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February 11, 2015

Beauty has a place

Aberdeen’s nomination for the annual ‘Pluke on the Plinth’ award in recognition of it being a thoroughly dismal place has not gone down well with many Aberdonians who claim to love the greyness of their Granite City. Nonetheless the award raises an interesting point. Why do we not hear more about aesthetics and the place of beauty in public policy and in particular when it comes to building communities? In England some work is looking at the contribution of beauty in helping communities to flourish. Perhaps this is something we can learn from.


Matt Stokes, Res Publica

In partnership with the Woodland Trust, National Trust, Campaign to Protect Rural England and Civic Voice, we are taking forward a unique programme of activity on beauty and its contribution to social prosperity.

Beauty plays a central role in enabling people and communities to flourish. Beautiful places improve local public health and wellbeing, facilitate strong social capital and civic participation, and ensure safer and cleaner neighbourhoods – all of which impacts most notably on the asset poor and those on lower incomes. Beautiful places also capture the character and ethos of a given community: its architectural vernacular and natural heritage, but also its local values and collaborative understanding of what would most benefit local people. The values that underpin beauty and beautiful places drive a more wholesome and equitable response to local needs: good quality and community-driven design can be accessible to all and therefore fuel widespread social prosperity.

This understanding is neither effectively communicated by politicians nor enabled through public policy. It is currently missing from the way in which our public services operate and the language of ‘beauty’ and ‘good design’ is still trapped within particular government departments and certain demographic groups. The Localism Act 2011 empowered communities to take a greater role in shaping their neighbourhoods, but these community rights have not gone far enough. This programme of work will seek to address this philosophical and practical deficit, and re-introduce beauty and good design into public discourse and local experience.

We will kick-start the project by convening an advisory group in early March, which will be followed by a public opinion poll and full policy paper, to be published shortly following the General Election. We are seeking additional partners to join us in support of this work, including developers, architects, housing associations, cultural outlets and those with a keen interest and expertise in the planning process.

Please contact our Head of Policy Programmes, Caroline Julian, at or on  0207 222 6552, for further information.