Malham Close, Beaumont Leys, adjacent to Barleycroft School

Urban design: the spaces and places for the next generation of movement.

Posted: Wed, 28 Jul 2021 15:19

Urban design: the spaces and places for the next generation of movement.

Historically academia like industry has worked firmly in concrete silos. Psychology has not worked
with urban design, sociology was not a comfortable bedfellow with sport policy and critical
management studies sat awkwardly with critiques around elite sport performance. But, in response
to Dr Mat Dowling's take on the new United the Movement strategy vision for the next ten years in
England. This short article maps out the potential for moving beyond traditional ways of seeing sport
and into a genuine opportunity for making advances in areas that I refer to as 'stubborn inequalities'
of our sector. Urban and community design is a great example of where such expertise needs to
coalesce. The article does not focus on a plan, strategy or road map in this policy space. It flags it as a
potential area for better collaboration to help address societal and community issues that remain
pivotal to creating the change English sport and physical policy needs.


As already stated academic circles rarely collaborate, build pragmatic synergies and aim to work
explicitly at translating new theories into policy and practice that can move the inactive into
sustained physical exertion. But, equally, it seems inequalities that existed 80 years ago remain,
persist and in some cases grow. The necessity to transform structural barriers in organisations into
enabling triggers for people, communities, families and individuals seems present in yet another 'call
to arms'. But, as Mat Dowling suggests is it any more than 'old wine in new bottles'. The year of
2020 will always be remembered as the year of COVID-19. Indeed, in my own research undertaken in
March-September across phase 1 lockdowns in England supported by Sport England
we worked as a
team of 17 researchers from industry and five Active Partnerships. I would urge you to read our
findings from the field in detail. Throughout this data movement constrictions due to urban, rural
and community spaces and places was evident. Urban design emerged as a new vibrant area for the
sector to consider.


Following on from this I had the opportunity to be appointed the special policy advisor for the Select
Committee Inquiry for the National Plan for Sport and Recreation
. The last such Inquiry being with
Lord Cobham in 1974. In taking oral evidence in over 28 sessions and written evidence from over 160
individuals and organisations we gained insights into how no single government department can
'solve', fix or own the problems of sport. Indeed the day of a reified 'sport as the solution' with
traditional NGB and local government homes is long since dead. Here, the parallel pressure is that
most of the investment in community sport still flows into NGBs, most of the facilities are owned by
schools and local government. Most of those agencies interviewed or who responded in evidence
acknowledged how sport, physical activity and recreation are used interchangeably, in context and
community specific ways. Taking the case of urban design, planning departments overseen by
central government and local government strategy and plans need to intersect with other less
monolithic beasts such as open data, IT infrastructure, Apps and the emerging spaces of augmented
and virtual reality. Furthermore, although it was sport was 'done' on playing pitches and clubs, we
now understand that rivers, paths, canal tow paths and indoor cycle machines offer new ways of
seeing the design and facilitation of grass roots sport and active recreation. Understanding that
theory and practice in such areas cannot be separate is vital. We do not ask the medic to remove the
theory of taking blood pressure from practice. We do not ask the nurse or GP to not know the
psychological theory of breaking news of a cancer diagnosis (or not). Teachers are taught how to
engage the 'non-engaged', to listen according to theory. Use of art therapy in prison is only ever
employed effectively where theory is drawn upon.

Yet for some reason, when I reflect back on 2020-21 the last 18 months and 25 years of my career as
a sport researcher and policy evaluation specialist I see a core paradox. I spend and have spent much
of my time having to convince, cajole and convert people to the basic premise that we need theory

to help understand and solve complex multi-faceted issues that happen to sit in the supposedly
united sport sector. Whether it is in the national evaluation of UKCC, supporting a study of sport
equality in Scotland or multiple studies for organisations in NGB, Active Partnership or local
government or charity landscapes. Applying the increasingly relevant but little understood case of
urban design for sport and active recreation we must draw upon theory to get insights, shape future
provision and avoid the pitfalls of the last 80 years. Certain communities remain as the excluded
individuals and the 'system' continues to (incorrectly) assume what is needed, how it needs to be
delivered and what potential solutions look like. Alongside this fabulous examples exist where
people are trying new ideas. But, are they supported by theory, driven by evidence and embedded
with a rigorous evaluation frame. Theory is persistently, seen as the enemy as opposed to the vital
building block that can offer genuine sociological, psychological, economic and spatial theoretical
devices to underpin actions, activities, programmes and policy. Perhaps the more interesting
question is, as we move ever nearer to the medical and health policy domain is why there is such
resistance to this?

Dr Chris Mackintosh is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Development at Manchester Metropolitan
University. He is currently special policy advisor to the House of Lords Select Committee on The
National Plan for Sport and Recreation. He has advisory and ongoing roles in British Cycling, England
Golf, Street Soccer League and a number of Active Partnerships. He is also a Director of Active
Communities Network charity based in four major areas of deprivation working to use sport and
activities to navigate urban challenges in these four cities in England.

Tags: Policy, Sport, development

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