We are moving to a new home …

24 Apr

The Future Communities blog is moving to a new home at Social Life, a new venture created by the Young Foundation.  Please come and visit us and thank you for your interest, comments and contributions over the past couple of years.




A Community Land Trust for the Olympic Park: Making it work

16 Dec

News that the first new neighbourhood in the Olympic Park could include a “pilot community land trust” scheme creating 80-100 homes is to be welcomed, albeit cautiously.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are popular with politicians as they offer a democratic model for empowering local communities and delivering affordable housing. Boris Johnson speaking in June 2009 at a London Assembly meeting describes CLTs as producing ‘a real sense of community… and, of course, they have been better looked after; the neighbourhood looks better and it is safer to live in’.

As non-profit, community organisations controlled and run by local people they provide a way to build housing that is genuinely and permanently affordable for local people, even in areas where house prices are high. According to the Community Land Trust Network a CLT  ‘is a non-profit, community-based organisation run by volunteers that develops housing or other assets at permanently affordable levels for long-term community benefit.’  The Localism Bill has a strong focus on community asset transfer and advocates a community ‘right to build’, ‘right to reclaim land’, and a ‘right to take over community facilities’. Arguably CLTs, along with community development trusts, are seen by central and local government as the successor to regeneration partnerships that have lead NDCs and other major regeneration projects over the last two decades.

Despite being portrayed as a ‘silver bullet’ for tackling community housing problems, in practice, CLTs are neither risk free or simple to establish, especially in urban areas where to date, there are relatively few successful land trusts.

The Young Foundation has looked at the experiences of urban land trusts in the UK to understand some of the challenges and obstacles involved in creating a successful CLT. The review looks at a range of issues (set up costs, timing, capacity of volunteers and professionals, risks) and identifies 10 factors that influence the likelihood of success. These include:

  • Financial and practical support: Typically a CLT will incur costs of £2,500 for initial business planning and £100-250k for the development of a proposal, as well as requiring the support of a paid officer or organiser to handle initial development and ensure there is a viable, long-term business model. Strong political will is essential along with support from the public sector and local community stakeholders.
  • Timing: Experience shows the development of CLTs cannot be rushed, with community asset transfer projects generally requiring around five years to become fully established.  Sufficient time is required for 12-24 months capacity building prior to setting up the organisation; and addressing negatives and objections at the very beginning, particularly in places where there communities are undefined or divided. This is particularly relevant in urban areas where research found that complexity of working in urban with a multitude of local interests make urban CLTs a more challenging enterprise.
  • Risks: include weak and poorly defined objectives; assets not being used to meet local needs; initial and longer term funding issues; and a shortage of skills or capacity to develop or manage assets.

Nevertheless, when CLTs are successful they have social as well as physical benefits since they act as a multiplier that boosts the social capital of people in the communities where they operate.

Based on these lessons it is clear that if implemented with care urban CLTs can succeed, though it is important that they are given the political will at all levels to stimulate their growth. Hopefully the Olympic Park CLT will become a successful test bed, helping to overcome Boris Johnson’s unmet manifesto pledge to create a ‘network’ of CLTs.

Read the full review: 2011 Urban Land Trusts Lessons.

Post by Oliver Gregory, former Future Communities intern and MSc Urban Studies Student at University College London.

Seoul: community need and housing aspirations.

9 Dec

The rate of change of Asian mega cities dwarfs the European and North American experience. In South Korea, urban development in the capital Seoul is characterised by the replacement of older neighbourhoods with acres of anonymous looking new apartment blocks. But at the same time neighbourhoods are flourishing in many of the older ‘hanoc’ areas – often called urban ‘villages’.

Visiting Korea for the first time I felt a tension between the pride in in community capacity and enterprise that is such a feature of the hanoc villages, and the spectacle of growing numbers of seemingly endless developments of new off white, almost identical apartment blocks (mainly distinguished from each other by the numbers and names painted on the sides in very large letters).

The City’s redevelopment is rapid. In June 2011 an estimated 50 neighbourhoods were in the process of being bulldozed. Population density is already high – over twice that of New York and eight times greater than Rome. Over three quarters of South Korea’s population live in cities and there are more cars per mile than anywhere else in the world – twice as many as the UK.

At the very local level the future of Seoul’s urban villages is contested. Emotions run high within communities about whether to demolish or rebuild. Although compensation is paid to those who are displaced, the norm is that the bulk of this goes to landlords, not tenants, leaving renters with no home and often not enough money for a new home. High key money exacerbates problems, forcing the displaced from inner city areas to cheaper low rent areas far from the city centre. The state safety net is weak and social housing is a tiny percentage of the housing stock, an option for only the very few.

Evictions are often fiercely opposed. In 2009, in the Youngsan-Gu neighbourhood in Seoul five protestors and one police officer lost their lives when a demonstration against eviction turned violent.

But, I was told on a recent visit, the aspirational middle class want to live in new appartments away from the centre, and the rate of building means that these are spreading many miles outside the city centre.

A very different picture emerges in the older ‘hanoc’ neighbourhoods of traditional single story housing, built in the first decades of the twentieth century. In these areas city policy has allowed, even encouraged, neighbourhoods to thrive. In areas like Bukchon in the North of the City Centre and Songmisan, community activism is thriving, In Songmisan there are social enterprise cafes, community run daycare and schools, and flourishing community theatre. The place is buzzing with an energy that many Western cities would envy. For Korean urban policy the approach is seen as radical, and is being replicated in other cities where there are traditional villages.

The approach originated from a concern to conserve the nations heritage. I was told stories of how, in the City of Jeon-Ju, when the first policies to oppose redevelopment of a big area of Hanoc housing were introduced over a decade ago, the then-poor local community opposed the blocking of redevelopment, fearing it would cut off options for future prosperity. Now it is a well-kept affluent looking area of bustling restaurants. Debates continue about the value of existing communities versus the attractions of modernisation.

But Seoul, like every other city, includes areas that are neither old nor new, not historically significant but functioning neighourhoods, home to businesses and communities. I asked whether these would be nurtured as self-directed communities in the same way as the Hanoc neighbourhoods, but was told that this was as yet a step too far for Seoul’s urban policy. I also wondered about the vast areas of new tower blocks that also will be homes to hundreds of thousands, and how these new areas could become neighbourhoods which give residents a sense of belonging and neighbourliness, amidst the anonymity that is a feature of urban living throughout the world.

Seoul’s newly elected Mayor, Mr Woon-Son Park, has a powerful track record in promoting innovation, citizen empowerment, social enterprise and of developing many new ideas in his former job running Seoul’s Hope Institute. In the run up to his election he promoted community ownership and self-determination. It will be fascinating to see his impact on Seoul’s approach to urban development, and whether this leads to wider state support for community empowerment and self-determination, beyond the city’s historic core.

Post by Nicola Bacon, the Young Foundation’s director of local and advisory projects.

Manuel Castells at Occupy London

2 Dec

Manuel Castells gave a powerful speech about the underlying challenges generated by our current era of international finance capitalism at the Occupy London encampment last Friday November 25th. He backed up his argument with some sobering statistics about the shifts in the concentrations of wealth in the global economy since the advent of the neoliberal economic epoch some 30 years ago. Castells currently has a new book out ‘Communication Power’ on the role of digital technology in new social movements, which was fitting given the speech’s location at a physical manifestation of emerging digital activism. Though not necessarily providing the solutions to current crises, Castells combined with the Occupy movement opens up a space in which we can begin to shape the questions that need to be asked about some of the most pressing issues of our time.

See the video of Castell’s speech below, courtesey of the Polis Blog:

Getting it right in the first place: how to create thriving new communities

23 Nov

Today the Young Foundation has launched a new report, Design for Social Sustainabilitywhich is  based on an international review of new towns and communities and sets out a framework for built environment professionals and policymakers involved in planning, design, and creating communities and cities.  Underpinning the report is an extensive online tool kit on futurecommunties.net.

The report argues that given the financial and social cost of failure – including high rates of crime, unemployment, and mental health issues – planning for new communities needs to be much more integrated into wider social, economic and environmental policy and socially responsible investment strategies.

Internationally renowned town planner and urbanist, Sir Peter Hall,  has written that  “. . .the lessons and the recommendations of this report are bound to have a salience that its authors can never have imagined.  The topic of this study, which might have seemed peripheral and academic has become central and urgent. . .[as] new estates have been injected into older housing areas without adequate thought as to how the two would integrate. Housing policies, doubtless with the best intentions, have produced concentrations of people with multiple forms of deprivation.”

The report finds that communities that do not work socially, at best fail to flourish, or at worst, spiral into decline. Critically, it finds that support services and interventions need to be designed in at the right time for communities to function well in the long term, and provides practical advice about understanding how communities function socially.

This week the government announced new plans to kick start house building in the UK at a time when new builds are at the lowest level since World War II.  The ambitious aim is to build 450,000 homes by 2015. Whilst the plan considers the financial framework needed to make this happen, it does not take into consideration the social dimentions of creating successful places.

 The report argues that new developments will continue to be undermined by expensive mistakes unless the knowledge and experience available within professional silos is brought together. Thinking about the social dimensions of community life isn’t the focus for planners, architects and developers. The experience of professionals and practitioners who understand how places are lived in, rather than constructed, is often overlooked in the early stages of planning when there are opportunities to ‘design in’ services and support that focus on social sustainability.

This report was commissioned jointly by the Homes and Communities Agency as part of Future Communities, which was established by the Young Foundation to explore practical ways in which new housing settlements can succeed as communities where people want to live and work.

The report comes as the Young Foundation announces the development of Social Life, a new independent social enterprise supporting innovation in place-making which will be launched in 2012.

Tricia Hackett

Tottenham Together: Voices from Tottenham after the 2011 riots

8 Nov

Haringey Council has established a Community Panel to understand how they viewed the impact of the recent riots on Tottenham. The Panel will develop recommendations to ensure continued confidence in Tottenham as a place where people choose to live, work, study and invest.

To do this, the Panel commissioned the Young Foundation to run a series of community workshops within Tottenham to discuss their experiences of the riots and to gather opinions and ideas on how, from their perspectives, Tottenham can move forward.

Through workshops, focus groups and interviews with residents, young people, local businesses, public institutions and the voluntary sector, the Young Foundation listened to over 150 people in the month of October. The findings from the community engagement work carried out by the Young Foundation will be published here soon.

For more information and updates, visit our blog and follow us on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/future_coms

Somers Town: Perceptions of Place

28 Sep

Exploring different perceptions of place is essential in understanding social and physical changes to an area as the case of Somers Town demonstrates.

Somers Town, the area of London hemmed in between Euston Road, St Pancras International and Euston Station, is a residential community that has witnessed a high degree of physical and social changes to the areas immediately surrounding it over the years. Drivers of change have included the developments of the British Library, the redevelopment of St Pancras Station and King’s Cross Central. These on-going changes have recently been joined by the construction of the Francis Crick Institute on land behind the British Library, which when completed will be one of Europe’s largest medical research facilities. The development is a partnership between the Wellcome Trust, University College London, Cancer Research UK, and the Medical Research Council), and has been subject to both strong support and opposition from various local and national voices, including criticism about the physical and social impacts upon Somers Town. With this in mind Somers Town acts as a microcosm of the relationship between local, national and international needs for space in a major city.

Regarding the development of the Francis Crick Institute it would be perfectly possible, and even valid, to represent the context as the imposition of a major construction upon a local community with high levels of socio-economic deprivation that is built up and densely populated. Whilst this does capture some of what is occurring, as in many other places, the issues raised by the construction of the Institute exist within a much wider context. These processes produce continually shifting perceptions of place, and by engaging with a whole range of people it becomes possible to understand what kind of place Somers Town is. Though this may appear similar to the basic aims of community consultation, directly looking at perceptions of place helps to identify the premises upon which opinions towards change are based. Such premises are typically the product of the build up of individual and collective lived experiences of a place, and although clear conclusions may be drawn, cannot typically be neatly packaged into the view of the ‘community’, or the ‘outsiders’.

The case of Somers Town demonstrates this, as whilst there was an undisputed sense that the area was a strong residential community, there was not a uniform view amongst the local community or people from the surrounding area about its relationship with adjacent national infrastructure or institutions, such as St Pancras Station or the Francis Crick Institute. For example, whilst many residents drew upon a strong sense of history and personal memory of the area as a close-knit community subject to top-down impostion; whereas, other residents as well as other people working in the area drew upon an experience of place more closely affiliated to Somers Towns location near central London, and felt that the development could deliver benefits to the local community as well as to medical-science. Looking at different strands of thought illustrated the point that experiences of change are multiple, both in terms of present lived experience but also as a result of historical lived experience. Perhaps the key point to draw is that when planning for major physical or social changes, an awareness of the complexity of the social, physical, and historical processes that shape the lived experience of place is essential in understanding how to best integrate changes into a local community.

Practical resources on the importance of place can be found here and here.

Guest post: Oliver Gregory- Future Communities Intern and former UCL MSc Urban Studies student- @oligregory