The disproportionate suffering among frontline workers and members of the BAME community is to a great extent a function of the unequal distribution of space in society, writes Ben Derbyshire
There is an understandable clamour for change arising from the pain and suffering endured during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is important not to be misled into believing that this should take us off in a radical new direction, untried and not tested, and possibly regressive.
Many of the lessons were already there. Most notably, we now know the argument most often used to avoid making the necessary investment – that we cannot afford it – was spurious. The resources were there; we just chose not to deploy them until it was too late.
It would be a bad mistake to imagine that the future lies in a long-term commitment to social distancing. We must not take flight to urban sprawl that gives the fortunate few a false sense of security in isolation. Fighting pestilence is part of the human condition, but human wellbeing also depends on creating a sustainable built environment capable of reversing climate change at the same time as enabling rewarding social interaction.
The lesson from the pandemic is therefore to recognise that we already have the knowledge and building standards necessary to enable the population to thrive. To some extent this understanding has to do with the design and provision of space within the home.
Imperfect it may have been, but the Code for Sustainable Homes, effectively abandoned by the government in 2015, offered guidance on the design of new homes that included many of the features now being called for as a response to the pandemic – space for homeworking, private amenity, and so on.
Whereas the design of new homes is an important issue in itself, far more significant is the extent to which we have failed to deploy our understanding of how best to plan and design for fair neighbourhoods.
For example, black people in England are four times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home, according to the Office for National Statistics. Coming out of the pandemic, the key is to recognise the extent to which the worst privations have been visited upon those who have been disadvantaged, and to invest in a new settlement between government and society, rebalancing a fairer distribution of quality homes and neighbourhoods.
Now we have the motivation to effect changes rapidly in the interests of both the environment and the economy
Crisis accelerates change. So, while we were inching our way towards the redistribution of urban space away from the motor car and towards pedestrian-friendly, biodiverse public realm, now we have the motivation to effect these changes rapidly in the interests of both the environment and the economy.
Local authorities are increasingly at the forefront of bringing together these solutions at a local level to deliver national policy priorities and providing new, affordable housing at scale. Here, good design solutions for modular construction and offsite production have an important role to play in delivering better and safer conditions for workers as well as much more environmentally sustainable outcomes.
Now is the time to invest in both so that city regions can modernise their industrial base at the same time as meeting the needs of a failing housing market. HTA’s Terrace of the Future idea with Ilke Homes – the 100 House (pictured), which costs £100 a year to run and is designed to last a century, demonstrates this can be done.
The disproportionate suffering among frontline workers and members of the BAME community is to a great extent a function of the unequal distribution of space in society.
Don’t be distracted by calls for radical re-design of homes and cities. We must redistribute the benefits of currently well-understood best practice in public engagement and co-design, amply demonstrated by the RIBA Future Place programme. We need a fairer apportionment of space in sustainable construction and retrofit, to share the virtues of placemaking that responds to context and offers real choice, quality and adaptability.
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Source: HTA Design