On the Planned Environment and Neighbourhood Life: Evidence from Mixed-Tenure Housing Developments Twenty Years On

Article excerpt

This paper examines the extent to which the planned environment can help create and sustain socially mixed communities. It reports on research into three planned mixed tenure neighbourhoods twenty years following their development. It focuses on the lives of renters and owner-occupiers, their use of the local area and their social interactions. Although owner-occupiers and to a lesser extent renters are shown to lead 'mobile lifestyles', which involves spending a considerable amount of time away from the case study neighbourhoods, the quality of the planned environment and local facilities were nonetheless found to be an important feature of residents' lives. The use of local facilities within a well-planned local environment is shown to facilitate social interaction between owners and renters, which was a source of widespread satisfaction across tenures.

The idea of social mix within a planned urban context is not new (Sarkassian, 1976; Madanipour, 1992). From the new towns of the 1960s to contemporary 'new urbanism' planners have suggested that social interaction is more likely in well-designed, pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods with a wide range of public services and facilities (Mann, 1958; Foley, 1960; Kulash, 2000). Social mix and the social interaction that may arise from having a mixed-tenure profile are widely regarded as having positive benefits for sustaining communities over time. This is because socially mixed communities are thought to be more cohesive, and avoid the worst extremes of social exclusion that may prevail in deprived neighbourhoods. However, while the 'socially balanced' neighbourhood has gained currency both in the USA and in Britain there is a distinct lack of empirical evidence upon which to make an assessment of the relationship between these planned environments and social mix. Hence, the principal purpose of this paper is to assess whether good urban design in the form of neighbourhood units can enable social interaction between tenure groups. To do so, we examine the contribution of the planned environment to social mix within the context of planned mixed-tenure housing developments built in the 1970s in Britain. The key research questions addressed are: 'does the planned environment facilitate use of the local area', and, if so, 'does it enable social interaction1 in these areas'?

This paper first outlines the broad planning principles of 'social balance' that underpinned the design of British new towns and other housing developments in the 1960s and 1970s. Their influence on the more contemporary planning context of urban villages and new urbanism as well as on government planning guidelines is outlined. We then set out the rationale for the research into planned mixed-tenure housing developments and delineate the three case-study areas. After laying this groundwork the remainder of the paper presents an assessment of the role of the planned environment in neighbourhood life in these areas. To this end we examine the lifestyles of local residents both within and outside of the local area and their use of local facilities. Having analysed their use of the local area we further examine the extent to which the planned environment contributes to, and facilitates, social contact. We conclude that mixed-tenure housing developed within a carefully planned layout and provision of high-quality neighbourhood facilities remains relevant in facilitating social interaction and underpinning resident satisfaction.

Urban design and social mix

The concept of social mix within planned neighbourhoods is not new and has a long lineage in British urban design (Foley, 1960; Popenoe, 1973; Aldous, 1995). One of the earliest examples of a planned community, Bournville was built in 1879, to house the working classes and also to create, 'as far as possible a mixed community [applied to] income and social class' (Sarkassian, 1976, 235). This development has been widely cited as a precursor of the Garden City Movement and modern British New Towns (Eversley, 1973). …