Finding the right recipe for collaboration
In 2007 the government unveiled ambitious plans to significantly increase the supply of housing, either as extensions to existing towns and cities or, in some cases, entirely new settlements. The future of many new housing initiatives is now uncertain, yet housing demand in England, and globally, is increasing. The number of households in England in projected to increase by over 6 million between 2006 and 2031.
New housing settlements will need to be created in spite of economic and policitical uncertainties. The practitioners involved in these developments, and their future residents, both have an exciting role to play in shaping and managing these new places.
However there is no single route to success. Plans for every new community will need to imaginatively respond to both the needs of local people and future residents and the physical, social and economic characteristics of the wider area.
In many ways such developments can be compared to the process of baking a cake. Not all cakes are the same and the first of many important decisions to make is to choose what kind of cake to bake. This will depend on a variety of factors, particularly the preferences of the people who will eat it. Every step of the way will be influenced by the capabilities and opinions of the people involved. Some important questions to consider at each stage are:
The first crucial issue for practitioners is to decide what kind of project to embark on; will this be a Victoria sponge or a fruit cake? Will this be an entirely new place or will it be an extension of a town that already exists? If so, how will the new area relate to what is already there? Some questions to consider are:
- How big will the new community be and will it be an extension to somewhere already existing?
- How will the new community link to and fit in with neighbouring existing communities?
- Who is likely to move into the new community?
- What do existing residents in the wider area want?
- Will the new residents bring with them particular cultural values, for example a commitment to environmentally sustainable lifestyles?
Once a vision has been established, practitioners will need to consider the context surrounding the development. In terms of baking the cake, have you made one before or will you need recipe suggestions from elsewhere? Practitioners will need to consider:
- What decisions need to be made?
- Who will be involved in planning the development and who will take a lead role?
- How will the new community fit within the regional and local authorities’ plans for the wider area?
- What experience do the different agencies involved have similar developments?
Bringing together the right ingredients is vital to any recipe, and when baking this has to be done following the correct food safety standards. When creating new communities practitioners and residents will follow a similar process. They will need to be involved in deciding what specific elements that are needed in the new community, taking into consideration what already exists locally, and ensure that the right standards and requirements are followed.
- What type of homes will be built?
- What standards and requirements will be in place, through, for example, design codes?
- How will local people be involved in making decisions?
- How will the community be maintained in the long-term?
- Is there a viable stewardship approach included in the plans?
Making the recipe
When it comes to the actual creation of the new community, the practicalities of the building process will need to be considered and how they impact on local people will be crucial. At what stage does each ingredient, and their combination, need particular attention? Are you confident that the butter and sugar should be added before the eggs? In phased developments new residents will arrive before the project is complete. Practitioners will need to consider how best to incorporate their needs and preferences. This will include:
- In what order should the ingredients come together?
- How long will it take?
- Can you adapt if you find you don’t have enough of one ingredient?
- How will new residents be involved?
Implementing the plan
As the new community begins to take shape, progress must be monitored to ensure it is heading towards the planned outcome. During cooking, if the cake doesn’t rise how can the practitioners involved help it on its way? Similarly in a new community if progress is not happening as planned how can the practitioners involved adapt their approach?
- Is the development meeting the aspirations of the original vision?
- What can be adapted to improve the situation?
- How are new residents welcomed into the community?
- Are the stewardship plans or organisation for the community active?
‘The proof is in the pudding'
Finally the community will exist and the new residents will have arrived. At this point it will be important to evaluate how closely the new development meets the aspirations of the original vision for the area, and to ensure that plans for long-term stewardship have been translated into reality for the new community. The most important question being is the cake edible?
- How will you know what the residents think about their new home and the wider area?
- Is there anything that could improve the new community?
- Are the local schools, shops, transport systems and other facilities meeting the needs of local people?
- How have relationships between new and more established residents developing?
Learning for next time
Finally it is worth considering if you would make the cake again. The experiences of the practitioners involved in creating new communities will be a valuable tool not only in their own future work but also for others embarking on similar projects. It will be helpful to capture the opinions if those that took part and disseminate them to others in the field.
- How will you share what you have learnt?
- Would you do it again?
- How would you change your approach next time?
In this site we discuss some of the community ingredients that need to be in place for the creation of new and sustainable communities, particularly in terms of participation and stewardship. You can also read about the experiences of other practitioners involved in regeneration projects over the past two decades in stories from the field.