Paul Hanna, Senior Associate
Inclusive spaces and activities.
Community based approaches to urban regeneration and masterplanning should take into account the evidence base for promoting and supporting mental health. However, when planning new urban areas this is often neglected.
COP26 cautioned of the potential for transitions to net-zero carbon emissions to exacerbate existing social, economic and health inequalities. Further, indirect effects and social consequences such as climate anxiety were highlighted at COP26 and are expected to feature heavily at COP27. Here the built environment can play a significant role in addressing such issues by building resilient, engaged, and empowered communities.
We often see insufficient concern for inclusive community spaces, places, and activities beyond spaces for consumptive practices (e.g., cafés and bars). The value of multi-use digitally equipped community centres cannot be overestimated. In such spaces, residents would be able to, physically or digitally, join a range of groups such as singing groups; mothers’ and toddlers’ groups; art groups; cooking clubs; environmental clubs; and many other activities. All of which enables a new collective identity, sense of belonging, and sense of purpose. Likewise, we know outdoor community activities such as tending to an allotment/community gardening can have positive mental health outcomes as well as positive environmental outcomes. As can community based initiatives run out of community centres such as cycling clubs which also offer free repair shops in which intergenerational interaction occurs, people learn new skills, and the public can donate unwanted bicycles which are restored and offer up to people in need (e.g. Life Cycle UK |).
Mental health and wellbeing
An appreciation for outdoor spaces and notions of active living are gaining traction in master planning. Building on these foundations, future built environment projects can shape the ways in which people understand and participate in sport. Offering a range of free and accessible urban sport environments that are context specific, providing those involved in master planning the opportunity to build inclusive communities that offer something for people of all ages and abilities. Not only will this offer physical health benefits, but participation in sport has also been demonstrated to offer a collective identity, an informal space to disclose difficulties, opportunities to support others, sense of enjoyment, shared goals, and collective action, all of which are central to community mental health and wellbeing.
In line with COP26 and what is expected at COP27, future master planning needs to place inclusive spaces and activities at the centre of concern.
Future master planning
Through both physical and digital infrastructure cities of the future will need to ensure that the places we live offer a plethora of context specific spaces and structures through which individuals can become part of the collective, building community wellbeing and resilience. When planning, we should be looking to design designated physical indoor and outdoor spaces for community clubs, centres, initiatives, and sport as part of the social value of the area. In addition, these spaces should be equipped with sufficient digital infrastructure to enable those who can engage in-person and those who need to engage on-line to interact in seamless and synchronous ways, utilising avatars or the metaverse for example. Further, such spaces should be at the forefront of future master planning, with the additional infrastructure built around these community spaces. Such an approach will build resilient, engaged, and empowered communities, not just a collective of buildings, to help tackle the social consequences and indirect effects of climate change whilst also enabling collective and inclusive action. Afterall climate action requires empowered people who aren’t suffering, not just a technical approach to solutions.