The government wants to “build, build, build” to reinvigorate the economy and provide the homes the country needs. To do this, it proposes reforming the planning system, including a new zonal system and an extension to permitted development rights, and investment in a housing model that is still based largely on home ownership. All of these changes could have profound and as yet unknown effects on both housing provision and local democracy.
So, what do people want from their homes and communities? What do they think makes a good place to live? And what effect has Covid had on their decisions?
These are the questions that we asked in our recent report, “Quality of life at home”, which provides an in-depth study of people’s perceptions of where they live.
The common view is that beautiful buildings and green, clean and safe public realm are top on the agenda for creating places that make people happy and fulfilled. Although these factors proved to still be important in our study, community was voted as the key to a bountiful life.
‘A sense of community’, and all that comes with it, from conversations in the street and neighbourly favours, to shared rituals of school and work, all help to create the identity of a place. These interactions do more to satisfy the human need to ‘belong’ than any physical intervention.
People across the UK told us that Covid-19 has brought the concept of community much closer to home (pardon the pun) – amplifying the need for a better work-life balance and highlighting how valuable it is to know your neighbour and feel cared for by the people around you.
The importance of community spirit should be woven into the Government’s ‘build build build’ message: new homes are all well and good, but what about the community that needs to sit alongside them? We need to create affordable homes that bring different socio-economic backgrounds to the mix, and make sure that local services support local need. The current planning system does not facilitate this, but the push towards planning reform and devolution could provide a catalyst for real change.
At the Quality of Life Foundation, we believe that the built environment could and should support this social infrastructure and enable it to grow organically, but it must be done carefully, mindfully and with the support of decision makers and local people. These stakeholders must work together, and without individual motive but a vision of bringing people together, and we must listen to what communities want. Once we harness the collective spirit through well-designed and high-quality new developments, we can work towards solving even bigger problems like the climate emergency.
Our research to date can be found on our website (qolf.org), and we will soon be publishing our framework written in conjunction with Urbed. YourQol, our post-occupancy evaluation research will also begin with Commonplace and Grosvenor Britain and Ireland later this year.