People want their neighbourhoods to feel like home and must be consultedby Roger Scruton / June 26, 2018 / Leave a comment
It is accepted on all sides that we are not building enough houses to meet the needs of a growing population. Attempts to build new homes meet with mixed success, but it is not fair to characterise opposition to new building as simply “nimbyism.”
People want “beauty in their back yard” because beauty is a symbol of home. Aesthetic harmony is the sine qua non of settlement, and the only firm requirement that must be fulfilled, if people are to live happily with the others whose property they overlook. The search for beauty and the building of community are therefore two aspects of a single process.
Nor is beauty a prerogative of the affluent classes. Aesthetic standards are just as important for social housing and the mixed estates in which private owners, council tenants and tenants of housing associations live side by side—if anything more important, since many residents on the big estates are unable to choose to live in different surroundings.
In a poll of over 5,000 people conducted for a new report by the think tank Policy Exchange, there is a clear consensus; respondents agreed that we need more homes, but they want them to fit in with the existing environment. People want new developments to be a somewhere, not a nowhere, and a somewhere which could also be a home.
In most places people prefer dwellings aligned along streets to blocks scattered in open spaces, prefer traditional design in which elements are organised vertically to the “horizontal vernacular,” and in general like a serene and walkable neighbourhood with friendly facades on a shared public street. Traditional Georgian and Victorian terraces are most popular; smaller modern houses which focus groups described as “boxy” are as unpopular as “adventurous” modern skyscrapers.
Not surprisingly, such neighbourhoods possess added economic value too. People like green spaces, and also areas where small shops, schools and other amenities can coexist without the blight of heavy traffic. The polling reveals a belief that better quality buildings and public space make people happier, communities stronger and crime less likely.
If popular resistance to development is to be overcome, then we must build according to standards that the public perceives to be aesthetically acceptable and involve those who have to live with them in the planning process. It is also necessary to bring the important stakeholders—architects and developers, local…