The place I currently live, there is a lot of housing and neighbourhood constructions that are taking place. Places like Ashington, Cramlington, Bedlington and the rest of Northumberland has their own housing constructions with similar housing developers. (Persimmon Homes, Gleeson Homes, Barratt Homes just naming few.) As of the moment, UK is facing a housing crisis. Furthermore, according to National Housing Federation, there is an estimated 8.4 million people in England that are living in an insecure, unsuitable and unaffordable homes (BBC News, 2019). The government tackles this problem by building more homes to supply the demand of housing. Currently, the housing constructions in Northumberland is part of 170,000 units being built in England this season (Office of National Statistics, 2019). Despite of these sheer number of units, are these dwellings offer a good quality of life and opportunities for healthy lifestyle of its inhabitants? I will unpack those questions by interviewing one of the homeowners that got developed by Persimmon Homes.
Housing completion data (Source: Office of National Statistics)
Mark Massey a senior partner from IDPartnership discussed the aims and principles of Ralph Erskine’s methods on the constructions of Byker in 1969. The principle was groundbreaking at the time, influential on Swedish democracy and pioneered the approach of community engagement with huge effort to involve the local residents of the proposed new developments. (Minton, 2019)
The principles were
“to maintain, valued, traditions and characteristics of neighbourhood itself and the relationship with the surrounding areas, the need to rehouse the residents without breaking family ties and other valued associations or patterns of life and lastly, endeavour to exploit the physical character of the site, more especially the slope towards the south, its views and sunny aspect” (Massey, 2019)
Not only that these principles were applied in Byker but Erskine prepared 11 design checklist which has defined the Byker project. These will be the questions I will be asking to the interviewee to test out Persimmon Homes housing development regarding the homeowner’s own experiences on their newly built home.
Byker Wall (Source: https://www.fsouthern.co.uk/portfolio/byker-wall/)
Does the work fulfill all reasonable everyday needs and some unreasonable ones?
Does it form a step on the way to some better human community in which we could believe?
Does it encourage group contracts? Can it also give privacy?
Can it inspire those who may live there to partake in the task of giving it form?
Does it form a meaningful part of, and beautify the community and landscape in which it stands?
Does it open possibilities for future generations to adapt it to their needs?
Are the technical solutions the best possible?
Does it create satisfying work for those who build?
Can it – as all creative art can – both disturb and give new and unexpected pleasure?
Will the work mature and age with dignity?
Does it give joy? Is it beautiful and full of charm?
Newly built estate (Source: Author)
I was lucky enough to interview a 45 years old registered nurse named ‘Jek’ who lives in a newly built home in Ashington, developed by Persimmon Homes and works at Wansbeck General Hospital. She has a family of four with two kids who are in sixth form in Newcastle.
“Does the work fulfill all reasonable everyday needs and some unreasonable ones?”
The location of the site are within the walking distance from the hospital. It is very walkable, with only within less than 10 mins walk to work. The availability of the bus stop are every 15 mins which is convenient for her kids for going to school. Pavements are pedestrian friendly, she brisk walk and jog during summer afternoons. Everyone is friendly and approachable. They have a facebook group where they can communicate with other residents but she has her own circle of friends mostly who works in the hospital. All of them she met when she moved in 2 summers ago. The general place is well maintained. Outside of her house during summer or autumn, there are children with their bikes on the street playing and laughing. She finds it very nostalgic, constantly reminding her during her childhood days. However, it is a bit of a trek if she is going to go shopping, so she has to take the car to Asda. She also have issues in the house such as leaks and bit and bobs. She said, it takes a while for them to sort it out. It is very bureaucratic and the process is long. All in all, she is happy of her house.
“Does it form a step on the way to some better human community in which we could believe?”
The sense of community in the area is strong. They meet up with her friends every time they are off schedule from work. They also do plan trips in the Christmas market and other places if they are available with their family. They had a Christmas party the other day at her house with 11 other families (all of them are her neighbours). All of them contributed something, some bought food and drinks. They had party games and exchanging gifts. They also have WhatsApp group where one of the moms runs out of ground pepper, one of them will provide and go to her house and gave her a portion of their ground pepper. Lastly, she said these small gestures they do makes everything special and warm whilst living in this place.
“Does it give joy? Is it beautiful and full of charm?”
The entire place is clean, well maintained and serene but the houses looks roughly the same, the only difference is the number plate used by the front door.
This interview has shed some light on the life of living of a new built home. The question is still stand, has Persimmon Homes enhanced the quality of life and gave opportunities for healthy lifestyle? Personally, the housing developer has given ‘Jek’ the opportunity to enhance her quality of life and chance of healthy lifestyle by providing pedestrian friendly pavements where she can do her routine exercises. In addition, the location is strategically placed where facilities are within walking distances such as place of work and bus stops. Lastly, the place provided a safe environment where children can play outdoor. -consequentially, evoke her nostalgia of her own childhood.
However, when ‘Jek’ said, “the houses looks roughly the same, the only difference is the number plate used by the front door.” I think those string of words speaks volume of the lack of character of the place. According to Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton, developers in cities and sub urban areas follows a modernist principles where it promotes specialisation, standardisation and mass production (LeGates and Stout, 2000). It builds up on homogenisation of community, meaning the communities they have built have almost similar physical structure from other places. It loses history of the site and making the place more generic urban space.
Despite all of that, we should find a silver lining of all the nuances of the physical embodiment of a space. But most importantly, we should identify and understand the social intricacies of what is happening inside of a home. It is the social connection, complimenting/conflicting personalities, human to human interactions that plays a huge part of what makes a place more liveable and achieving a sense of personal satisfaction.
BBC News. (2019). Housing crisis ‘affects 8.4 million’ in England. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49787913 [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].
LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (2000). The city reader. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge, pp.331-336.
Massey, M. (2019) Place Making in the Garden Village Tradition, TCP8090 Principles and Practice of Urban Design, Newcastle University, delivered 29 Dec 2019.
Minton, A. (2019). Byker Wall: Newcastle’s noble failure of an estate – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 41. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/21/byker-wall-newcastles-noble-failure-of-an-estate-a-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings-day-41 [Accessed 30 Dec. 2019].
Office of National Statitics. (2019). House building: new build dwellings, England: April to June 2019. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/835887/House_Building_Release_June_2019.pdf [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].