By Leslie Barson and Lani Parker
Can housing be a catalyst for great places?
Let’s start by looking closely at these terms and think about what they really mean.
A catalyst makes other things happen. It helps something else change. In that case the question is: does housing make other things around it change for the better? Can housing make things happen? Could housing create great places?
We could think of many places that look great, like the Nash Terraces in Regent’s Park. They are not only beautiful housing but centrally situated. Yet they seem to lack something that we would call ‘a great place’.
So what is a ‘great place’?
Somewhere you feel comfortable, you can be yourself, you are not challenged about being there, you feel you belong, a place where things are happening, where you are both pushed and supported to reach your potential, where you have rows and get over them. Great places seem to be about community and people. Not about housing….
So that brought us to the last term… to examine what ‘housing’ means.
It seemed that housing has a number of aspects. It is not one thing. The Physical or Built Environment is really important: issues of access, security, overcrowding, storage, size, quality, access to outside space.
But this is interwoven with and cannot be separated from other issues:
- People ‘s personal relationship to the place where they live, their history in a space and area
- People ‘s legal relationship to housing – the right to be there and take up that space, security of tenure
- People ‘s social relationship to housing; social relationships are structured in complex ways and affected by various factors such as immigration status, racism, sexism
- People ‘s financial relationship to housing also matters – if they are tenants or owners, how much money they have, and their social class all have an impact
When thinking about what housing could be or what housing is, all of these issues need to be addressed, so that we have housing that caters for everyone.It is really people who make great places. Housing must meet their needs and support them to be the creators of great places.Housing built with the needs of the people in mind might have benches to sit on and chat or while away the day, shared resources, places to be noisy and to be quiet, space to be outside or in, to be comfortable, to be safe and secure, and more.
The only way to get housing to be a catalyst for great places is to get the people who live there, that community, to articulate what they need and to design the housing accordingly. How we do that is the next question.
Leslie Barson and Lani Parker are members of London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative (LCNC) which is a community initiated, sustainable urban housing and community centre self build project, encompassing a commitment to social, economic and environmental sustainability.