Creating places for people: how to build the ideal community

PUBLICATION: The Real Estate Conversation

Urban planning and residential design are at the core of every community, dictating how we as a society work, live and play. The quality of our communities has a significant impact on our daily lives, including our physical and mental health.

As developers, we are the wardens of the communities we create; a responsibility that drives our vision and everyday decision-making. There are a variety of factors considered when developing housing estates, including environmental impact, long-term sustainability, stakeholder management, connectivity, and safety.

Because of this, there are often a number of ideas and initiatives that don’t make it past the initial planning phase. With typical red tape hurdles cast aside and a bit of blue-sky thinking, we consider, what would the ideal residential community of the future possibly look like?

Maximise public spaces

When creating housing estates, parks are at best, interactive, multi-faceted active and passive areas for day-time activities, and at worst, small grassed areas that are dictated by the landscape and rarely given extensive consideration. Across the board though, parks are considered a day-time amenity, not safe or fit for use at night.

This doesn’t have to be the case. With the right lighting, parks can be a fun and interactive place at night where the community could come together for meals, music or group exercise. In an ideal community, structures in the park could be established with solar panels that generate power, enabling a safe and fun environment at night and ultimately maximising this valuable resource.

Creating parks that are also dog-friendly, with specific off-leash times, fosters responsibility and encourages socialisation between neighbours, giving just as many benefits to the community as it does to our beloved pets.

Integrating cul-de-sacs, or no-through roads, into a planned community can encourage residents to use public space for community activities such as neighbourhood BBQs or friendly sporting games. Less frequent traffic on road means children are able to play more safely outside their homes.

Create community projects

There are few things that foster a sense of community more than a shared project or asset. The perfect example of this is a community garden or a communal orchard, allowing residents to work together to maintain the gardens and share in the benefits of fresh produce, which could be distributed evenly amongst households.

Extensive research shows community gardens provide numerous health benefits including improved access to food, improved nutrition, increased physical activity and better mental health. Community gardens are also conducive to promoting social health and community cohesion.

Reuse and recycle

When hundreds of homes are being created, there’s inevitably a large amount of product waste with discarded timber, bricks, concrete, sand, etc. Developers and builders are often forced to spend time and resources disposing of these materials at the tip. It begs the question, is there a better way to reuse those materials?

A more sustainable solution would be to repurpose those materials, either by donating them to a not-for-profit homebuilder such as Habitat for Humanity, which helps people obtain safe and decent housing, along with the strength, stability and independence to build better lives, or reusing them for the benefit of the residents to create a communal tool shed or children’s cubby house.

Embrace technology

As technology continues to become such an integrated part of our lives, we need to start factoring it in to the communities we create. While this is already in its infancy with the introduction of smart homes, ideally, we could take it one step further and explore how technology can be used to bring residents together.

A great example would be free WIFI available in public spaces. This would encourage residents to leave their homes and allow them to work or study in open spaces; activating the public realm. It’s also a great tool for kids, allowing them to always be connected to home and get in touch with their parents when they’re out and about in the estate.

A community app for smart phones could also be of great value, where residents can get real-time updates of community get-togethers or notifications of local events like a group dog walk around the park on the weekend. This digital extension of the community brings people together and cultivates a sense of connection.

While it’s not always feasible to create the ideal community, as developers and urban planners it is always necessary to approach residential and community design with the intention to create something that will go above and beyond simply providing people with a home. Fostering a sense of belonging, encouraging positive social interactions between neighbours and maximising liveability are the cornerstones of a successful development.