Tackling the housing challenge holistically – Karen Anderson Blog

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This blog by Karen Anderson, former Chair of A&DS, was originally published on the Scottish Civic Trust website to support their Housing Conference (November 2015).

Housing is highly important and is a key government priority. However in considering how we go about making new homes we need to view the challenge holistically. Housing is much more than a financial and logistics issue, and should not be viewed as a ‘market product’ simply built on un-connected sites dictated by competing developer land banking. Housing is a long-term opportunity to make better lives and turnaround unsustainable lifestyles. In these times when obesity and stress are big health issues, we need nice places to live and be in, that encourage us to walk and exercise – places that help us feel good.

Housing provides the building blocks of our places and communities. What and where we build affects the quality of our lives, our well-being and prosperity. The right homes built, or buildings converted, in the right places will improve our health and social cohesion, and it will enhance the life chances for all. Conversely located in the wrong places and with the wrong housing mix new developments can perpetuate social division and exclusion.

So where the ‘right’ places and what are the ‘right’ homes? Here’s a simple yes/no test.

  • Would you live in that street – for your first home? Or your last?
  • Can you walk the pram to a nice green space?
  • Can you trundle your shopper to a local shop along a pleasant route?
  • Can you drop in on an elderly neighbour or relative for a chat?
  • Can you walk to share a beer or glass of wine with local friends?
  • Can your son play football in the street with his pal?
  • Can your teenager walk safely to baby sit the four kids of local friends.
  • Can you jog to the gym at the local community school?
  • Could you live there only using your car for absolutely necessary trips?
  • Is there a space where the neighbours can have a BBQ together?

If the answer is yes to all of the above you are likely to be living in a mixed- tenure, mixed-use neighbourhood. Your home is well integrated with other housing, local services and amenities. Someone has designed the routes to your home and street outside it. You are not in a ghetto of just starter homes or expensive large homes set in a ‘standard’ car driven layout – both places where you don’t get a chance to meet a range of different people.

Turning to your home itself …

  • Can you easily alter or extend it?
  • Can you turn up the volume without annoying the neighbours?
  • Do you have a nice near outlook or a far view?
  • Do you have some outdoor space nearby that you could enjoy using in any capacity?
  • Is there a space in your house to sit in the sun on your own when the family is in and read a book?

The truth is since the 70s many ‘standard’ homes have become smaller and offer less useful, flexible and pleasant spaces. Over the last half century our traditional towns have grown by creating more US-style neighbourhoods where cars are needed for daily life. When you consider nothing else affects us more than our living spaces and everything from cars to computers, to white goods have got hugely better, this makes no sense!

We need housing that supports 21st Century family life with it’s working families, elderly relatives and home working. The Place Standard – developed by the Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland and Architecture and Design Scotland to evaluate the quality of places – will put this goal at the heart of its message to shape new developments. There is appetite for change. It’s happening but it’s not really happening as the norm. We need it for the next generation to thrive. This is a chance for all of us from housing developers to housing associations to learn from the best places we have built in the past to make new and better places. I hope that this provides us all with the opportunity to work together to deliver better places for everyone in Scotland.

Image: Leitch Street, by John Gilbert Architects

Karen Anderson was Chair of A&DS until 30 September 2018

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