Where Were The People When They Did The Planning?
There are housing estates designed in such a way that it’s almost to find a route in and out of them without a car. Many people on the edge of urban areas live in such places, cut off from others, in their own constrained ‘comfort’ zones. Whatever were the planners thinking of? And what can be done now to raise horizons and expectations?
I’ve recently been visiting a number of ‘disadvantaged’ communities, walking and driving around housing estates and out-of-town areas which many of us who don’t live in them rarely see.
It’s often quite a pleasant job. Most folk anywhere will make you feel welcome and at home. People in these areas as much as anywhere else will of course do their best to help, advise and engage with those who visit them, and there’s always lots to learn.
But… but… whatever were the planners thinking of when they permitted these estates to be devised? Where are the centres, where are the decent shops, where’s the clinic / surgery, where’s the (secondary) school, where are the meeting places? And, oh so importantly, where on earth are the quick, safe links between the various localities?
For many of these areas, there are in effect only one or at best two roads in and out; plus, the linking footpaths, if they, are grim in every sense – not at all routes that most of us would care to take.
All this means that many more people than we might imagine live in ‘closed’ communities. Public transport is poor, cars few and far between; there is precious little chance of going outside one’s immediate vicinity.
Here, then, is planned ‘comfort zoning’ of the worst sort. The big wide world may be out there, but it’s almost inaccessible; and the small zone of personal experience which is easily navigable becomes far more enclosing than it decently should.
It must also be said, on the basis of my recent experience, that even when planners have included facilities within given areas, these facilities have sometimes been allowed to transmute from ‘community’ facilities to yet more housing – the shop or centre wasn’t doing well; it closed; then it was acquired for private developers…. and now it’s flats. So now there are even fewer ‘facilities’. How do ‘they’ allow this to happen?
If the next generation is to see the world through more open eyes, the current one has to be able to take youngsters out and about. If adults in a community are to raise their expectations and amibitions, they have to be able to meet others and see things beyond their immdeiate experience.
Nowhere (except pubs?) to meet, and no way out of the estate, are not the best encouragements to the necessary wider agenda for progress. There’s a job of work for infrastructure designers – get in there and open up the passages between areas; and there’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs, public and private – start to add value to communities with meeting / leisure and proper retail facilities.
The enterprise is to some small extent beginning to happen, but how can it take off when communities remain isolated and the chances of increasing market size in an area are contrained quite simply by almost no ways in and out?