A focus on effective place-making and place management raises the challenge of assessing the ‘quality’ of place’ and developing appropriate methods for measuring the impact of place-making activities.  Where ‘place’ is simply a public space, assessment can be relatively straightforward and measures including footfall, linger-times, retail occupancy rates and crime and anti-social behavior patterns can be direct measures of place improvement. 


For residential places, measurement can be more difficult and requires a combination of quantitative data with more qualitative approaches that can assess the socio-psychological experience of living in a specific place.  Measurement of the impact of urban renewal initiatives can be particularly challenging where places characterised by social disadvantage are targeted for improved social mix and better performance in key areas such as health, educational outcomes and employability.  For many urban renewal projects these social outcomes are critical to the ambitions of the place-making agenda.


This article reviews a method initially developed for a Joseph Rowntree Foundation assessment of the effects of community regeneration programmes in the four devolved regions of the UK (Adamson 2010).  It was further developed for Welsh Government by the Centre for Regeneration Wales and adopted by a number of consultancies and Housing Associations in Wales to measure the impact of their place-making activities.


The Atmosphere, Landscape and Horizon Framework combines statistical data with community derived information, to arrive at a holistic assessment of the quality of place.  It can be deployed as an initial baseline review and subsequent impact evaluation tool where community and place renewal programs are being implemented.  The three core concepts employ a touristic metaphor to understand the perceptions of place held by residents and visitors to the community.  The concepts are:



‘Atmosphere’ refers to the ‘feel’ of a place.  Is it somewhere you would like to live?  Is it welcoming or hostile?  Does it feel safe or dangerous?  Do residents have a sense of identity, and is that positive or negative?  Is it a tight-knit community or one fractured by difference and inequality?  Is it a community respected by others or stigmatised for crime, anti-social behaviour and social disruption? 



The ‘Landscape’ of a place reflects its physical characteristics and their influence on the quality of life for those who live there. It is about the structure and design of the built environment and the public realm.  What is the housing quality and appearance?  What is the housing density and distribution?  Are there green spaces and gardens, and are they well kept and attractive?  Are there play and sports spaces, and functional public spaces that contribute positively to the atmosphere of the community?  Are there services required by residents for shopping, learning, health and well being, and exercise?  Is the community well connected internally by good roads and paths, and externally by transport links and information technologies?


The ‘Horizon’ of a community describes the sense of social horizon experienced by residents. It is concerned with cultural and psychological horizons, and the ways in which residents orientate themselves towards the external world.  Are they empowered to interact with the wider social and economic world, or is life restricted to the community by low educational attainment, worklessness and lack of social capital?  Do residents travel outside for work, leisure and learning or are they trapped by low aspirations within a peer culture that is passive and lacks direction?  Most fundamentally, is there social provision that builds bridges to the outside worlds of employment, education and healthy living?



The three concepts are also inextricably linked and can be visualised as cogs in a machine; turning one cog impacts upon another cog simultaneously.  For example, significant improvements in Landscape can radically improve Atmosphere, just as Atmosphere improvement in crime and anti-social behaviour reduction can improve Landscape, with less vandalism and graffiti. This allows sophisticated multi-stranded interventions to be designed in multi-agency collaborative responses.


The approach develops a fine-grained understanding of the social, economic, cultural and physical qualities of place.  In the original study, international literature was searched to establish a ‘basket’ of 128 statistical measures that were available at the correct spatial level and subject to sufficiently frequent updates.  For implementation in the UK there was readily available crime, health, educational and employment data as well as conventional Census outputs.


However, the availability of statistical data is highly varied and dependent on government attitudes to data sharing.  In countries such as the UK this process is well established and others, including New Zealand, are moving in the direction of open data sources.  In other jurisdictions, including Australia, acquiring data can be very challenging.  Federal, state and local government is reluctant to make data publically available. 


In such jurisdictions the strategy of community engagement and use of qualitative data becomes more essential.  Methods employed to secure community views can include focus groups, surveys, community design charettes, and Place Check type activities.  In the original study a  ‘question bank’ was made available to support community organisations to conduct their own analysis.




Several advantages have been reported by users:


  • an ability to engage residents in an accessible and meaningful dialogue based on their common sense understanding of the core concepts

  • repetition of the assessment at pre-determined intervals can provide a longitudinal analysis which is particularly valuable for measuring the slow pace of change in headline social indicators such as health and educational attainment.

  • the method closely aligns with social impact assessment methods including Results Based Accountability and Social Return on Investment (SROI) approaches.


The primary disadvantage is the labour -intensive community engagement element.  However, this can be mitigated by collaborating with local community groups and residents to assist in the collection of qualitative data.


Full details of the Atmosphere, Landscape Horizon Toolkit developed for use in Wales



Adamson. D. (2010). The Impact of Devolution: Area-Based Regeneration Policies in the UK. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York.


issue 03. autumn 2017