New communities evolve slowly as social networks develop and populations age and shift

In designing places for the future, designers, policy makers and planners should make sure that communities have the space to develop their own distinctive character and to shape the place so that it better meets their needs, and have scope to change as populations age and shift and new patterns of work and social life emerge.

Leaving ‘space to grow' is essential and can involve:

  • allowing for decisions about the use of some land and buildings to be determined at a later date
  • providing resources to encourage ‘interim use' of land and buildings so that they do not create an eye-sore, but rather provide a catalyst for social development
  • recognising that community institutions and governance arrangements need time to develop and providing the support to enable that to happen
  • providing scope for community self-help and other local projects to develop, building on the skills and the interests of new residents

The Eldonians, a new community in Liverpool created in the 1970s, illustrates how places evolve and grow over time.

Read about the Eldonians

Research (MacGuire 1977) carried out in Telford in the late 1970s reinforces the length of time it can take for people to take root in a new place. The research reports that residents who had lived in the town "for some time"(approaching 15 years when the research was conducted) were beginning to form stable social networks.

Flexible and adaptable housing stock is important. Research by Ruth Lupton (2003) indicates the importance of having space for families to grow without having to move away from a community where they have become established. A mix of houses and a greater number of flexible homes, which can be extended or adapted as family circumstances change, would enable people to stay in the same community longer (see Lupton, 2003)

A review of the New Towns identified:

"the initial communities were disproportionately drawn from younger age groups, with a high proportion of young families in the first intakes. As this cohort has aged, there have been a number of consequences, notably in housing and the suitability of the existing housing stock for elderly people, as well as implications for the health service and facilities."

Further research raises the issue that:

"some New Towns, in particular, Milton Keynes, shifted over time from being inclusive for mainly blue-collar workers moving from cities, to inclusive for executives and overseas employers with the provision of private schools, golf courses, access to international airports".

Initiatives for the Elderly - SeniorForum, Sweden

A SeniorForum is a new way of living designed for elderly people, based on extensive European research. It is designed to solve problems created by social isolation (reduced access to services, reduced well being and health), faced by elderly populations.

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The long-term management of new communities, in particular, how housing tenureGlossary: refers to the ownership status of a household’s property and the quality of social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community can adapt to changing population and social trends - clearly have important consequences for future sustainability. Patterns of domestic life have changed significantly, in particular the number of women working, since the early New Towns were created in the 1950s, and will continue to evolve as working patterns become increasingly flexible. New communities need to reflect these changes in practical ways, for example, providing hubs for local social enterpriseGlossary: A social enterprise is a profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need and growing interest in sustainable forms of transport.