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28/03/2017

Building homes, building communities

Words:
Place-making

As the country faces the biggest housing crisis of a generation, we have an unusual opportunity before us, says the New Local Government Network's (NLGN) Claire Porter.

As we build the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of homes that we need, local government have the chance to build communities that could solve a multitude of social problems.

Well-designed places have the potential to encourage people to lead healthier lives, reduce criminal offences, and contribute the vital cultural activities that make us want to live in places and improve our quality of life.

Creating high quality places also reduces the likelihood of objections to development and NIMBYism – people dislike development when they think that it will just be houses,that will increase the population and put additional pressure on services and amenities. However, if we design places that will be an asset to the wider community, this increases the likelihood of community support, making the planning process more straightforward for councils, as well as creating better places.

In order to create these places, the NLGN has created a set of design principles to assist councils in delivering these outcomes.

Places should be designed to encourage walking and cycling wherever possible, to reduce pollution and to encourage healthier lifestyles. Green spaces should also be designed for exercise and be well maintained, so that activities from Parkrun to bootcamps can take place outside in the community.

Well-lit and well-cared for places discourage crime and vandalism. If people can take pride in the places that they live and work, they are more likely to take responsibility for them and less likely to cause harm.

Places can also be designed to reduce isolation and encourage community cohesion. Creating high quality public spaces encourages interaction, which reduces isolation, gives communities a place to gather, and gives a place a sense of identity.

However, in order to do all of these things effectively, communities need to be built to a high enough density to support amenities such as shops and public transport, as well as places of culture and activity. These are the things that give colour to life, and encourage people to live in a place.

Good transport and culture also help to attract the wider business community, creating jobs and making a place financially sustainable. In a time where councils are facing unprecedented financial pressures, the new places we build must be able to able to deliver jobs and amenities with limited input from the council.

Taking the time and resources to build higher quality places with good design standards and a higher standard of living can be more time consuming and expensive for councils – not least because it requires a high level of skill and training from planners – as well as involving the expertise of health professionals, community safety advisors and numerous other local government officials. But this investment at the conception of a new community can pay dividends later on, by helping to solve many social problems, before they become embedded.

Claire Porter is the head of external affairs at the NLGN

Image credit | iStock

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