New communities need services and support, not just buildings

"If we are to have any chance of creating vibrant new communities that offer residents quality of life and that open up new opportunities - communities that are well balanced, integrated, sustainable and well connected - then we have to think about building for the wider needs of the whole community, not just focus on building homes."

A good place for children? Attracting and retaining families in inner urban mixed income communities
Emily Silverman, Ruth Lupton and Alex Fenton, Chartered Institute of Housing/Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2005)

Research from government, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has explored what residents want from a new community and concluded that social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community and services are as important as good quality housing and need to be in place early in the life of a new community.

Find out more about the success and sustainability of mixed communities

Some of the strongest evidence about the importance of social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community and amenities comes from the experience of residents arriving in the English New Towns - 32 new communities created between 1946 and 1970 to provide homes and job opportunities for residents. Central to the New Towns concept was the idea of ‘walking distance communities' where each neighbourhood would contain a school, shops, post office, chemist, church, pub, community centre and sports facilities. A review of Transferrable Lessons from the New Towns commissioned by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in 2006 , to provide practical lessons for England's new growth areasGlossary: There are four growth areas in England, which were outlined in the government's 2003 Sustainable Communities Plan. These are geographical areas where a substantial proportion of new housing will be built

and growth pointsGlossary: Growth Points are areas identified by the central government department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) as being suitable for housing development. , concluded that "where these facilities were already in place when people began to arrive, the community came together and networks were formed more easily."

The 2004 Egan Review clearly states the importance of local services as one of eight key elements of sustainable communitiesGlossary: Sustainable communities meet the social, economic and environmental needs of existing residents without reducing the same opportunities for future generations, including "public, private, community and voluntary services that are appropriate to people's needs and accessible to all."

Safety is a key concern for residents moving into new communities. Creating places that feel safe is complex as perceptions of danger are often greater than the actual threat posed. The design of the built environment has an important role to play in creating the infrastructure that can prevent criminal behaviour; and also that creates a sense of safety within communities. Intimidating environments which appear neglected and underused can typically cause people to feel unsafe as opposed to well-designed active spaces.

CABE's Safer Places paper points out that, "once a development has been completed the main opportunity to incorporate crime prevention measures will have been lost." In addition, there are significant cost implications for maintaining safety in places that have been badly-designed. For this reason, it is essential to consider these design issues at the planning stage.

Read more about CABE's Safer Places paper

Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Social Value of Public Spaces, shows that once a neighbourhood has a reputation for being unsafe, it is difficult for a community to change those perceptions.

People feel threatened by different situations, depending on their sex, age and background and the ways in which they use spaces (for example women's experience of fear in public spaces has been explored in depth by geographers Liz Bondi and Damaris Rose). Therefore local demographics should also be factored in when designing safe neighbourhoods.

Read More: Social and cultural life, a sense of place and belonging

Why mobility is a factor which affects perceptions of neighbourhoods

Designing out crime can also have a negative impact on a community if spaces are over policed. Designing ‘defensible spaces' with high levels of surveillance and public exclusion, can end up aggravating the problem rather than alleviating it:

"Reneration strategies or policing approaches intended to ‘design out crime' can end up ‘designing out' people. Approaches that strip public spaces of all features vulnerable to vandalism or misuse actively discourage local distinctiveness and public amenity."

The Social value of public spaces
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Ken Worpole & Katharine Knox (2007)

Many urban theorists and sociologists such as William, H Whyte and Jane Jacobs have argued that safe communities are essentially self-policing. They say that if there is a sufficient level of permeability encouraging street activity, neighbourliness and public surveillance then communities will naturally look after themselves. An analysis by Bill Hillier of University College London, identifies the potential for designing in spatial strategies for natural policing.

JRF's recommendations for ‘designing in inclusion' in new public spaces