Thirty leading urban professionals, including engineers, architects, project managers, valuers, quantity surveyors, estate agents and property developers, were interviewed to assess how their work and perspectives are shaped by risk consciousness. They concluded:
• 'Risk has moved into the core of what we do.' 'Increased risk process tends to focus on managing the downside rather than considering potential.' The consensus is of a clear increase in the awareness of risk, especially with the development of CDM
regulations. A number noted that risk has sharpened up their practices, yet felt it constrained their capacity to innovate and provide certain design features. 'There is now little intelligent interpretation of the rules.'
• 'The risk industry has a vested interest in a climate of risk.' None of the design professionals is against design review processes, but there is a hardening view that risk assessment professionals 'want an increasing climate of risk as it justifies their existence'.
• 'The new planning supervisory and risk assessment roles reduce the risk for themselves.' Those with responsibility for design tend to believe those attracted to risk assessment are not people with imagination. Acerbically, someone noted, 'They are from the lower end of the gene pool - most of them want the ordinary because they can manage the ordinary.' The notion of undertaking work on the basis of 'reasonable endeavour' is declining.
• 'Do risk assessors understand design?' Lack of understanding by risk assessors or safety auditors often makes assessments inadequate, especially in relation to environmentally sustainable design. Criticisms centre on a desire for design to be looked at from a broader, long-term perspective.
• 'Increased resources are being spent on risk assessment.' Practically every practice is spending more resources on risk than five years ago. This ranges from employing people with legal experience or risk assessors as part of instituting new management procedures. Insurance cover for all professions has increased beyond the level of inflation.
• 'The rise of intermediaries cramps our style.' In the past engineers dealt with a single client, who might take the whole risk of an innovative project. Now more projects are undertaken through intermediaries such as projects managers and contractors. This fragmentation tends to increase risk aversion.
• 'Passing the parcel on risk.' In a world of multiple contracting and intermediaries, where is risk located? 'There is a merry-go-round' with people trying to pass on and export their risk to someone else. Risk should reside with those best able to manage a specific risk was the consensus. 'The price we pay if you create pressures on various consultants to manage their own risk by building in too many safeguards is that engineers will overdesign and build in self-preservation and waste.'
• 'Design for risk rather than against it.' There should be an assumption, especially in public space projects, that risky activities might occur, such as skateboarding. Rather than designing street furniture to repel skateboarders it should be designed to withstand it.
• 'More safety rather than health conscious.' The risk agenda from the perspective of urban professionals focuses too exclusively on safety and not health. This stunts debate on creating urban environments and developing a regulations and incentives regime that fosters healthy lifestyles. This ranges from encouraging public transport use to creating walkable urban settings or cycling-friendly environments.
• 'Keeping the client close and consultation.' The way forward proffered was to develop risk mitigation strategies by keeping close to clients and other contractors in a collaborative process of systematic risk assessment. Closeness to clients will help avoid litigation.
• 'The biggest risk is not to take the risk.' The risk of not going against the grain of perceived rules 'was the far greater one of creating depressing cities that do not work emotionally' so generating spin-off problems from crime to vandalism. 'Our palette of possibilities is shrinking.'13
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