Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Sense of place: designing-in neighbourliness? With all this housebuilding going on and planned, questions are raised more often about the quality of residential design and layout. Even getting that right isn't going to guarantee the promotion of neighbourly relations, but you'd have thought it was an important start. CABE is on the case, and has just published research into the views of residents of new homes completed within the last three years. The study blends two surveys, one involving 643 residents living in 33 new developments; the other covering 704 residents at six case study developments. A key point is that being highly satisfied with the home itself does not necessarily imply a high degree of satisfaction with the wider development, or vice versa. People may express satisfaction with their new home (and often are reluctant to acknowledge problems with it), but very significant numbers of respondents expressed negative views about their neighbourhoods. For example, although 82% of residents thought that their development was attractive and 69%found it had a pleasant road layout: 40% thought that there was not enough public open space in the development 48% thought there was not enough play space 34% thought the layout of their development was unsafe for children to walk, cycle or play in the streets, and 45% say that they live in the kind of neighbourhood where people mostly go their own way rather than doing things together and trying to help each other. Well, the sense of belonging on new estates is unpredictable. The received wisdom is that you usually get an initial high level of interaction because people move in at around the same time, have similar issues, and may be at a similar stage in the life-cycle (especially parents of young children). Car-based lifestyles make a massive difference of course; and after a few years anyway this sense of community often dissipates or settles back down. But in a recent conversation at a fast-expanding housing association I was told that lack of social integration on several new developments was giving rise to a lot of problems. I suspect social landlords are generally well aware that it won't do to lay all the blame on the designers or the developers. Meanwhile, CABE says: This is not about a failure of national government policy: there is a perfectly good policy framework in place, which puts a strong emphasis on the quality of residential design and layout. It is housebuilders and planners who need to take more responsibility for creating a sense of place within new housing developments. But how? I think there is some confusion about expectations of neighbouring. First, a general disinterest among people looking for housing (and I have only contempt for the stream of television programmes encouraging people to buy, make profit and move on without a moment's reflection on the social context of the home). Cultural expectations of local social interaction tend to be low: for the prospective resident they're a matter of chance not choice. Neighbourly relations are an afterthought. And...

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