Sustainable Communities

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Community as a concept is difficult to define but can be broadly encapsulated as having a secure and crime free environment, easy access to schools, shops, entertainment and employment, and supportive social networks.

To avoid social polarisation and the resultant imbalance in development and society, a community should, as far as possible, be mixed in tenure, income levels, family types and age groups. It should also, at a minimum, have continuity and a low turnover of residents, social balance, and a high quality of urban design. [1]

There are many levels at which this has to be accomplished.


[edit] The Planning Level

  • Mixed land use, which, in turn, generates the following:
    • Reduced travel.
    • Increased neighbourhood security.
    • Enhanced sense of place and quality of life, especially for the elderly and non-mobile.
    • Increased easy access to employment, entertainment, shops and schools. [2]
  • Increased emphasis on public transport and diminished priority given to privatised form of transportation. This results in:
    • Reduction of pollution levels, traffic congestion and lowered levels of energy consumption.
    • Certain amount of daily active living — walking and cycling become a part of the daily routine of inhabitants, thus creating a physically healthier population.
    • Neighbourhoods accessible by public transport become accessible to a diverse group of people from various age, social and financial backgrounds, hence creating cohesive, inclusive communities.
  • Higher residential density. This would facilitate the following:
    • Reduced land intake within optimum parameters of sustainability and resource utilisation. Should not be replaced by ‘town cramming’ [3] and, hence, needs good urban design guidelines ensuring adequate public and open spaces. This should be especially studied and assimilated in developing countries’ scenario, where the flip side is often intense urban congestion, superficially inflated real estate values, and a pushing out of services (both human and resource material) and facilities to the outskirts, creating an unsustainable city module with a large ecological footprint. In such cases, adequate attention has to be given to onsite service allocation, housing for the economically-weaker section and other service sectors and mixed use like schools and playgrounds.
    • Restrict urban sprawl; reduce necessity for private vehicles and make public transport more viable.
    • Reduces space required for roads and parking, and releases vital spaces for public use and amenities such as parks, playgrounds, shops and schools, which are all key components to a healthy neighbourhood.

[edit] The Design Level

  • Quality space: This is created by well-proportioned buildings and well-maintained public spaces. It is noted that the present trend of urban development generating, mind-numbing, similar-looking concrete jungles are often failures in creating interesting public environment that the public like to indulge in and experience, versus the older traditional settlements with their varied sense of proportions, forms and visual and spatial effects. [4]
  • A network of streets and spaces: Such a network allows different degrees of permeability, giving choices of routes interspersed with public spaces that act as breathers and various levels of interactive zones. Public spaces and streets clearly under supervision from occupants of buildings surrounding the spaces also perforce become safer and crime free. [5]
  • A rich mix of uses: Ensuring mixed use both in terms of functionality and tenure. Helps foster day-long activity and greater security, and a more balanced community.
  • A critical mass of activities: There should be a density of uses to create sufficient activity and people to animate streets and public spaces, and to sustain shops and other public facilities. [6]
  • Minimal environmental harm: This includes good public transport, waste recycling, sustainable solutions for power, designs that reduce the need for artificial environment control, water harvesting and recycling, and use of locally contextual materials and building technology. [7]
  • Adaptability: As a community’s living requirements change with time and progressing age, the community needs to be designed in all true directives of inclusiveness and adaptability to be equally user-friendly to people from all walks of life. This is the key to ensure low population turnover and, thus, healthy and secure neighbourhoods.

[edit] References and Useful Websites

  • Sustainable Housing Design Guide for Scotland
  • Principles of Urban Design
  • Active Living by Design
  • Walkable Communities, Inc
  • Street Design Guidelines for Healthy Neighbourhoods