Family-friendly Living in the City

There is a pressing national need to build new homes in the UK. This is reflected in ambitious targets for housing delivery in many cities across Great Britain; but there is often a lack of suitable land for development, together with a political reluctance to address this through release of precious greenbelt.

At the same time, a growing proportion of the population is choosing to live in cities, attracted by the lifestyle that they offer. Many people chose city life as young adults and some will choose to stay and raise their families in the city; but for those that don’t, what are the options other than a switch to suburban life?

A good urban lifestyle means vibrant, walkable environments – the ‘buzz’ of the city, great facilities, excellent public transport, and a wealth of humanity to engage with, or simply watch go by. This is also a sustainable lifestyle – using less land, reducing the need to travel, facilitating more compact, efficient networks of transport and infrastructure, and making initiatives such as green energy and recycling easier and cheaper to deliver. There are good reasons why we should encourage more people to live like this, but we must develop models in the UK that provide the attraction and benefits of higher density, without the ‘urban grit and edginess’ of cities that does not appeal to everyone, families in particular.

Vancouver in particular is a city that has taken a conscious decision to promote compact, high density development despite the wider availability of land – a clear reaction to the suburban sprawl of many North American cities. The results are impressive, with Vancouver now regularly topping surveys as one of the most liveable and attractive cities on the planet. A key part in achieving this has been the development of high density residential areas that also contain ‘human scale streets’ lined with front doors, windows and small gardens; apartment buildings that allow direct access to safe play areas; and a range of good facilities within the block, or close by. This is an urban environment for all age groups, including families, similar to the successful models of urban family life in many European cities.

Is family-friendly living in the city really possible? Projects such as Vancouver’s Olympic Village, Stockholm’s Hammarby Sjöstad and Hamburg’s HafenCity suggest that, yes, it is. Now, this approach is coming to the UK. Trafford Waters is a mixed-use development and includes 3,000 homes, a school, health facilities, hotels, shops, cafes, bars and offices. The masterplan proposes high density development in order to maximise the potential of a site that enjoys excellent public transport connectivity and has a range of ‘city scale’ amenities on its doorstep including a regional shopping and leisure complex at Trafford Centre.

family-friendly living
Trafford Waters is a new development in Manchester that aims to combine the best of the suburbs with the city.

A key to the success of the masterplan is a framework of over 6 hectares of open space.. Unlike traditional developments, public realm in high density neighbourhoods presents unique challenges that require a new approach to meeting open space standards. The landscape masterplan introduces a network of high quality, multi-functional and memorable public spaces and routes that work together to meet the ever- changing needs of residents and visitors. Every inch of space is utilised; floors, walls and roofs, and where appropriate, integrate sustainable urban drainage and address micro-climate and biodiversity. Exceptional sports and play facilities are located on the doorstep, connected by attractive walking and cycling routes that put people first. Being privately owned and managed, a higher quality of provision can be delivered and maintained as a major asset. There is no such thing as leftover space in high density developments.

Trafford Waters will provide something new and different to compliment the wider Greater Manchester residential offer; a new neighbourhood conceived to appeal to people who want a more urban lifestyle, accessible to the city, but within an environment that better meets a wider range of life stages, including family life.

Guy Pearson

Guy is qualified as an architect and an urban designer at IBI Group. His interest and skills lie in the links between the two disciplines, including masterplanning and designing mixed use, high density urban neighbourhoods. Guy is an advocate of sustainable design to create liveable, healthy communities.

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