Neighbourhoods for life

This Issue This is a part of the Neighbourhoods and ageing populations feature

By - , Build 106

A lot of time and money is spent making our homes liveable, but more thought needs to go into designing neighbourhoods that work well for all our population.

Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
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Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
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Figure 1: The Beacon Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework.

The Lifetime Design Foundation of New Zealand recently announced that Generation Homes, Greenstone Group, GJ Gardiner (Rodney), CJ Davies  Architect and Summerset Retirement Villages  have become establishment members of the  Foundation and are committed to building  dwellings that work for the whole population.  That means homes that provide for:

  • families with young children moving  safely in and out of their homes and  environment
  • older people successfully remaining at  home as they age and being able to  participate in their wider community
  • people with disabilities finding useable  and adaptable products so everyday life is  made easier.

Waitakere City Council has also become  an establishment member, reflecting a com­ mitment to ensure that planning and consent  processes support the building of lifetime  design dwellings.

Lifetime design needed

A commitment to lifetime design cannot  come soon enough. New Zealand homes  have been notoriously poor in providing for  people of all ages, stages and capacities.  Older people and those with disabilities  invest considerable amounts of money into  modifying their homes to make them liveable.  So, too, do all New Zealanders through the  Health Vote and through ACC levies.

A significant proportion of public and  private funding for house modifications is  spent on basic adaptations (such as widening  doors and installing wet area showers). Such  modifications could more easily and cost- effectively be built into all new and renovated  homes, as they are relatively expensive to do  retrospectively. Householders complain that it  is often difficult to get modifications done in a  timely manner and at an acceptable quality.

It is estimated that about one in five people  in New Zealand has a disability. Most live in  ordinary houses in ordinary neighbourhoods.  Disability increases with age, and over half  of older people report having one. The 2006  census reports 510,000 New Zealanders are  aged 65 years or over. By 2061, Statistics  New Zealand estimates that New Zealand  will have 1.44 million older people. So as  our population ages, more and more people  are likely to have problems with mobility.

Hence developers and builders with foresight  see lifetime design as a way of contributing to  the value and functionality of New Zealand’s  housing stock into the future and getting a  competitive edge in the market now.

Is changing our homes enough?

Clearly, the answer is no. The problem  of poor neighbourhood environments is  recognised internationally as a major barrier  to older people and those with temporary or  ongoing disabilities. If people are to function  well in their neighbourhoods, it is imperative  they do not end up isolated in inaccessible  homes because the neighbourhood’s built  environment is lacking.

Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: B
Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)

Accessibility problems are not confined to  older people. The proportion of the population  with some impairment to mobility is likely to  increase with higher survival rates for those  with congenital impairment or impairment  acquired through injury or illness. And any  parent knows that managing the paraphernalia  of babies and young children imposes real  problems of mobility and accessibility.

Unsustainable neighbourhoods

Neighbourhoods that trap people into their  homes are ones where:

  • footpaths are not walkable
  • roads are difficult or dangerous to cross
  • shops, amenities and facilities are not located on easy and quick routes
  • subdivisions have lots of cul-de-sacs
  • steps and levels are introduced to ‘add interest’ to the streetscape without consideration for wheelchairs, prams, crutches or guide sticks
  • vegetation and signage interrupt the walk space
  • everything looks the same.

Such neighbourhoods make people car dependent and exclude those unable to drive – many disabled and older people and all children. Neighbourhoods such as these are not sustainable environmentally, socially or economically and act against independence. They do not encourage the casual interactions on the street, in the shops and at the parks that are so necessary for people’s social attachment and sense of place.

Figure 1: The Beacon Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework.
Figure 1: The Beacon Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework.

Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework

New Zealand is only now beginning to think about the sustainability of the neighbourhood built environment. The Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework being developed by Beacon Pathway Ltd provides tools to assess neighbourhood sustainability in relation to a specific goal and six domains (see Figure 1).

Some local authorities have started to develop specifications for accessible neighbourhoods. For instance, Waitakere City Council is part of the Beacon Pathway Ltd research consortium and has been an active participant in the development of the Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework. Manukau City Council has guidelines for disability-accessible streets and public spaces.

The Lifetime Design Foundation also sees itself as moving from house design to identifying the crucial conditions that need to be met for lifetime design at the neighbourhood level.

Neighbourhoods for life

In the United Kingdom, Oxford Brookes University has demonstrated that good neighbourhood design acts to keep older people functioning in their communities longer, more safely and with higher levels of independence (even older people with dementia). The latter lose the ability to easily ‘read’ outdoor environments, but outdoor environments can be developed to allow them to operate effectively. The key is:

  • simple street layouts with gentle curves
  • T-junctions, not cul-de-sacs or crossroads
  • wide pavements made of ‘plain, smooth’ paving
  • buildings that act as markers by having a variety of architectural styles and features.

‘Neighbourhoods for life’ can be built. Like houses, accessible neighbourhoods are more likely to be achieved if they are well designed before they are built. Neighbourhoods, like dwellings, can be renovated, retrofitted and modified, but well designed neighbourhoods are more likely to be resilient and adaptable, and the cost of modification to meet changing needs is likely to be lower, if the built environment is designed to provide for the range of people that live in them. Like homes, neighbourhoods, too, need to meet the principles of lifetime design – usability, adaptability, accessibility, inclusion and lifetime value.

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Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.

Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: B
Mixed uses like parks and outdoor cafés bring life to a neighbourhood. (Photo: Beacon Pathway Ltd.)
Figure 1: The Beacon Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework.
Figure 1: The Beacon Neighbourhood Sustainability Framework.

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