Locale : North America (English)


Thriving new neighborhoods in the heart of our cities

Housing more people, addressing social inequality, and generating revenue to fund public services are challenges that can be met together if new urban development opportunities are tackled in the right way, says Clare Wildfire.

Many cities already have a housing shortfall and, if left unchecked, this will only worsen. It’s not just space for homes, but also for the infrastructure that makes them livable and desirable. Creating high-density developments of good-quality housing within existing boundaries, on brownfield sites and underused land, will make a major contribution to meeting demand for homes without adding to urban sprawl.

For example, building new neighborhoods on underused or nonessential land owned by transportation agencies provides multiple benefits. It can provide a more attractive public space, better local services and amenities, stronger connections to neighboring areas, improved, resilience and new opportunities — things that local residents need and want.

Well-planned places where people want to live, work, and play, as well as travel from and to, are attractive to developers and investors. Through levies on revenues from development and businesses, site owners can raise money to reinvest in services and keep fares low as central governments scale back financial support.

Foundations for success

Foundations for success

Neighborhoods of the future must meet all our needs — for living, working, and simply enjoying the place we are in. Local economies thrive when the things people need are close to where they live and the routes they travel daily. It’s the key to creating a virtuous cycle of more job opportunities, better services and facilities, an enhanced public space, environment, and infrastructure, and improved health and well-being.

We have developed a social outcomes framework, built around five core principles, that we use to set objectives for, and measure the success of, the projects we work on:

  • Accessibility. To housing, transportation, and amenities.
  • Inclusion. No one left behind, diverse participation with rights, freedoms, and choice, equality between people.
  • Empowerment. Inclusive and regenerative growth, access to education, training, and secure employment, information, and communications.
  • Resilience. Inclusive public spaces and natural environment, climate-resilient and sustainable communities, sustainable energy, water, and sanitation systems.
  • Well-being. Good mental and physical health, safety and security, access to quality healthcare and social care.

Consulting community stakeholders is essential for setting outcomes and objectives that will work for all — and that consultation has to happen from the very beginning. When new developments truly work for everybody, they can be the catalyst for transformational change.

Built-in flexibility

Built-in flexibility

What needs to happen to deliver places that attract people and also bring benefits to landowners, businesses, and the wider community?

With more and more people working flexibly, excellent transport and digital connectivity are equally essential. Mobility options need to be on your doorstep. Amenities must be close, and essential services easily accessible.

How buildings and public spaces are designed is key to how people use them. Buildings in the future will be mixed-use, adaptable, and flexible, and will encourage low-energy living. It means designing them to be assembled and adapted easily and at low cost to suit different lifestyles and changing uses.

Communal buildings may need to be adapted constantly. A school by day might become a center for adult learning or entertainment during the evening. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of being able to rapidly provide additional clinical and healthcare facilities — another possible use for adaptable communal buildings.

One way of meeting this need will be through the adoption of design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA), where designs are based on modular, standardized components, built in a factory and then assembled when they arrive on site. DfMA lends itself to adaptation: Modules can be added or removed to suit changing purposes, lifestyles, and demands for space. Ultimately, they are also easy to disassemble and reuse.

A place for everyone

A place for everyone

To be truly inclusive, new neighborhoods must be affordable, ideally a mix of social, shared-ownership, and market-led housing, and built through partnerships between local authorities, landowners, the private sector, and not-for-profit organizations.

In Los Angeles, the Metro Authority is working to create transit-oriented communities. It wants 35% of all housing there to be affordable — that is, available only to residents earning 60% or less of the median local income. In London, the mayor is aiming for half of all new homes to be genuinely affordable — including through projects that offer shared ownership and rents below market rates.

Inclusivity also means variety, so developments are suitable for a range of communities: apartments for single and young adults, family homes, and housing for older people and those with particular accessibility requirements.

By creating shared spaces that bring people of all ages together, you can create active and vibrant communities that extend beyond family ties — increasingly important as society ages and more people live alone. Mixed and balanced communities foster social diversity, redress social exclusion, and strengthen a collective sense of responsibility for, and identity with, the neighborhood.

Low carbon from the start

Low carbon from the start

What’s good for people is often good for the environment, particularly when that’s the ambition from the very beginning.

Existing buildings contribute significantly to climate change because their energy efficiency is often poor. Airtightness and insulation reduce energy demand for heating and cooling, improve thermal comfort, and reduce energy bills.

Reducing use of concrete, steel, brick, and glass is also important. All are carbon-intensive to produce. Designing with timber and plant-based materials, and including vegetation in designs, can reduce and partially offset emissions. Making such materials mandatory and targeting whole-lifecycle carbon assessments for buildings would support the development of more and better low-carbon alternatives.

Incorporating more natural materials helps combat the urban heat island effect: A city of one million people can be up to 3°C warmer than its surroundings, causing physical and mental stress. Climate change is amplifying the urban heat island effect. As demand for cooling increases, energy use and carbon emissions are rising.

There is greatest control over the environmental performance of buildings during the early stages of design. Our modeling tool, Moata Carbon Portal, is best used at the design optioneering stage to identify and eliminate carbon "hot spots" in construction and operation.

And then there’s the arrangement of the building: Building orientation, good airflow, and careful attention to the ratio between solid walls and windows can reduce or even eliminate the need for heating, cooling, and artificial lighting. Roofs, windows, or facades fitted with solar panels can provide shading while generating power.

Energy demand can be minimized by using heat pumps to convert low-grade thermal energy for space heating, and by the use of smart control systems. Dense development with district heating supports energy sharing, enabling excess heat in commercial buildings to be extracted and supplied to residential properties.

Nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions

Nature provides some of the functions we build conventional infrastructure to deliver — often at less capital cost and lower ongoing maintenance expenditure.

Blue and green infrastructure help build resilience against the effects of climate change. Natural drainage, for example, can provide protection from flooding. Vegetation stores and sequestrates carbon, and acts as a natural air filter for particulate pollution and some toxins. When it is hot, trees give both shade and cooling, reducing the need for conventional air conditioning, while plants play a powerful role in our perceptions of well-being, including our awareness of noise pollution.

Well-designed nature-based solutions can have a dual purpose, such as providing safe active travel routes and, when needed, conveying stormwater.

An exciting new discipline, regenerative design, is emerging. It goes beyond sustainability by using development as an opportunity to regenerate and strengthen ecosystems, benefiting society as well as nature. By embracing regenerative design principles and developing blue and green infrastructure, we can better create urban spaces and buildings that connect people with nature, reduce pressure on already strained natural resources, and address both the climate and environmental emergencies.

A collaborative process

A collaborative process

Places are only great if they succeed for everyone. For a new neighborhood to fulfill its social, economic, cultural, and environmental potential, the local community needs to help shape the process through which it is designed and managed.

Technology can aid the engagement process, helping to reach more people and gather diverse perspectives. A virtual tour of a proposed development that is still in the early stages of development gives stakeholders and end users the chance to see how their requirements and ambitions have been interpreted, and for the design and delivery team to gather valuable insights. Regular engagement, assisted by virtual and augmented reality, can achieve a better overall outcome for everyone.

This is an inclusive, user-centered model for future development, with planners and citizens working collaboratively and sharing responsibility for decisions from the start.

It’s the only way to create a place people want to be, and where they feel safe and can thrive — one that works for them at whatever point they are in their lives.

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