Thu 10 / 03 / 16
Construction Voice: Constructing Great Communities, Notes of Proceedings
Construction Voice: Constructing Great Communities, 24th Feb 2016
Notes of Proceedings by Helmut Lusser, Chair of Hove Civic Society
The event took place at Preston Barracks. Four speakers explored how to construct great communities and whether the construction industry was able to contribute to such a process. Key issues included whether communities can be designed, whether they happen naturally, what it takes to create good communities, who should do it and whether communities see the value of construction. A question and answer session rounded off the event.
- Sorwar Ahmed, Director of Urban Engagement explored what makes good communities. He explained this around the three headings of Place, People and Partnership.
- In terms of place he highlighted the importance of liveability, which meant creating a sense of place, which makes social interaction possible, is accessible, is of human scale and relates to the existing urban fabric. This doesn’t rule out high buildings, but animation at ground level is key. Liveability also requires good community infrastructure as well as green infrastructure, all of high quality.
- In terms of people, social mix and diversity is essential and connecting to existing social networks is important. It may be necessary to bring in resources up front to develop these. This may help to integrate new and existing communities. Issues such as affordability and fairness need to be addressed.
- Successful partnership requires leadership both political and from senior management and a strong vision. It is essential to support the third sector early on to engage the community. Resources for third sector activity could come from alternative development models and the challenge is to see how such models can be developed outside planning obligations to achieve ongoing trust funding. In essence this would convert capital to revenue funding for the third sector.
- Rob Sloper, Project Director for Preston Barracks at U+I gave several examples of successful place making. His company, formerly Cathedral group, had concentrated on marginal sites and he attributed the success of those sites to the extra effort they had to put in. It was important to work with the community before looking at any design of a scheme and to start long before the cranes move in. Examples included moving a railway carriage onto a site and inviting local people to turn this into a café, opening up railway arches for small business and starting to make the development site a centre of attraction long before development starts.
- Richard Wolfstrome, Creative Director at WOLFSTRöME explored how we can create desirable places and how we connect people to places. He spoke around his formula which seeks to describe the desirable transformation of places. Reality of place + community + vision + narrative + heritage + design = desirable space and place ownership. Places should promote a sense of community. However it is essential to realise that every place is different and that it is impossible to apply the same rules to all places.
- Geoff Raw, Chief Executive of Brighton & Hove City Council described the demographic structure of the City as diverse, young and highly educated. The success of the city has contributed to putting enormous pressure on the housing market resulting in many people who work here not being able to live here. The city council has many roles including dealing with market failure. It also deals with areas such as tourism, transport systems, health and wellbeing. Challenges include how to deal with issues such as building community cohesion and how to mediate in all the competing demands facing the council.
- One increasingly essential component is that of attracting funding to the city, such as the recent city deal and it will become increasingly important to involve communities in helping improve the city and for politicians to lobby at regional and national level for funding. A key question is how to relate new investment to the social value of the city. Engaging local communities is pivotal to all this as the vibrancy of the city is its people.
Questions and Answers
- How can we ensure that new developments are sustainable? It is essential to make people realise the value of sustainability and this is more than just adhering to sets of criteria such as the BREEAM standards. Developers who keep their assets have a much more long term interest in their assets and are therefore also likely to have much more interest in sustainability issues.
- What is a community and how do you define it? It is hard to define. It is all about cultural richness.
- Is there an optimum size of community? (referring to possible conflicts between community and the city as a whole). Can’t be answered.
- Creating communities is pretentious – you should be less paternalistic! What will you do to involve the (existing) community? It is our job to explore how we can integrate the (existing) community.
- There is a danger with new dense housing that we loose community space. There is no set formula and it is essential for (existing) communities to adequately demonstrate the need for community space – so as not to double up with space or create spaces that are not used.
- How do you go about enhancing communities rather than just gentrify? Only comment: this may indeed be an unintended consequence.
- Creating a great community is like creating a great mosaic and bureaucratic barriers can go against creating such communities. Can we get rid of some of the bureaucracy that stops creating communities? No answer.
One key message that came out of the event was the distinction between communities and neighbourhoods. A neighbourhood can be built but it doesn't mean a strong community will form. The way to try and create good neighbourhoods is to talk with people, this includes the existing community, potential new members of communities, third sector and businesses.
The big elephant in the room, only referred to privately outside the session, was the strong resistance by many local groups against a large number of the development proposals for the city. How such resistance can be overcome without completely undermining the need for development in the city is the key question which wasn’t asked.
Notes written by Helmut Lusser, Chair of Hove Civic Society
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