Report charts course to building more ‘liveable places’

03 February 2020 6 min. read

While it has been a constant trend since the industrial revolution, urbanisation is accelerating in the 21st century. Faced with growing demand for housing and infrastructure, many construction projects forfeit liveability for speed – however, a new report suggests that this may well cause worse problems further down the line.

By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion people are expected to live in urban areas. In order to accommodate that trend in the UK, at least 300,000 more homes need to be built each year – however only 195,000 are being built. As a result, housing charity Shelter estimates that up to 320,000 people do not have a home. Meanwhile increasing urbanisation is putting more pressure on ageing infrastructure, something emphasised in areas of deprivation or those hit by the first impacts of climate change.

With the built environment scrambling to meet this growing diversity of requirements, it has historically overlooked the idea of quality of life when breaking ground on new construction projects. This is a problematic approach, as ignoring the long-term liveability of parks, buildings, towns or cities can have a detrimental impact on the people and communities who live in them. According to a new report, being mindful of the needs of people in the design of spaces in which they live, work, move and play can drastically improve their happiness and productivity.

The ‘Liveable Places’ report from Arcadis has identified five fundamentals for successful place-making, laying the foundations for a new approach to creating happy, healthy, integrated and thriving new communities. By putting social value at the heart of the equation, engaging with people at every stage of the process to understand what will make a place succeed and then managing and measuring to make sure that it happens, the researchers contend that planners can ensure the benefits of effective place-making are enjoyed by all.

The five fundamentals of place

Commenting on the study, Arcadis UK and Ireland Chief Executive Officer Mark Cowlard said, “We need to look beyond the purely functional. The most successful places and communities are those that inspire. They provide safe spaces with room to grow. They connect us – physically, economically, socially – to our wider environment… It calls for a new way of thinking, designing and creating place, where benefits are maximised across the public and private sectors. Instead of focusing purely on development profit and land value, we need to start layering in social value and the impact on people’s lives.”

Five fundamentals

According to Arcadis’ study, community is the first of five fundamentals which projects should be designed around in future. All too often, local ‘regeneration’ projects come at the cost of communities who have made their homes in an area for decades. Rather than simply falling into the rut of gentrification then, place-making must be with, not to, people. To this end, Arcadis recommends that developers champion ‘community consent commitments’, putting consent mechanisms in place such as estate ballots, community contracts, ‘place juries’ and citizen assemblies, to build trust and partner with communities hosting projects.

Second, projects need to account for funding and delivery of projects ahead of schedule to minimise disruption and maximise value. Arcadis contends that effective place-making is best served through sufficient on-going resourcing, aligning funding and programmes for long-term outcomes, all underpinned by an evidence base. Collaboration between the public and private sector to draw up strategies and alignment is also essential for long term plans, local connectivity, and developing and investing in the capabilities and capacity to achieve this.

Another central goal of place-making should be the creation of better places than those that currently exist. While that might sound like stating the obvious, the importance of addressing the needs of the community for well-connected, safe, mixed-use environments is often overlooked. In order to combat this, Arcadis recommends the enabling of co-produced purposeful places, via funding designs with strong links to the public realm, which can unite people and purpose through stewardship and the appointment of design champions.

Building on these prior points, Arcadis’ researchers also assert that collaboration is key to solid place-making. As well as residents, construction needs to account for the opinions and needs of landowners, developers, delivery partners, investors, housing providers, transport bodies, community groups, public service providers, voluntary sector, planners, architects and national, regional and local leadership. This daunting process can be made much easier by underpinning it with effective governance to embed the role of community voice and cement democratic input.

Finally, no project can afford to negate the need for sustainability. The urgency of climate change means any development must be part of the solution to meeting net zero carbon. Building environments to last is a big step toward this – with sustainability encompassing construction and maintenance. The wear and tear invoked by the use of utilities; transport integration; community responsiveness; community wealth building and local assets and services must all be built with the idea of longevity in mind.

Summarising these suggestions, Peter Hogg, Arcadis’ UK Cities Director, remarked, “The most successful places and communities are those that inspire. They provide safe spaces with room to grow. They connect us – physically, economically, socially – to our wider environment. Effective planning and delivery, from providing homes and jobs, to creating interconnected communities and supporting social cohesion, involves long term planning that understands and integrates multiple strands of activity.”

Last year, construction consultancy Arup also took to championing liveability in the built environment. The firm forged a partnership with the Bernard van Leer Foundation to combine their design expertise and knowledge of child development to help improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable children. The alliance has enabled the consultancy to include Virtual Reality testing to partners planning construction projects, in order to provide a child’s perspective on urban environments, which can be taken into account during project planning.