Designing places to help people mix

The quality of the local built environment can be crucial to residents' perception of their area. Inclusive design can reduce fear of crime and promote the use of open public spaces such as parks, providing space for residents to interact and get to know others in their community.

Cyclist cycling on footbridgeEncouraging the growth of social networks within a community is dependent on local residents feeling that the public spaces and facilities in their area are safe and welcoming places to use. Many day-to-day interactions between residents occur at the pub, church, school gate, post office, bus stop or corner shop so it is important that new communities have these local amenities from an early stage as new residents are moving in, even if they are not initially commercially viable. Other facilities such as community centres can provide useful space for community groups and organisations to use for meetings and activities, and might be important income generators for community projects, social enterprisesGlossary: Social enterprises are profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need and trading activities. The Goodwin Trust in Hull built their own community centre which now generates a profit for the organisation.

Where new communities are built close to existing homes it may be appropriate for new facilities to provide space and opportunities for old and new residents to mix - with some benefit for existing residents. For example, a new community building might be positioned on the boundary between an existing neighbourhood and a new development. It may also be possible to carry design features of existing areas into a new development, such as mirroring building materials or extending the street pattern of existing areas, in order to promote a sense of visual cohesiveness and physical permeability. This idea was put into practise in the Dings area of Bristol.

In the creation of new settlements it is important to allow some degree of flexibility in the design of public spaces, especially those aimed at young people. Some new developments of the past have attracted a high percentage of young families. If this is repeated in future new settlements there may be groups of young people growing up together. Playgrounds for under fives will not be suitable for them a decade later and it may be advisable to set aside some areas to adapt to the changing needs of the population as it becomes established. Similar problems around the use of public space emerged in Limehouse following extensive building of new homes in the area. Monitoring and responding to these needs may become part of the role of a long-term stewardship organisation.

Further Reading

Seen and Heard, Demos (2007)

Equally Spaced?, Demos (2007)