Radical rethink: part 2 – the ‘good citizen’.


Phil Grew, Director

The built environment (r)evolution.

You can read Part 1 of this insight series here.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s we had a near fail-safe development model. A buoyant ‘if you build it, they will come’ policy drove the creation of new and reimagined places. It was a fail-safe model fuelled by a consumer boom and a drive for housing. This buoyancy carried us neatly in to the 2000s where developments became bolder and even more ambitious.

Now, in a thankfully post-COVID world, demand is squarely focussed on regeneration (particularly in our cities and towns), asset repurposing and the creation of new homes.

But are commercially led developments creating spaces that will be the future ‘good citizens’ of the environment they are located within?

Are we delivering environments where health & wellbeing is centre stage, where communities are empowered and can thrive, and where both physical and social heritage is celebrated? Or are we creating short-life products that deliver commercial return, but none of the real social and environmental value now critical to our future?

Places to belong

With access to more technological resources than ever before, early adopters are maturing; the societal changes that fuelled the retail-led boom of the ‘90s and 2000s have now moved to less of a demand-led environment. It is becoming clear that many of us are going off ‘stuff’ with experiences, localism and, most importantly, community coming to the fore. Reportedly, the use of the ‘near me’ search tag on Google has increased 900%; a sign that people want to access and support local services perhaps? What is clear is that supporting ‘your local’ is a rising trend as part of the response to a heightening environmental crisis and the negative perceptions around commercial globalisation more generally.

The places we are creating are of course, the places where we as individuals are going to build relationships, play, grow families, age, rest, connect, etc – they need to be places where we ‘belong’. There is an argument that in a similar fashion to the way the retail led boom of the ‘90s homogenised many of our town centres (with local areas and districts becoming indistinguishable across the country), the places we are creating now are similarly indistinguishable and not delivering what we need as people to thrive socially and psychologically.

This social and emotional element of belonging to a place is creating a real demand for bespoke, regionally tailored spaces and places that people can own, occupy and cohabit.

The challenges of delivering regenerated urban spaces can be complex. Multiple stakeholders and property ownership, coupled with extended delivery and investment return periods, makes them an ambitious proposition for even the least commercial developer to engage with, particularly in a volatile market but developing places people can enjoy, dwell and connect socially is the future of commercial, social and environmental success. Well blended, mixed-use, forward-looking districts where we can connect with nature and each other is the long-term sustainable regeneration story.

As many Local Authorities take a lead in recovering much of their local centres, it’s down to us all to support the drive to regenerate our existing and new built environments in the best possible way. Together we can nurture the neighbourhoods of our future; the supremely good citizens we need them to be.