Talking to people as they arrive
Any amount of engagement with resident proxies will not be sufficient for steering the life of the new settlement in the future. The first residents to arrive will be entering a new built environment that will be in the very early stages of development. For many years, newcomers will be entering a growing, changing and unfinished place and an evolving community. At the very least they will need to know that they are being listened to and that they are able to influence how things develop around them within the master plan.
It is possible to start engaging with residents before they move to the new community. The development corporations that led on the new towns in the 1950s, 60s and 70s worked with the housing departments of the local authorities where people were moving from. Likewise it will be possible in future new communities to identify prospective residents, and those who are buying new housing through developers and estate agents and make an initial contact at that point, as has been done in New East Manchester and Castle Vale.
In the earliest stages, simply providing information in the form of a 'welcome pack' to new residents about their homes, local transport and other resources available in the neighbourhood serves both a practical purpose for newcomers and can be a useful way of making the initial contact. Many organisations, such as housing associations, already use home visits and information packs to provide this information to new tenants.
New towns of the past employed individuals to work as 'community development' workers, whose job it was to make contact with new residents and distribute information. Local offices were often set up within the new neighbourhoods as a base for engaging with local people. In some new towns research officers were also employed to explore the needs and opinions of new residents. This approach has been identified as being one of the most important steps that was taken to support the development of social networks within the new communities.
It may also be useful to compliment this approach with a community-focused website. However it is important to avoid generating unrealistic expectations through developer-led 'marketing' information or websites. This could potentially result in new residents buying into a marketing vision rather than a firmly founded vision for the new place based on honest timescales for delivering social and community infrastructure.
The arrangements for engaging residents in planning the physical and social infrastructure and management of the community should be reviewed at regular intervals - at least annually - in the early years. This is to enable people to participate in the later stages of the development and to find new ways of engaging residents that suits them as individuals as well as enabling more people to play a part in decision making.