Designing Communities for Social Sustainability

slums in Mumbai

Population growth is going to have profound impacts on politics, economics, and society in the coming decades, one issue being the basic question: Where are we going to put these people? “UN surveys indicate that…by 2030 over two billion people in the world will be living in slums, with the associated problems of poor sanitation, and access to healthcare and education,” reports a paper put forth by Future Communities. Some cities have been addressing the issues of poverty and expanding slums by creating brand new empty settlements developed in anticipation of population growth. However some initiatives are aspiring for more than economic, or even environmental, viability; they are designing communicative, relational, and trust-building communities.

The result of mass migration to cities and population growth has been the growth of slum communities worldwide. These settlements lack the infrastructure of housing, health care, and education. This environment also experiences the resulting social problems of crime, unemployment, and lack of education.

Shanghai's satellite city Thames Town - British inspired

In an effort to anticipate the population growth and migration expected in the coming decades, several cities have launched initiatives to establish satellite cities, in some instances completely vacant, waiting to be filled. Examples include New Delhi’s four satellite cities and Seoul’s Incheon Development Area. Shanghai is incorporating history into their design with the One City, Nine Towns satellite communities. Inspired by the countries that shaped the colonial and commercial history of Shanghai, the towns will be designed to imitate the UK, the USA, Russia, Spain, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

An environmentally friendly neighborhood center in London's South Bank

In the UK, however, urban planners have begun to design new communities that are not only economically and environmentally sustainable, but socially sustainable as well. The Young Foundation, in a partnership with the Homes and Community Agency and Local Government Improvement and Development explain that “Social sustainability combines design of the physical realm with the design of the social world – infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement and space for people and places to evolve.” Future Communities works with local organizations to build communities that will foster individual and community well-being by addressing in their design the needs for trust, involvement, and expression.

A housing co-op on London's South Bank

Learning from past urban settlement projects, as well as recent events like the Tottenham riots in 2011, Future Communities has taken initiative to look beyond roads and homes to design services and support structures “that can help new residents come together, share common interests, agree on local priorities and work together to create a sense of community.” This mindset reflects a consideration of not only ‘where’ people will live but also ‘how’ they will live. Rather than staying shut and isolated in our homes, how can we design relational communities? How can we address individuals’ social and material needs to make spaces for communication, sharing, and trust in communities?

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