6A) Diversity

Which are the strongest communities – those where everyone is the same, or those where everyone is different? The view of planners and researchers like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has tended to be that diverse communities are best. But there are strong communities, both working-class and middle-class, that can be quite homogeneous, where values are shared. There are also some communities that do not regard positively people who are different to them, however uncomfortable that may make us feel.

However, we believe that on balance having daily contact with a wide range of people is good for us. It makes life more interesting, broadens our outlook and makes us more tolerant.

By diversity we mean people from different ethnic, religious and cultural groups,
of different ages, disabilities, income, gender and sexuality. Diversity makes life richer and also has practical advantages.

It means that there are people around during the day so that the area feels safe. It means that local schools have a mix of kids raising educational attainment. And it also provides spending power to support a range of local shops and other facilities.

Housing mix

Creating mixed communities can be difficult. The main tool available to us, and it’s a blunt one, is the mix of housing that we provide. This relates both to
the tenure and the type of housing.

The provision of social and affordable housing in a new private development will ensure a mix of people, as will the provision of private rented homes. The same is true of type. A mix of houses and apartments of different sizes along with supported housing, housing for older people, co-housing and student blocks, all contribute to a mix of people.

Maintaining a balanced community over time is even more difficult. When places decline, those who are able to do so move out, risking stigmatisation. On the other hand, gentrification pushes up values and rents and can squeeze out less well-off people. Currently, issues of gentrification are to the foreground in many of our larger cities and one of the main ways to counter this is to invest in social housing.

The design of housing is also important; there is no point putting all of the affordable housing together at the back of the site. Affordable housing should be mixed in with private housing. The term that is often used to describe this is ‘pepper-potting’. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds because housing associations need to group their properties together for management reasons. However, the key thing is to avoid crass mistakes like excluding the social housing tenants from the playground or having a plush lobby for the owners and a back door for the social tenants.

Housing cooperatives and co-housing groups are also a powerful tool to
create communities. In some co-housing schemes, communities cook and eat together communally. There are even places where these ideas are being used to rethink housing for older people.

What You Can Do

Communities

Reach out to all of the people in your area, not just those that come to meetings. Engage in activities and celebrations that celebrate the diversity of people and reach out to a wider range of people to involve them in all of the discussions you are having about the neighbourhood. Have meetings in different venues and at times when people can attend. Work through schools, community centres and places of worship to involve people who might not otherwise get involved. Use moderated social media to bring people together and keep things positive. When commenting on new developments, welcome new housing development that is well designed and which will add to the diversity of the local community.

Developers and Designers

Avoid creating a mono-community by using only a limited number of house types. Include a range of houses and apartments as well as older persons’ housing. Embrace a diversity of tenures including housing for sale, shared equity private and social rented housing.

Councils

Use planning policy to ensure that new housing meets local needs and nourishes diverse communities. Make sure that policies on issues such as density, parking, gardens and privacy distances don’t limit the range of housing that can be built. Ensure that there is scope for some housing even in high density areas and some apartments in suburban areas. Have a clear social housing policy and ensure that it is implemented through planning agreements to encourage a greater mix.

Case study

6A) Portobello, Edinburgh

Voted the best neighbourhood in the UK and Ireland at the 2020 Urbanism Awards, the seaside suburb of Portobello is home to a very socially diverse population.

Constructed predominantly in the 19th century, the range of housing, from worker cottages and tenements to large detached villas caters for a mix of incomes, ages and backgrounds.

Despite its status as a highly desirable suburb of Edinburgh with good facilities and access into Edinburgh, the neighbourhood has avoided the levels of gentrification that many similar areas have faced elsewhere, and Portobello continues to support a range of local shops and facilities that appeal to a cross-section of society.

A strong sense of community and pride is also evident within the neighbourhood, which has resulted in a number of significant community-led projects being brought forward. Most notably the community purchase of Portobello Old Parish Church, the first community buy-out of its kind, is now home to a thriving venue for arts events.

The Wash House community centre provides a free youth club service and hosts a range of other regular activities which encourage health, wellbeing and education for the local community. Meanwhile, Tribe Porty is a community coworking and creative events space, which accommodates a collection of social entrepreneurs, freelancers, charities and SMEs.

The Portobello beach is a hub of activity, with swimmers, local rowing and sailing clubs and Scottish Beach Volleyball competitions. The Promenade boasts several local cafes and is the setting for Edinburgh’s annual Big Beach Busk and other art and cultural events throughout the year. Community beach cleans help to maintain this much-loved local facility.

“Sand, sea and a strong wave of community spirit make Portobello a truly special neighbourhood.”

– COUNCILLOR MAUREEN CHILD, RESIDENT.

“It’s a really unique place, and we say all the time how happy we are to be based here with its mix of old and new.”

– JACK CLARK, BUSINESS OWNER AND RESIDENT.

Photography: © Academy of Urbanism, 2019, © Grosvenor