I spent a few days in Devon last week, braving the weather.
The kidult was graduating from Exeter University and the clan all duly traipsed down, taking a holiday let in Dawlish, and making a wee break of it all.
It was all rather charming really, both the graduation (she did very well and we're very proud), and the stay in Devon.
But being nothing if not a saddo, I spent much of my time in Dawlish working out how to reconfigure the road layout. It could be such a magnificent little gem, Dawlish, the ultimate railway town by the seaside, with top-quality public realm, featuring a wide variety of exotic ducks and black swans, were it not for the fact that some transport engineer (who should be summarily shot) has had a bit of a hissy fit with the junctions in the centre.
The place is littered with a rash of needless Pelican Crossings (actually I think they technically might have been Toucan Crossings, but I am not going to dignify any of this by confessing that I might know the difference) at least half a dozen of the blighters in close proximity, so that the crucial area immediately adjacent to the heritage feature of the Brunel railway doesn't work at all for people.
Nor does it work for cars, actually. In fact, it only really works for... er... Pelican Crossings (and even those seemed at odds with each other!) you could have a Pelican Crossing convention in Dawlish, if such a thing was of interest to anyone who has a life.
And Dawlish's offer as a sweet little town for tourists to visit and enjoy, is much diluted as a result. Such a wasted opportunity!
They should reconfigure the entire system (I can offer a preliminary plan on the back of a napkin if anyone is interested) and pedestrianism huge chunks of it, allowing for cafes with tables on the pavements and encouraging visitors, whether bird watchers or train spotters, or the usual bucket and spade brigade, to stay a while and enjoy the ambience. There is a lot on offer and none of it presented in a coherent way.
Arrived home to discover that our mates at CLG had, as eagerly anticipated, issued their guide Re-imagining Urban Spaces to Help Revitalise Our High Streets, published on 20 July 2012, in the wake of the Portas Review.
This was developed in partnership with 19 expert organisations, including ourselves at UKR (naturally) as well as the massed ranks of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Arts Council England, English Heritage, Design Council CABE, the Association of Town Centre Management, the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Urban Design Group and the Landscape Institute (Dr Evans confirms it was a helluva drafting committee!).
The guide describes the many different ways in which urban spaces can be used imaginatively to revitalise high streets and town centres - increasing high street vitality, attracting footfall and boosting local economies.
A deeply sensible explication of the art of the possible in these straitened times, the guide outlines lots of ways in which urban spaces can be reclaimed to increase high street vitality.
Some of the simplest examples include pavement cafés, pop-up stalls and markets, busking and street performance, festivals and events "and there are many other, more unusual possibilities".
As the guide explains, small or more significant design changes can also make a big difference "for example improving the route to the high street, using local materials and sightlines to emphasise local character, the use of "shared space" principles in the design of pavements and roads and the reduction of unnecessary street furniture" and "many places already use their spaces in exciting ways, but this kind of thinking is not common".
So the government, rather commendably, wants to see more people being creative about how they design and use the spaces in their town centres and high streets, in a way that takes its inspiration from local characteristics and resonates with local people.
"In this way, these spaces can help revitalise our town centres, boost economic performance, support regeneration, and build community pride and social integration".
Perhaps it is not too late for Dawlish to fulfil its lovely potential. I wonder if Torbay District Council have their copy "Re-imagining Urban Spaces to Help Revitalise Our High Streets" already? I do hope so.