Log in | Register

Overlapping uses will shape the future city

Cityscape iStock

Research suggests more and more of us will spend our lives in rented accommodation. What needs to change to make renting more attractive, secure and practical? Euan Durston argues for a wholesale change of perspective

The Resolution Foundation has reported that up to a third of young people will live in private rented accommodation all their lives. Forty per cent of millennials were living in rented housing at 30 and 1.8 million families with children now rent privately. This ‘third sector’ cannot afford the ‘aspirational’ offer of private developers, yet don’t qualify for social housing.

The housing crisis is more than a numbers game; we need new typologies for which our planning system is not equipped.

Our core policies emerged when urban populations were falling and slum clearance was replacing older stock at lower densities. These policies – regulating privacy and proximity,  amenity space, daylight and the appropriate mix of uses – bar the innovation we need to explore higher-density living.

We are now more concentrated in urban areas and households may comprise families with grown-up children or elderly relatives requiring healthcare at home. Now more active in retirement, we are more aspirational about the accommodation we seek when downsizing. Younger households often comprise friends sharing.

The ‘co-housing’ movement, ‘micro-homes’ and Community Land Trusts have responded with new models, relying on creativity to overcome policy constraints. The ‘sharing economy’ they promote challenges what is public and what is private. Policies aimed at generating ‘unit mix’ through an outdated ‘room-count’ model become irrelevant, as amenities may be shared across households.

"We need to encourage the overlapping of uses – in space and time – to support the civilised city of the future"

Planning use classes promote the ‘de-mixing’ of our cities into residential, employment, manufacturing and leisure zones and make us reliant on congested transport systems.

Instead, we need to encourage the overlapping of uses – in space and time – to support the civilised city of the future.

Affordable workspaces, housing and maker/service spaces could coexist within a 24-hour use cycle. Proactive planning could deliver sustainability by reducing car ownership and 
the demands on transport infrastructure, and support district heating and off-grid energy solutions that go beyond tokenism.

But policy reform is essential. 

The emerging PRS sector, founded on long-term stewardship and investment across a diverse portfolio, could meet the challenges of high-density living and ‘Generation Rent’ with new residential typologies and the mixed-use economy. It could move us away from policy approaches that skew development to short-term gains at the point of consent and base housing policies on the demands of the electoral cycle. We need to jettison our obsession with home ownership and embrace renting as a positive choice.

Euan Durston is a senior associate with architecture practice Weston Williamson and Partners


Email Newsletter Sign Up