Getting new communities right first time

Today the Young Foundation has launched a new report, Design for Social Sustainability, which is based on an international review of new towns and communities and sets out a framework for built environment professionals and policymakers involved in planning, design, and creating communities and cities. Underpinning the report is an extensive online tool kit on

The report argues that given the financial and social cost of failure – including high rates of crime, unemployment, and mental health issues – planning for new communities needs to be much more integrated into wider social, economic and environmental policy and socially responsible investment strategies.

Internationally renowned town planner and urbanist, Sir Peter Hall, has written that “. . .the lessons and the recommendations of this report are bound to have a salience that its authors can never have imagined. The topic of this study, which might have seemed peripheral and academic has become central and urgent. . .[as] new estates have been injected into older housing areas without adequate thought as to how the two would integrate. Housing policies, doubtless with the best intentions, have produced concentrations of people with multiple forms of deprivation.”

The report finds that communities that do not work socially, at best fail to flourish, or at worst, spiral into decline. Critically, it finds that support services and interventions need to be designed in at the right time for communities to function well in the long term, and provides practical advice about understanding how communities function socially.

This week the government announced new plans to kick start house building in the UK at a time when new builds are at the lowest level since World War II.The ambitious aim is to build 450,000 homes by 2015. Whilst the plan considers the financial framework needed to make this happen, it does not take into consideration the social dimentions of creating successful places.

The report argues that new developments will continue to be undermined by expensive mistakes unless the knowledge and experience available within professional silos is brought together. Thinking about the social dimensions of community life isn’t the focus for planners, architects and developers. The experience of professionals and practitioners who understand how places are lived in, rather than constructed, is often overlooked in the early stages of planning when there are opportunities to ‘design in’ services and support that focus on social sustainability.

This report was commissioned jointly by the Homes and Communities Agency as part of Future Communities, which was established by the Young Foundation to explore practical ways in which new housing settlements can succeed as communities where people want to live and work.

The report comes as the Young Foundation announces the development of Social Life, a new independent social enterprise supporting innovation in place-making which will be launched in 2012.

Tricia Hackett