The launch of the Quality of Life Framework took place Thursday 4th March 2021 and saw a stellar list of speakers discuss the newly launched Quality of Life Framework and how it might make a change to how we create and care for our homes and communities. Hosting the event was the Chair of the Quality of Life Foundation, Professor Sadie Morgan, OBE; with the Framework’s principle author, David Rudlin of URBED; Deborah Cadman, CEO of West Midlands Combined Authority; Dan Labbad, CEO of the Crown Estate; and the economist, Bridget Rosewell, CBE.
You can watch the event again here or read about it below.
SM: Few of us would have predicted the pandemic and its effects, but successive lockdowns have exposed just how important our homes and communities are to our quality of life as never before, from the health inequalities of those people living in cramped or inadequate housing to the freedoms (and frustrations) of home working, and the resilience shown by countless communities up and down the country.
The good news to come out of all this is that there is a sense of urgency from across industry and government to involve people in conversations about where they live — to understand what they value and what they need from their homes and local areas. And it is in the spirit of those conversations that we have carried out our work, with extensive research and a Quality of Life Framework, published this week, that demonstrates just what quality of life in the built environment means and how it might be encouraged by everyone involved.
SM: URBED was the primary author of the Quality of Life Framework. You were also responsible for the recent National Design Code. How do these pieces of work correspond and how will they influence wider industry trends?
DR: In doing the national model design code, we were confirmed to work within existing government policy, but with the framework we could say what we thought should happen.
Planning is vitally important but it’s not everything. It’s much wider in scope.
The code is targeted at local authorities and this is targeted at local communities and what they can do.
SM: The Framework comes at a pivotal time, and we’ve had some early conversations with policy makers about the possibilities for the Framework to be used to incite change in the long term. How could this be led from a local or regional Authorities such as West Midlands Combined Authority?
DC: The timing of this is impeccable because the pandemic has caused all of us to rethink how we live our lives. Local government is starting to think about how it recovers from the pandemic and it’s not just about economic recovery — it has to be about community recovery as well. We’ve been looking at recovery and reset at three different levels:
1. The importance of mental health and happiness and quality of life. This framework brings us back to the simple things of what brings us joy and happiness. And the role of local government in supporting that.
2. How we see the worlds outside our windows. We’ve all seen the power of nature, spending time outside with our families and friends. How we can make our green urban spaces as green as possible.
3. We’re all thinking about how our high streets can thrive and improve. People are using local shops more but we all know that high streets are about more than bricks and mortar.
4. There are lots of questions around levelling up around hard infrastructure, but if we’re going to level up properly it has to be about how we invest in our communities, people and neighbourhoods too.
SM: A similar question to you Dan. I know you’ve championed sustainability at Lendlease and have already started to instigate change at the Crown Estate. How do you see the Framework helping to shape developers’ and housebuilders’ ambitions for new projects?
DL: I think the period we’re living in at the moment can’t be ignored. Engagement was a big challenge before Covid and it’s going to be a bigger challenge after. There is a realisation that stability is something you’ve got to fight for.
I was interested to see how control came through the framework and I think it’s something that people are going to want more of. The framework is empowering in that it provides a tool that is inclusive or big companies can. It offers a pathway where you can work collectively to define that.
The framework also breaks down the barrier between the design process and how communities live and work in the future. This allows you to use the design process to create collective capacity as you move forward.
SM: From your work on the National infrastructure Commission, I know you’re particularly interested in how we all get about — what we’ve described in the framework as “movement”. As we build new communities on the edge of towns and as we try to accommodate greater numbers of people within cities, how can we use transport solutions to encourage places that improve people’s quality of life?
BR: I think that it comes back to some of the other aspects that you’ve got already around engagement and about control. How people move about has been stuck in aspic over decades. We’ve taken decisions around that assuming we know where everyone is going to live and works and we’re just minimising the time it takes to make various trips. Because where people choose to live and work is also dependent on what that movement system is looking like.
We’ve been very top down, model-based about this entirely based on the future being like the past, instead of thinking about a much more integrated and engaged version.
We’ve spent a lot of time no the Oxford to Cambridge proposals and how we should think about the development of the place alongside the development of the transport system. One of the things that came out of that is how traditional and unimaginative so much of development actually is. We looked at developments around Milton Keynes and thought, “no, still?” We’ve been looking at the movement within a neighbourhood but also one neighbourhood to another.
We need to push the devolution agenda and how that works at that local level. It needs to work at all levels and think of ways it can work at all levels.
SM: How do we affect change? Do you think it is bottom up?
BR: We’ve been disempowering local communities for decades. You need the encouragement at the top and the empowerment at the bottom. It won’t happen overnight, so the other thing is persistence. The only way that you win is keeping at it and being consistent about it.
DC: We need to keep up the community spirit that has been generated through Covid. We also need to talk to local councils and landowners about those small pockets of land that might be car parks at the moment or land that’s left unloved and have conversations about using those and giving those over to communities to use and build and create pocket parks or playgrounds.
DL: We’re all going to walk out on the battle field after the war and we don’t know what we’re going to feel. The first thing we need to do is a lot of listening. We also speak a language that a lot of people don’t understand. One of the most empowering things about the framework is that it provides a language that anybody can pick up and communicate through to improve the translation between real people and our industry. That is incredibly important.
BR: The language of planners and technology just doesn’t engage. That also means that the industry comes over as a bit finger-wagging. Particularly once you get outside urban areas where it’s very difficult without a car to get to a job or do the linked trips dropping off kids at school and getting to work.
DR: What we should be doing is to reempower local authorities because they are the crucial link between local people and making these things happen. They’re starved of resources and don’t have capacity but the key thing we could do is to reinvigorate local government.
. . .
SM: What single change to government or business would you make tomorrow that would improve people’s quality of life for the long term?
DC: I think it’s about investing more in community ownership and supporting communities to give them the resilience and take advantage of that.
DL: Control governance, engagement. Proper engagement.
BR: Enabling local authorities to involve planners to take a broader view.
DR: the pandemic has created this huge surge of community and community optimism and I want to bottle that and use it as a power going forward.The Quality of Life Foundation