‘The pristine, faux-traditional houses are the same as those you see all over the country, offering the promise of "traditional living with modern comforts."’
And so he asks,
‘If you use the word "village" and learn from the planning mistakes of the past, can you quickly build a community from scratch?’
Although he doesn’t really get face to face with the question, there are several delightful insights, including this one from Terri Clarke, a resident of Fairford Leys:
"It's referred to as a village, but it's an estate," Terri insists. "The fact that it was all built at the same time means it's an estate. Villages evolve, don't they?"
Thank you Terri.
I’ve been round a few such places (including Poundbury, which is hardly typical) and a few things have struck me.
- The architecture is invariably an improvement on what was left us by the architects and planners of the 1960s and 1970s. And there is more likely to be a mix of renovated and new build of different sizes with social and private housing.
- The developers’ contribution to local amenities almost always lags behind and the eventual level of provision is probably seldom adequate.
- The public realm matters everywhere. The article quotes architect John Simpson, emphasising in these new developments ‘a public realm, rather than just leftover space, which is what you get on housing estates.’ So who was responsible for designing housing estates without a public realm? Why?
- People reflect readily on their neighbourhood, but snobbery around words like ‘estate’ and ‘village’ surfaces quite easily. These snobberies can get institutionalised in the regulation of residents through terms and conditions, with some of the least rational forms emerging. Thus one of the residents quoted in the article says she’s ‘not allowed solar panels’. The version of ‘heritage’ espoused by her residents’ association presumably excludes the idea of future generations inheriting an inhabitable planet.
- These estates have often achieved a subtle, possibly unnoticed, control over vehicle traffic, so that kids can play in the street. If the residents’ association allows that sort of thing, of course.
- Some people are clearly suspicious of the ‘prissy’ over-prescribed environment, and readily contrast it to some notion of ‘community’ which entertains a degree of lively disorder. Others appear to have a fear of disorder (which itself can seem like a psychological disorder at times) and will invest heavily in the local politics of protection: for them, ‘community’ is characterised by peace and predictability. Maybe we can’t build for all sorts and shouldn't try.
To return to the question posed: ‘can you quickly build a community from scratch?’ There's a superficial answer, which is that in some circumstances you can of course: it helps to have an identifiable shared adversity.
question begs too many others. For instance, it privileges the notion of
‘community’ as something that people should be expected to value over good
quality housing and a safe, unpolluted environment. Not everyone does, and why should they? As was the case with the urban villages movement in the 1990s, we should not be surprised if some people are suspicious of the antiseptic notion of community that is on offer.
also ignores the historical fact that many residential areas have evolved
without any trace of the wishy-washy organic community that mythology predicts
and celebrates. Why does 'community' emerge here but not there? Maybe we should agonise a bit less over the C word, and invest
more in designing more civilised places to live, using basic principles including the provision of public space and community resources, with a properly funded local government
to back it up and help maintain and sustain it.