Erosion of Community ethos in new housing developments

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    • #708991
      buddyboy
      Participant

      This may strictly not be an Architectural matter however as we are involved deeply in the construction and planning processes which go on in this country it might well be an apt topic for discussion. And I’m not saying it happens everywhere, just in my experience I see it a lot.

      I can remember when growing up during the 1980’s in a typical town in Co. Wexford. It would have been a typical childhood, growing up in a typical terraced house in a typical street. Everybody new everybody else, all the children played and went to school together, and it seemed that those who were living in the neighbourhood had been there forever and would stay there forever.

      However with the way things are today and probably because of the relative prosperity we enjoy today compared with the 1980’s and early 90’s a shift has occurred especially within the numerous new housing estates which are springing up all over the place that this community spirit just doesn’t exist. As an example a number of my friends have bought in these typical 2 and 3 bedroom semi-detached and terraced estates and notice a real lack of community within them. Due probably to a few factors:

      1)The large amount of houses being bought as rental income properties which are usually inhabited by young people and young couples who would stay there for maybe no longer than a year or 2 while they look to get on the housing ladder themselves and would therefore feel no long term attachment to the community.

      2) A large amount of first time buyers see these houses as a first step and a means to climb higher on the housing market. Therefore they buy with the intention of selling on in 4 or 5 years to get a bigger and better house. This also fosters a lack of long term attachment with the community.

      Due to this occurring very few of the people within these housing estates actually wish to set down roots there and make little effort to introduce themselves or interact with the people living around them. Back when I was growing up you knew everyone and everyone new you. You could end up in any house in the community on any day and be welcomed as if you were one of their own. From my experience this has almost totally disappeared and to tell the truth it’s a shame. With the current development trend very few people are going to stay where they buy especially in estates of small houses and society will be much the poorer for it.

      It seems to be the developers and Planning Authorities driving this in order to get the most bang for the developers buck and so that government can state they have built 80,000 new homes during the year. However I think this current trend of development in housing estates of small houses to suit the first time home buyer is going to start biting back in a few years. For one, in my experience few developers are interested in building estates with larger homes to cater for what the first time home buyer would likely want to trade up to, as they see more money in providing shoeboxes at a rate of 15 – 20 to the acre. So in a few years time when all these first time home buyers start looking to trade up the wealth of small homes versus the relative lack of mid size homes will provide a situation where the mid size homes on the next rung of the ladder become a commodity and thus the price of these houses will skyrocket and with the large amount of small first homes on the market the price of these will fall. That could mean real problems in the future yet Local Government seem oblivious to this as long as they can state a huge number of people housed in their area.

    • #785597
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Yes community spirit is dwindling in residential areas compared to a few decades ago. You identify transience as the cause: that houses are built too densely and too small to suit larger families. I think there are other reasons.

      Communities form when people share an environment. They need to meet each other by chance during the day as they go about their daily business: shopping, recreating, going to work or school. In a 1970s style estate, the kind we are still building today outside every village in the country, there is usually no pleasant place to hang out. No park with benches. In the 70s, suburbia worked better due to lower car ownership. Commutes were shorter with less traffic. Kids walked to school or went on bike. Parents shopped locally. Mother walked from A to B. Now mammy is taxi driver. Kids can go to school further from home. Shopping is once a week in the regional megamall. You can get through a week without ever meeting any of your neighbours as you don’t share any space with them. People go to church less and the churches themselves are often barns with little opportunity for meeting anyone.

      I live in a mature housing estate but I wouldn’t expect to see a neighbour during the day. the only community building thing that has happened is that a playground was built by the council so the parents do meet up there on the weekend.

      Community can easily be built in 4-5 years. i have lived in city areas where I have felt part of the community within 12 months, despite a transient population.

      What promotes community?
      Density: by putting people closer together.
      Shopping locally
      Working or schooling locally
      Walking artound the area
      Local recreation facilities
      Children

      What inhibits community?
      Areas that rely on cars for all journeys as people move around in sealed bubbles.
      Heavy traffic in dense areas inhibits community.
      Fear of crime
      Wealth!

    • #785598
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Hi Frank,

      I can appreciate all those points aswell. It does seem that people have become more isolationist in their thinking as a result of their housing asperations and external consequences of poor planning which you alluded to. These new communities do seem to be further and further away from the town centres and areas which would promote congregation. Along with the lack of provision of a variety of types and sizes of houses within a community this is slowly leading to a society where the individual is living inside a bubble.

      The question is what can be done about it. For instance there seems an unwillingness on the part of Planning Authorities to consoldiate communities by providing apperatus which a community can centre around and instilling the need for developers to provide a larger variety in house types and sizes. And asking a developer to provide this is like asking a leopard to change its spots. All they see is lost land and lost houses, therefore lost profits.

      The provision of Action Area plans within the County Dvelopment plans I thought would go a long way to providing a larger variety of houses and areas of community interest. However the Planning Authorities seem unwilling to undetake these studies themselves, leave it up to the developer to provide it and the developer provides one which suits him. Surely its the Planning Authorities who should provide, implement and stand over these Plans yet is never seems to be done.

      It was the provision of all these crieria which led me to buy where i did. I have a mid size house in an estate with a variety of types and sizes of house. Yes there is a transient population within the estate but it is small and most of the people I know there wish to settle there for the forseeable future. There is quite an abundance of public open space, much larger than the 10% minimum laid out in the County Wexford development plan along with some small retail units close by and it does foster community. On any given day there are a lot of neighbours about, kids usually playing on the large green areas and it seems akin to what a community experience should be. But this seems to me to be exception rather than the rule. This was all brought about due to a developer who really appreciated what goes into making a sustainable community. One in a million I say.

    • #785599
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      @buddyboy wrote:

      The question is what can be done about it. For instance there seems an unwillingness on the part of Planning Authorities to consoldiate communities by providing apperatus which a community can centre around and instilling the need for developers to provide a larger variety in house types and sizes. And asking a developer to provide this is like asking a leopard to change its spots. All they see is lost land and lost houses, therefore lost profits.

      Well city councils are now insisting on a mix of apartment sizes in new developments. New housing estates seem to be more mixed now around Dublin eg this development with 3 &4 bed houses and 1-3 bed apartments
      http://www.sherryfitz.ie/sf2003.exe?pageref=gena_article_detail&context=newh&articleid=338

      Larger open spaces don’t necessarily work better at attracting people than smaller spaces. Most Dublin housing estates have disused fields.

      The planners, developers and council can’t provide local retail and facilities if everyone ignores it and drives somewhere better. My estate was originally well provided with shops that went bust once everyone got a car. The market sustains local business and you need population for that.

      You can lobby your local council or councillors for changes to the development plan next due in wexford which is being drawn up now.

    • #785600
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      I’d say a lot of it is to do with the way society has changed thanks to the Celtic Tiger. People now commute large distances from the outer suburbs to where they work cosequently they are out early and back late. Because the house prices have gone insane mortgages have be paid for out of two salaries hence mammy becomes taxi driver to baby dumped in creche 5 days a week (most creches open 7-7 these days). Infrastructure (Motorways not train lines or bus-only routes) only seems to be built so that the lands around them can be rezoned for domitory housing. So given the fact that people work long hours, both parents work to service debts, commutes have become insane and the only time you get to yourself is the weekend, no-one actually has time anymore to become part of the community.

    • #785601
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Car dependency is without doubt a major factor in fostering community development. Even in my own experience growing up in a small estate, every family had just one car reserved largely for trips ‘to town’, and people would regularly walk to the shops/school/church. Now most households have two or three cars and I barely encounter a neighbour from one end of the week to the next. Though it is fair to say that the demographic has since moved up a notch – children act as a great communication tool when they’re around.

      But now everyone drives everywhere – embarrassingly even to the local health centre/gym, which ironically must have the largest car park in Western Europe. The demand for parking space around the local shops again is notable, even during the day which simply was not the case 10-15 years ago.

      High density housing, or ‘shoebox’ housing isn’t necessarily the cause of lack of community – again one need only look at the thousands of relatively small terraced units built as part of Crumlin’s housing scheme in south-west Dubln in the 1930s (all without car parking provision), to appreciate that unit size isn’t a core issue. Indeed it would be very interesting to note any difference there today post-car boom.

      And as Frank and Rory mentioned, wealth in an inevitable factor. Social interaction and community spirit in general has declined somewhat, apparent even in estates like mine or Frank’s that were teeming with life 20 years ago but are now mature quiet places to live, where people are more content with less contact and are more suspcious of newcomers. In my own case, we once knew everyone on the road, but as each house changes hands we gradually know less and less about our neighbours. Everyone keeps to themselves.

      If anything, the mindless new estates are those that ought to be teeming with life, but they’re completely car dependant, and occupants./parents are usually commuting for long periods of time. And that is perhaps the biggest factor of all – the fact that both parties in most households now work. Stay-at-home mothers were once major bridge builders in communities, but most women today work.

      While it’s hard to break down these social barriers, at least decent planning in the form of mixed units to encourage diverse communities (including a huge single occupant sector of the population), medium/high densities, and local services can all at least lay the foundations for community building.

    • #785602
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      @buddyboy wrote:

      This may strictly not be an Architectural matter however as we are involved deeply in the construction and planning processes which go on in this country it might well be an apt topic for discussion. And I’m not saying it happens everywhere, just in my experience I see it a lot.

      I can remember when growing up during the 1980’s in a typical town in Co. Wexford. It would have been a typical childhood, growing up in a typical terraced house in a typical street. Everybody new everybody else, all the children played and went to school together, and it seemed that those who were living in the neighbourhood had been there forever and would stay there forever.

      However with the way things are today and probably because of the relative prosperity we enjoy today compared with the 1980’s and early 90’s a shift has occurred especially within the numerous new housing estates which are springing up all over the place that this community spirit just doesn’t exist. As an example a number of my friends have bought in these typical 2 and 3 bedroom semi-detached and terraced estates and notice a real lack of community within them. Due probably to a few factors:

      1)The large amount of houses being bought as rental income properties which are usually inhabited by young people and young couples who would stay there for maybe no longer than a year or 2 while they look to get on the housing ladder themselves and would therefore feel no long term attachment to the community.

      2) A large amount of first time buyers see these houses as a first step and a means to climb higher on the housing market. Therefore they buy with the intention of selling on in 4 or 5 years to get a bigger and better house. This also fosters a lack of long term attachment with the community.

      where do these two groups go?

    • #785603
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      It’s mainly down to suburban sprawl. Developers, planners and the authorities are mainly to blame in my opinion – and also Irish culture to a degree.

      Building without any regard to how a community would be nurtured in the development under construction is at issue. Naturally sprawl gives rise to car dependency because sprawling communities are less viable for being served by public transport. As said before, this car dependency reduces community interaction because there is less opportunity to do so when you’re in your car all day. Zoning also contributes because instead of mix use developments we’re building large single use developments so people are travelling from housing estate to commercial district which are usually separate and distinct locations, in their cars.

      This also exacerbates social/class divisions because such communities are usually split along these lines. And because they are poorly served by public transport they also impair mobility for the lesser off which in turn reduces social mobility. There are so many studies into this issue specific to Dublin; it’s odd that the problem is still not really being addressed in any significant way.

    • #785604
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Also see the Taoiseach’s favourite book, ‘Bowling Alone’ by Putnam. This book tracks reductions in all kinds of clubs: social, sports and voluntary, and links this to long commutes and sprawl. He suggests that every 10 minutes of extra comute diminishes community interactions by 10%.

    • #785605
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      I think it’s quite funny that the Taoiseach should keep such books by his bedside table and suddenly he’s an ardent socialist. I’m pretty sure it was claimed recently that Noam Chomsky was another author often sitting on his bedside table.

    • #785606
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      RE: buddyboy’s original question: The taoiseach recently set up a taskforce to study whether community involvement was declining in Ireland and to recommend ways to improve participation. They have had a public consultation but are yet to issue their recommendations.

      It’s anyone’s guess what they come up with but I suspect it won’t be to stop building commuter motorways and 1970s dormitory housing estates in towns 50 miles outside Dublin.

      http://www.activecitizen.ie

    • #785607
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Just a late response to this, community relies heavily on people, a good social demographic mix, facilitated by planning and design sciences. Speaking from experience in Tallaght where a small rural village had a massive, ill planning population growth in 1970’s without any associated services, both need to be given equal time, thought and weight.

      Now with another large polulation movement into a Town centre in Tallaght, real fears are again being mentioned as the existing communities are not being consulted in a meaningful way and an overuse of section 23 is feeding fears of a repeat of past mistakes in Tallaght.

      So my view is there needs to be a well thoughr, strategic approach to building a community by state agencies, existing communities and private developers to give communities best possible start to get established and to flourish. If you leave one out, the foundation is unstanbe. The one being left out more more and more in Ireland is the existing community. They are as valid stakeholders in the process as private land owners.

    • #785608
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      The report of the Taskforce on Active Citizenship has been published.
      You can read their conclusions here.

      So did they make any connection with architecture/urban design and community ethos? A little.

      @Citizenship report wrote:

      A related issue is the failure of the planning system to take sufficient
      account of the needs of people and communities, especially in relation to
      community facilities and local services. This can have a significant negative
      impact on people’s sense of community and creates practical barriers to
      participation. In this context, the Taskforce notes the draft Development
      Plan Guidelines for Planning Authorities which emphasise the need for
      development plans to set out strategic vision for areas based on proper
      planning and sustainable development.
      The Taskforce recognises that there are no quick-fix solutions to the
      difficulties of planning for strong communities in the context of a rapidly
      growing population and pressures on the availability of essential public
      services. It supports the growing emphasis on sustainable communities at
      policy level, including through the National Spatial Strategy, and believes
      that these should be translated consistently into development plans
      and planning decisions. Better public transport remains a key long-term
      requirement for sustainable communities and Active Citizenship. In all
      cases, strong and genuine input from the local community is essential and
      inclusive and genuine consultation needs to become the norm. Provision
      of community and recreational facilities must be a core requirement for all
      major new housing developments.

      The Taskforce recommends:
      that Local Authorities should prioritise the provision of community and
      recreational facilities as part of Development Plans and subsequent
      planning decisions. An audit of implementation of this approach should
      be carried out by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local
      Government and revised legislation introduced if necessary

      There is also a section that makes a link between very long commuting times and low participation in community.

      The report finds low rates of participation in community in urban compared to suburban and rural areas. Also low rates amongst immigrants, the poor and the old. All of which makes sense.

      The report claims to find that participation in community is not declining. This was determined by comparing surveys in 2002 and 2006. I would imagine the figures would show a clear long term decline between say 1976 and 2006. (although the country would have improved by just about every other measure in that time)

    • #785609
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      i am from a small town in galway and there has been a few developemtn recently… two i will discuss now, built by two seperate developers and right beside each other behing the existing streetscape. development plan said that it would like to develop a road running the length of these back gardens yet they granted permission for these development and there is a 1.8 wall seperating them. to promote social aspects wopuld it not be better to allow free flow of even pedestrians from one to the other? i don’t get that.
      i am an architect and read up on socialogy for my pleasure and this seems daft to me

    • #785610
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Do you mean that there is a 1.8m wall separating the rear gardens? What is the future purpose of the rear road? Is it a shopping street, or a traffic bypass, a pedestrian walkway, residential street??

    • #785611
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      in dev. plan it’s designated a local access road. the block basically will be split in two.

      not the rear gardens ( even though these are there cos they have to be ) but the road of both estate ends at either side of the wall. instead of linking them and promoting movement through they blocked it up basically seperating these two new developments in a small town. i don’t understand why as this would improve both greatly if open. but this happens all over and not just in this case. why if two fields are beside each other is there not a integration of each development to provide linkage and a sense of place/ community instead of isolation

    • #785612
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      Well there doesn’t seem to be anything in the Galway development plan about making towns and villages walkable. Designing pedestrian shortcuts into street layouts seems to improve community relations by encouraging walking. Laneways should be overlooked by residential windows.

      Here’s a sample of academic papers that look at the link between urban walkability and social capital:

      http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=link:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ajph.org%2Fcgi%2Fcontent%2Fabstract%2F93%2F9%2F1546

      You could ask one of your local councillors to add it to the next development plan. (Not Fahy)

    • #785613
      Anonymous
      Inactive

      it’s in the current town plan. ( portumna ) about various local access roadsand then they just completely forgot about it when granting permission. a huge mistake i think anyway.

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