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10/07/2020

Building places people love – a new reality for planners and developers

Liveable Neighbourhoods / press release

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown are changing the way that people think about the places where they live. Planners and developers need to be able to respond to this new perspective, says Andrew Taylor

Building new communities that people love and in which they can thrive is undoubtedly a complex task. The last few months have altered the way that people are living, and working, and it is difficult to understand clearly at this stage how much of the change will become a permanent feature in our lives.

We can see early anecdotal feedback that house purchasers are looking for gardens, balconies and access to open space and looking for different internal space configurations to allow easier working from home. How will this change home design? How will it change masterplanning? How will it change the provision of local amenities?

When it comes to placemaking, it’s important to realise that this extends beyond geography. It’s both a practice and a philosophy – it’s as much about the feeling people experience in their homes and the wider development as the physical buildings themselves. 

"We can see early anecdotal feedback that house purchasers are looking for gardens, balconies and access to open space and looking for different internal space configurations to allow easier working from home"

The key is having a holistic viewpoint to planning, analysing the place as a whole, rather than focusing on individual components. Taking a landscape-led approach is vital in order to ensure that you embrace the existing natural landscape wherever possible, as well as create new parks and open spaces for sports and recreation.

The current changing priorities are likely to increase scrutiny of emerging masterplans for new development. There is likely to be an increased focus on the amenities provided within 15-minute communities; ensuring access to open space, local shops as well as work hubs and community facilities. 

First-class infrastructure and amenities are an important part of what differentiates developments, turning them into sustainable communities that people are proud to call home. Basic elements like roads and cycleways, coupled with other more complex ones like schools, community centres and village squares, must be factored into the masterplanning from the outset. Housing by itself has a limited capacity to meet the needs and desires of residents.

The current need to have local, easily walkable, shopping facilities and access to open space for daily exercise are central to the designing of 15-minute communities. The ability to provide for daily needs – schools, shops, open space, cafes/work hubs etc – will become even more important than they have been. This focus on walking and cycling will hopefully change the design and prominence of roads and parking and provide for a greener, calmer and more human scale of masterplanning.

It is also very important to ensure that the first residents to move into a development can feel at home, and that can only be achieved by having good infrastructure and community facilities in place from the beginning. When planning for these, developers need to go beyond functionality and improve the quality of life for residents. 

"The current need to have local, easily walkable, shopping facilities and access to open space for daily exercise are central to the designing of 15-minute communities"

While all of these different factors are key to building successful, community-driven developments, if the right approach to planning isn’t taken from the start, they amount to nothing. That’s why consulting and engaging with local communities during the early planning stages is vital. 

With community-based participation at its centre, an effective placemaking process can capitalise on a local community's assets, inspiration, and potential. This results in the creation of quality public spaces that contribute to people's health, happiness, and well-being. When people of all ages, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds can not only access and enjoy a place, but also play a key role in its identity, creation, and maintenance, that is when we see genuine placemaking in action.

To be able to turn a vision of a successful new community into a reality requires constructive partnership working between developers and local authorities. Clear senior officer and Councillor leadership together with a well-resourced planning department able to deal with and respond to the volume of planning applications, is vital.  

Andrew Taylor FRTPI is director and head of planning at Countryside

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