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Building in a sense of community

Small communities within a large city

Where did the idea come from?

Creating a sense of community in a housing development encourages people to want to live there.  This was a theme that Kevin McCloud talked about during a session at the Grand Designs Home Show 2014 in Melbourne.  I was struck by the simplicity of the argument that Kevin was making.  People prefer to live in a place where they feel part of a community, not isolated from their neighbours.  We certainly value the neighbourhood feel that exists where we live now.  Residents in several nearby houses know each other well enough to chat, get together for the occasional event, share resources, …

Why is it important to us?Strands coming together to indicate how to create a sense of community

Is there a reason why we might seek out a sense of community?  Apparently, there are documented studies which show that people are happier and healthier when they feel part of a community.  Meaningful social contact and positive social cohesion apparently help to keep many people alive.  So, we can do without a sense of community, but we have a better lifestyle if it’s present.

Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.  David Spangler

In an interview about his views on housing schemes, Kevin used the term social sustainability.  Not being sure exactly what is meant by this term, I did a bit of digging around.  It seems to be an important factor of overall sustainability, along with a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy.  Living sustainably in a social sense means optimising quality of life for the participants.  Other websites talk about promoting a good quality of life, now and into the future.  There are opportunities for people to get involved and a chance for the place and the  community to evolve.  Kevin talks about the green spaces in between the dwellings as the foundation for social sustainability and a sense of community.  If people are sharing garden and play spaces, they feel better about where they live and tend to develop a community with some common interests.

When do you think about a sense of community?

Most importantly, Kevin suggests that you can’t just “do something” at the end of a housing project that will encourage a sense of community.  This is very clear in the objectives of the building company set up by Kevin – HAB (Happiness, Architecture, Beauty).  These houses are designed around spaces where residents can cycle, wander, play or Plan for open spaces in a communityjust watch the world go by.

To do this properly, I suspect the designers would have to create plans with this philosophy in mind.  I can’t see how that can be done after everything else has been decided.  Left over spaces would simply be that – areas that don’t appear to have a useful purpose and can’t encourage residents to spend time together.

Considering how to build a sense of community is a foundation for the creative process and will affect many of the later design decisions.

A proper community, we should remember also, is a commonwealth: a place, a resource, an economy. It answers the needs, practical as well as social and spiritual, of its members – among them the need to need one another.    Wendell Berry

What does a sense of community look like in a housing development design?

Now that we want to include a sense of community for the well-being of everyone living in the three homes, the challenge becomes identifying exactly what that translates into.  What are these design features?  How does it work in practice?  How can you balance a need for privacy or withdrawal with shared spaces or resources?

We need to answer questions like these to be able to specify particular features in the design of our homes and the way we make best use of the remaining space on the land.

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