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Unhealthy and inactive communities by design

Image from Ecomotive,

Cohousers enjoy a wide range of perks. One of the important ones is that their site or 'neighbourhood' is actually designed to facilitate a thriving community and healthy living. Another is that they get to have genuine input into its design. Community-led design, where residents' views and ideas inform the design brief, is not the norm when it comes to developing our urban environment, and it could well be holding us all back.

This article cites 'Five urban design mistakes that create unhealthy and inactive communities' (that most of us would recognise to some degree I'm sure) and begins with the following premis:

'We all want to be fit, healthy and happy but the best intentions – whether it’s to jog to the shops, eat a balanced diet or strike a better work-life balance – can often elude us.

At least some of the blame can be laid at the feet of those who design the city spaces some of us call home. Many aspects of city living discourage the kinds of lifestyles that can contribute to our health and wellbeing.'

Spoiler alert! I've listed the five mistakes below, but the article and the detail about each of the five is well worth a read.

1. Erecting too many fences, gates and barriers: This I think is a problem ('hidden in plain sight') as it's so much the norm, and in reading the article it hit me just how influential such barriers are.

2. Failing to find out what residents really want: So simple, yet cohousing and community-led design is often seen as 'innovative' and 'pioneering'. We'll have effective processes for resident input.

3. Forgetting about the extra services: Extra services, shared resources - this is another of the perks of cohousing. Living and home can and should extend out beyond the four walls of a house.

4. Designing green spaces nobody wants: Unsurprisingly, green space is highly desirable in a cohousing project, but it's not enough just to have it - how it integrates into the wider site is essential.

5. Failing to design a friendly neighbourhood first: We're aware 'community glue' is important, and our community has started before having a physical site. As one workshop participant said recently, "It takes a community to develop a community".

The article is a keeper for us as a reference point for our own community-led design process, which should enable us to create a place to live and be that is far healthier and happier than your average neighbourhood.

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