Keith Urban Design Framework: path to renaissance
We have been commissioned by The Moray Council on behalf of the Keith Strathisla Regeneration Partnership for the preparation of a Keith Urban Design Framework. The brief describes an interesting and important piece of work and seeks to address issues faced by many small settlements at this time. Every town is different of course and Keith is a particularly special place for a range of reasons. These distinctive characteristics may prove to be the means by which the town enters a period of renaissance.
The objective of the study is to produce an Urban Design Framework for the town which provides a costed and prioritised list of capital works which will be used to apply for funding with which to take the projects forward. Many urban design frameworks produce a mass of analysis and dozens of proposals for towns, much of which is unnecessary and often not implementable. We are very conscious of this and will aim to produce proposals and projects that have the support of the agencies and community organisations operating in the area as well as local business interests.
We have worked extensively in small towns throughout Scotland. The challenges facing Keith are typical of those experienced by many towns of its type and size. As the brief points out, the role and function of the town had historically been defined by its role as centre of traditional industry and as a service centre for its rural hinterland. These roles have been undermined by structural change in the agricultural sector, international competition and an increasingly mobile population.
Increased mobility has helped Keith to adjust to the loss of major employers in the 1990s, but local people are now increasingly dependent on jobs outside the town. There is a net daily outflow of commuters from the town, and 42% of the employed residents of Keith travel at least 10km to work every day. The small and fragile local employment base and the level of out-commuting help account for the lack of vitality noted in the brief.
Though some of the effects are unwelcome we cannot turn the clock back. Small towns everywhere have felt the effects of these powerful driving forces and there is nothing that this study can do to insulate Keith from the consequences. However, our experience (and an extensive research literature) shows that towns that respond positively and imaginatively to the new challenges are most likely to prosper. The strategic proposition will reflect this and will set out a positive and inspirational vision for the future of Keith, drawing on the experience of successful small towns elsewhere in the UK.
Keith is a distinctive place. The unique character of the town is the result of a specific plan overlaid by subsequent ages of building and change combined with evolving patterns of land use and street level activity. The most notable of these are the historic street pattern with a variety of human scale spaces, a consistent tradition which provides a unifying collection of buildings and a surrounding landscape which provides a distinctive and valuable context.
As part of the urban design framework, we will devise a spatial concept that recognises the inherent nature and structure of the area and protects the townscape legacy whilst creating new opportunities for change through new building and or external spaces.
This will in turn allow a clear rationale to be developed for improving certain spaces, adopting distinct design approaches and identifying priorities for investment. The components of the urban design framework would be inter-related strategies covering places, networks, arrival, streetscape, development opportunities and events. We propose an integrated approach to the design of the area which seeks to match the physical opportunities with the scope for economic and social renewal.