Good neighbourhood design
Good neighbourhood design will have an important role in promoting community cohesion by providing public spaces that are comfortable and inviting for local people. Neighbourhood design that is able to promote cycling and walking will also have a significant impact on reducing the environmental impact of the new community.
The new towns of the past were predominantly built in the 1950s and 60s, and the layout of many of these places were designed with car users in mind. Different functions within the town’s master plan, such as housing, shops and leisure facilities and more industrial areas were separated from each other into different zones, accessible by relatively long stretches of road. Research into the effects of this type of design on community cohesion proved inconclusive. Though it did seem to negatively affect residents’ opportunities to form social networks with others in their area, it is impossible to be sure that the design of neighbourhood, rather than social factors, was the cause of this.
New towns of the future are unlikely to be designed in the same way. The need to reduce the impact of urban areas on the environment will ensure that facilities such as shops and schools will be accessible from residents’ homes by cycling or walking. This approach to 'walking distance’ neighbourhoods is also likely to support the development of community cohesion.
In order to support the development of social networks it is important that residents feel comfortable using public spaces. Doing so gives people opportunities to meet their neighbours and gain an attachment to their local area. Spending time outdoors exercising or taking part in activities like gardening clubs or growing food on allotments has also been shown to enhance both physical and mental wellbeing. The particular details of the design of each new neighbourhood will be specific to each community but in general residents value safe, clean and green spaces. There a number of tools and best practise guides to support the work of practitioners involved in the details of neighbourhood design, including the Urban Design Compendium, Secured by Design and the Town and Country Planning Association’s Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements.
The maintenance of a neighbourhood’s public spaces in the long term will be vital to the success of the community. Consideration for the costs and ease of maintenance will influence the details of a neighbourhood’s design, for example the types of paving used or the number of grass verges. Where specific new technologies are incorporated into a master plan for an area, for example underground waste collection systems as seen in Hammarby Sjöstad or solar panels fitted to a range of buildings, it will be important for the practitioners, particularly the planners, working on these features to consider how they will be managed in the future.
Pro-environmental behaviours, particularly using bicycles or walking, can have a number of positive effects both for communities and for individuals. However encouraging and supporting people to change their habitual behaviours can be a slow process. Residents are only likely to opt not to drive between destinations if other transport options are genuinely convenient and safe. Sustrans is a charity that supports the use of sustainable transport options and has a number of guides and projects to help practitioners create 'liveable neighbourhoods'.