COMMUNITIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU
 


Oxford English Dictionary - A settlement: "...a community"

Too often the bottom rung of the housing ladder is a rung too far. At first hint of a slow down in the property market (which is totally a location market not a bricks and mortar market), poor situations rapidly lose value and markdowns of up to 50% can bankrupt owners.

Thus, a bedsit plus isolation is far removed from an Englishman's Castle.

Builders in the 19th Century, in particular, did not just build houses. They also provided railway stations and pubs, small schools, shops and common fields (small parks). As a result, right up to the 1970's, most new home owners almost unconsciously were buying into existing communities. However, also by the 1970's, the government had totally divorced community provision from builders by devolving it to councils (planners, environmental officers), health authorities and the Ministry of Education.

For 40 years architects have been criticising "soulless new homes" (e.g. The Times, 9/2/07), and the residents mocked even in song. (Malvina Reynolds, first of four verses is:
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
CommunitiesThey are quite wrong - a box can be customised, and the inhabitant with the help of a screen and hi-fi can dream he is in the Seychelles. In a simple kitchen, he and his friends can prepare an aromatic Indonesian rijst tafel. Reality kicks in when a person steps outside and the front door has to be treble locked. A box in a good community might be worth as little as £ 50,000, but the lucky fellow who has collected a good location (i.e. his box is situated in a good community) may have willingly paid £ 450,000, a total property price of £ 500,000. In which case, the next time property prices begin to fall, his community worth will remain rock solid, even if his box needs a makeover.

Therefore, an obsession with building design except perhaps for durability, low maintenance and low energy costs can be somewhat of an architectural foible. Location is all.

The trouble is that since builders only rarely have responsibility for the community layout and its connections to other communities, an architect can only show his worth in being a fashionable box designer. Fortunately there are exceptions, but few of them. One such is the bold vision of the brothers Jon and William Moen. They inherited their parents' farm and have retained control of a new town - Newhall - of 2,800 homes
(www.newhallproject.co.uk).
The brothers approved a scheme that fits into a semi-rural landscape, which includes pedestrian-friendly zones and ecological planting of woodland and hedgerows, and the creation of stream and lakes. Although the project is barely halfway into its 20-year timetable, it is already a notable success (Evening Standard, Homes and Property, 7/2/07).

- proprietal communities - run by associations of owners who share behaviour and rules and in return get more common space, security and fellowship. See web for many examples in UK, Australia and USA. Some are religious based, most are not.

- sustainable (see Local Government Association aims Dec 05)
(to deliver new housing so that community is sustainable!)
Like long life light bulbs, the end affects are horrific, expensive and a lesson in bad-science meddling, every bit as crass as bad-economist interventionism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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