Housing choice

A row of modern terrace tenements/houses in Scotland made of multi-coloured bricks.
Published: 25/04/2019

A part of our work on town centre living and a caring place  we have gathered a series of blogs that on the ten principles of a caring place. In this blog, Tom Morton of Arc Architects, writes about how he believes that community-led housing can act as an agent of change. 

Design for diversity

Community-led housing as an agent of change

In our time, the development of technology is challenging the social fabric of our built environment. Part of our response to the crisis of loneliness and our degradation of the natural world will be an upgrade of our humanity and a re-booting of our relationship to place. Our architecture and built environment, the way we make and manage the places we live in, is a key battleground in the struggle for a more humane future.

A caring place highlights the opportunity that this dynamic presents to renew our towns as more sustainably humane places. It identifies increasing housing choice as a key instrument to deliver this.

Towns are great because Scotland has lots of them and their scale presents lots of opportunities for coordinating meaningful change through the vehicle of housing. Towns commonly face challenges of town centre depopulation, declining retail activity, empty buildings and derelict land.

Yet they are often blessed by resilient communities connected to a network of enabling stakeholders, for whom place-focused housing can enable wider regeneration across a range of community priorities.

Regeneration at heart of the community

A good example is Inverkeithing, where the community is looking to regenerate a derelict school close to the heart of the community, which has been blighted by neglect for 10 years. Their vision is to reinvent the place as a playground for the whole community, responding to local priorities around greenspace, young people and older people’s housing.

Scotland is only beginning to recognise that its diversity is a thing of wonderful richness that can be harnessed to create a more equal society, a richer architecture and public landscape.

The urban design circumstance of our cities and rural places are distinctively different from those of our towns. Our communities are increasingly recognised as being characterised by demography, ability, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and culture, as well as the geographic and economic criteria we are familiar with.

Our system is designed to churn out large monocultures of standard ‘family homes’ but we are less and less a standard society and housing is so much more than boxes to put people in. We know a home is a fundamental human need that provides a framework for the rest of our lives. It is inseparable from the health, economy and cohesion of our communities and our relationship to the built environment and natural world.

Limited housing choices

That’s why housing is recognised as a tool to deliver a wide range of social and health policy objectives. It’s why communities care about housing and are frustrated by the current system. None more so than Scots in the second half of their lives, whose housing choices are severely limited and their wellbeing and ability to contribute to society is reduced as a result.

A report by Vivarium highlighted that only 3% of homes are designed for older people, but they represent 18% of the population and 40% of people who want to move home. They want to move home because their current homes don’t meet their needs – they are too big, have poor accessibility or are in the wrong place.

Cohousing is a form of community-led housing, where the residents lead the design and management. People live independent lives in a shared community - a group of neighbours who share facilities and responsibilities.

Cohousing works for anyone but has specific benefits for older people in fostering social contact, combating isolation, and sustaining physical and cognitive activity.  It enables people to live happier, more active and varied lives. The standout UK example is the OWCH project.

Wider benefits

But the benefits go beyond the immediate residents. When development is led by communities the priorities reflect a wide range of long-term social values, fostering resilient and inclusive places that care about the people that live there.

This is why Cohousing is common in Europe, where 10% of housing is co-housing. The HAPPI report highlighted how in places like Denmark the majority of new housing for older people is cohousing communities.

Community leadership cannot deliver in isolation but relies on a growing enabling landscape set by public stakeholders. Cohousing is written into Age, Home & Community, the Scottish Government’s 10-year strategy for housing for older people, which recognises the strategic national interest in developing innovative funding and tenure models.

Last September that commitment was renewed in the Programme for GovernmentWe know that where we live has a huge impact on our wellbeing. Too often old age can be isolating. In the coming year, we will pilot innovative housing solutions for older people, testing intergenerational and other co-living arrangements to meet housing needs and reduce loneliness.’ A Working Group is expected to make recommendations to Ministers this summer (2019).

Inclusion, community empowerment and demographic shift are strong drivers for change in Scotland. Community-led housing is a key vehicle for delivering thriving, diverse places that meet the needs and empower the aspirations of modern Scots. The result will be towns, cities and rural areas that are more human; and in these places, our growing resource of older people will find their home.

Header image credit: David Butler

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