consultation face to face.

Community members in the CCqoL urban rooms were asked to contribute to the making of quality of life maps to show what they value in the area building on a digital format developed by Commonplace. A variety of experimental formats were used to make the consultations as engaging as possible, with the digital platform being refined based on feedback. Making maps with communities will be central to the Urban Room at Cambridge. I argue in my recent book Housing for Hope and Wellbeing, that we cannot reduce inequality and make sensitive responses to climate change without comprehensive hyperlocal baseline maps showing what is happening and where.

Our plan long-term is to fund the room by facilitating rigorous and neutral consultations for developers and others built on deep long term relationships with diverse communities across the city. All we need now is a place to do it.

- Professor Flora Samuel