AMENITIES AND SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE

This section of the website draws together a wide range of evidence about the importance of social infrastructure and amenities in helping new communities to flourish, and the long-term consequences and costs of not providing these services when new residents need them.

Lessons Learned

Ten key factors have been identified:

New communities need services and support, not just buildings

Lack of social infrastructure affects community wellbeing

Poor design and lack of amenities has long term financial and social costs

Early provision of social infrastructure is crucial

Schools play a distinct role in supporting new communitie

Good transport connections matter

"Meanwhile spaces" - temporary facilities - work for new communities, while they grow

New communities need to provide for all generations in both amenities and services, and appropriate housing types and tenure

Eco-friendly infrastructure needs to be incorporated into physical infrastructure design

Design has a role in helping communities to be healthy

Social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community and amenities are crucial to creating sustainable communitiesGlossary: Sustainable communities meet the social, economic and environmental needs of existing residents without reducing the same opportunities for future generations. Experience from the post-war New Towns to more recent new housing settlements has repeatedly shown that local services like schools, shops and public transport, are needed at an early stage in the life of new communities.

Equally important are the less visible types of support that make people feel at home in an area and create a sense of local identity and belonging, like volunteers or community workers who can encourage new residents to meet their neighbours and get involved in shared community activities. Extra support is also needed to help understand and use new and emerging environmentally sustainable technologies.

A wide range of evidence has identified the complex dynamics of communities and in particular, the fragile nature of new communities. It takes time for new communities to develop a sense of local identity and for strong social networks to flourish. Lessons from new settlements in the UK over the past 50 years have concluded that a lack of social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community to support new residents when they arrive slows the process of building a locality-based community and can create long-term problems for the social and economic wellbeing and opportunities of new arrivals.

The long-term satisfaction of initial residents is affected, which in turn creates issues for the sustainability of new places. Support that at the outset can seem relatively small can have far-reaching consequences, such as the availability of funding to support a toddler group, set up a sports club, community workers to bring together residents from different backgrounds or direct bus routes to connect people to nearby facilities and jobs. These factors shape how inclusive, safe and tolerant new communities feel for residents and have a direct impact on local issues and services - like policing or support for young people and families - and how housing markets and the local economy perform. Evidence from the New Towns has shown how places can spiral into decline if the right mix of social infrastructureGlossary: refers to the range of activities, organisations and facilities supporting the formation, development and maintenance of social relationships in a community and support is not available to support new residents, creating long-term social problems and associated costs that outweigh any initial investment.

 

Elements within this ingredent:

1. New communities need services and support, not just buildings

Research from government, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) has explored what residents want from a new community and concluded that social infrastructure and services are as important as good quality housing and need to be in place early in the life of a new community.

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2. Lack of social infrastructure affects community wellbeing

As lessons from the New Towns review identify, new residents need local social networks and shared community experiences to build a sense of belonging and identity in new places, and according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,

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3. Poor design and lack of amenities has long term financial and social costs

Work carried out by CABE and others in 2001 identified both economic and social costs of bad design. These social costs include isolation and mental health issues caused by poor public transport networks, inability for people to access local job opportunities because of poor public transport connections, issues with housing tenure and management, and in particular, a growth in buy-to-let properties making it difficult to manage the profile of areas in the long term.

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4. Early provision of social infrastructure is crucial

Research from the Chartered Institute of Housing and Joseph Rowntree Foundation exploring the attitudes of developers and purchasers to new housing estates identifies: "Physical and social infrastructure needs to be provided before residents move into a new development and this is especially true for schools. Extra services may be needed to facilitate mix, including community development and neighbourhood management."

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5. Schools play a distinct role in supporting new communities

Schools, nurseries and play areas have a particularly important role in new communities. As well as attracting families to settle in new places, schools and nurseries create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to meet other parents and build relationships.

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6. Good transport connections matter

Evidence shows that housing and employment are the main motivations for people relocating to a new community. Therefore local job opportunities need to be integrated into a new settlement both in terms of attracting employers to nearby business parks or office space, and providing flexible space for local entrepreneurs and social enterprise to be based in the community.

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7. 'Meanwhile Spaces' (temporary facilities) work for new communities

There is growing interest in the idea of ‘meanwhile uses' and spaces, from grow-bag allotments in empty plots of land to empty buildings temporarily housing social enterprises, community projects or drop-in clinics for local public services.

Milton Keynes has successfully developed a model for providing a temporary community house in new developments, along with £10,000 in funding for supporting community activities (link to social amenities section).

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8. New communities need to provide for all generations

"Cohesive communities need a balanced age profile" - this is a finding from the New Towns review, which noted that many of the early New Towns were dominated by young families and social rented housing so failed to attract a mix of backgrounds, ages and ethnicities (internal link to space to grow section).

Read more in Space to Grow

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9. Eco-friendly infrastructure needs to be factored in

Introducing eco-friendly infrastrucutre into new communities often requires people to adapt to new ways of living, such as using their car less for travelling short distances. There are various examples of new ecological settlements that have been created with the involvment of residents from the very beginning and of ways in which eco-friendly infrastructure can promote healthier lifestyles.

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10. Design has a role in helping communities to be healthy

Applying the WHO definition of health, a state of mental, physical and social well-being rather than just the absence of disease, draws out the wide span of the relationship between physical design and the health of communities.

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