The pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

First Published 18 June 2016

Housing associations’ responsibility doesn’t end when new homes are built. They must also look after the public spaces, says Kevin McCloud

How should new communities look? One thing that has always struck me as odd is how often council housing has been built on the fringes of towns -where development ends.

Government pressure to build more social housing when there is little private housing development going on is dangerous. We are risking building ghettos of social housing on the edges of towns, which will harm social integration.

How should new communities look? One thing that has always struck me as odd is how often council housing has been built on the fringes of towns -where development ends.

Government pressure to build more social housing when there is little private housing development going on is dangerous. We are risking building ghettos of social housing on the edges of towns, which will harm social integration.

A few years ago I set up a company called HAB (Happiness, Architecture and Beauty) that works in partnership with large housing associations.

We’re developing a business model that will extend housing associations’ responsibility, so they look after all the public areas, not just the social housing section, of a project. Every resident, whether they own or rent their house, will get a share in all the public space.

What do residents get out of it? To begin with, there’s an increased sense of ownership -you might want to participate in looking after the space and clean it up so your kids can play safely.

Another guiding principle for our development projects (which was established by Cambridge University) involves steps that can be taken to increase bio-diversity on a site, which enhance the quality of life of those who live there.

An important part of bio-diversity is managing water -working with the natural absorption of water rather than using hard surfaces (t armac and concrete, for example) -and reducing the environmental impact.

These ideas are not mine. They are found in the philosophy of one planet living. They are based on a calculation that, if the rest of the world consumed resources like us, three planets would be needed to support us all.

Seven things make up one planet living: food, transport, living, water, materials, carbon and waste. We need to reduce our impact on resources to make it work.

The problem with most sites is that the developers don’t stick around. They build these communities and leave. This is a big problem.

To ensure communities can survive we must work with housing associations and local authorities. The development must involve working with registered social landlords, to give support and maintain new communities.

Our development is different, more complex, with many bodies involved -local community groups, residents associations, consultancies, local interest groups, environmental groups. Development is probably slower, but it is a gentler method designed to arrive at a better knitted community.

The houses will be responsive to human needs on the inside, and 21st century design needs on the outside. Lots of storage, lots of natural light, ventilation, a healthy environment -passively heated in winter, passively ventilated in summer (a minimal reliance of energy), mechanical heat recovery with super insulation.

One overriding principle for me is about context -making buildings and places look distinctive and special to the area where they are. I don’t want houses in the north of England to look the same as those in Cornwall or East Anglia. They never were before. Why should they now?

People want to make connections to where they are, to feel as though it is special, important, valuable, to have a story to it -whether it’s an ancient stone circle, a line of trees, the landscape, the topography, the geology, the local history, the building types, the folklore, the stories of the place that makes it special.

Kevin McCloud is a designer and television presenter.