24 November 2011

How To Design A Thriving Community

Sustainability still is broadly examined from the angle of environmental concerns. Nevertheless there is a growing awareness of social sustainability amongst urban planners and architects. The Young Foundation recently published a report commissioned jointly by the Homes and Communities Agency as part of Future Communities programme on the Design for Social Sustainability. On 55 pages, the report provides ‘a framework for creating thriving communities’. In the foreword Bartlett Professor Peter Hall argues that under the scope of last summer’s riots in Great Britain we have failed to create successful new communities within the existing fabric. He further argues that “This study, which might have seemed peripheral and academic, has become central and urgent. […] The lessons and the recommendations of this report are bound to have a salience that its authors can never have imagined.” In relation to the ongoing urbanization the report poses the question: how can we create new communities in new housing developments that will flourish and succeed long into the future?  In Europe 32 new towns are being created across 11 countries. Of course, the posed question should not be only approached by Western cities. Some estimates suggest that in China 100 new cities with a population more than 1 million will be created in the next three years. For example, as part of the Expo 2010 resettlement programme Pujang New Town in Shanghai aims to house 500,000 new residents to create One City, Nine Towns. Outside Seoul the Incheon Development Area will house 200,000 people by 2010, while in Delhi four new satellite cities are being created to deal with overcrowding and to cater for India’s growing middle classes. It presents and will present huge challenges for governments to provide decent and affordable private and social housing in communities that are economically, environmentally AND socially sustainable. But this is not a new challenge. Many projects have been developed to design out crime, incorporating social infrastructures, considering the role local greenspaces play in wellbeing and so on. However, many of them have failed. Partly because putting into practice what is known is difficult, claims the report. Theoretically these approaches work out, but practically every community is different and therefore social sustainability cannot be prescribed in the same way as standards for environmental sustainability.  Hence, it is crucial to incorporate the specific local conditions. However, the report argues that planning for social success and sustainability can prevent or at least mitigate, the likelihood of future social problems, and in many cases, represents a fraction of the overall costs of development and long term management. After arguing the undeniable, that social sustainability has a case, the report defines extensively the terminology. Subsequently the Young Foundation tries to lift the debate out of the academic arena and developed a framework that contains four elements that are essential to build new socially sustainable communities: amenities and social infrastructure, social and cultural life, voice and influence, can space to grow. 

What follows are the lucid diagrams describing the four elements of the framework (All images © by The Young Foundation)

Although further research is needed in the realm of social sustainability, the Young Foundations framework might be a huge step forward on this terrain. It suggests a structured procedure which referencing for every urban planner, designer and policy maker, as these issues will be one of the main challenges of this century.
Related to this and the potential preventions of future disasters like the recent riots read Technology and Urban Warfare in the archive.