Engaging with residents who aren't there yet
In all new communities, whether or not there is an existing population, it is important to put significant effort into engaging with people who will live there in the future. Of course, most of the time and especially when planning several years ahead, it won't be possible to find out about the actual individuals who will live there, but it is possible to talk to people who are similar to the people who will live there in the future.
The best outcomes will be achieved when this is tackled from a variety of angles and when information is gathered from a number of sources in order to get the best picture of what is required. There will inevitably be an amount of guess work, and for this reason it is also important to build in some flexibility so that different options can be taken to shape the physical environment, facilities and services at a later date.
Sometimes it is possible to predict the sort of people who will move to a place, particularly if it is planned with some individual characteristic in mind. For example:
- it would be reasonable to expect that at least some of the people who move to the planned eco-towns will be attracted because of their interest in environmentally friendly living - in this instance it may be appropriate to talk to people who have a similar interest to find out what they would look for if they were moving to an eco-town
- where there are plans for a particular business or businesses to set up or to expand in an area then some of the people who make the place their home are likely to be future employees - in this instance it might be a conversation with the business leaders about who they are going to be employing with a view to speaking to some of their staff members.
It is important for practitioners to consider the relationship between the predicted profile of future residents and household sizes. Young families for example, are likely to need homes that will accommodate growing families. When residents start to arrive in a community it should be possible to adapt plans if those predictions were not totally accurate. In Hammarby Sjöstad in Sweden, the city's planners predicted that older people would want to live in the new town, but instead it became populated mainly with young families. In this instance plans were adapted by boosting the provision of schools and crèches in the early years.
Some research was undertaken to find out the aspirations of prospective residents of the Thames Gateway. While some of these points may be applicable to other areas, they should not be transferred wholesale, nor should this be seen as an alternative to consultation relating to specific areas, since the issues are likely to be location specific.