COMMENT | Quiet revolution in city centre family living
Does starting a family have to end the fun of city centre living? For many it has and still does, writes Rebecca Fieldhouse of Iceni Projects.
In 2017, family life and urban life are mutually exclusive for all but a handful who are resolutely determined to remain in the heart of Manchester’s growing and vibrant city centre. However, there are signs of this beginning to change.
We have witnessed two evolutions, if not revolutions, over the past 15 to 20 years. In the way we work and where we live. And Manchester is the stage on which these revolutions have played out.
Employment continues to be concentrated in our successful city centres, although how we work is changing. Work isn’t the nine-to-five drudgery anymore. It can be fun, alternative, less predictable, more flexible and fluid. It’s about well-being and social interaction.
Where we live has changed too. The population of large city centres more than doubled between 2001 and 2011. The younger working population, aged 20-29, in our cities has tripled. The same research led by the Centre for Cities explains that this group now makes up almost half of the total population of our cities.
We are also getting better at retaining graduates with over 50% remaining in Manchester – more than any other large city in England. A Com Res survey of recent undergraduates and early career movers showed that the two main reasons for considering where to live was the quality of housing and the availability of housing in well maintained neighbourhoods. This suggest that the attractiveness of housing stock and the amenities in neighbourhoods could play a significant part in developing our economic success.
Developers have excelled at providing the apartments and PRS developments that are now synonymous with city centre living – a consequence of the industry being focused on tackling the numbers game of the housing crisis. Are these the only homes we need in our city centre?
Efforts have been focused on bringing people to the city centre, not so much on keeping them here as their housing needs change and evolve. On reaching the point at which people want to have a family life they have to leave behind the city centre living sought.
If Manchester is to continue to attract and retain people to drive the economic growth of our city, then it is essential we deliver a diverse choice of homes in different sizes, types, tenures and value in sustainable locations.
Iceni Projects has been working with Michelle Rothwell of Watch This Space as she sets about disrupting the accepted norms of what city centre living means. This year we have secured planning consent for two separate townhouse developments in the very heart of Manchester city centre.
Family living is good for cities. It brings life and adds a new vibrancy, which is critical to balanced communities and the revitalisation of forgotten spaces. Creating a home and raising a family in the city aligns with how people now want to live and work today.
In development and planning terms there are benefits from using smaller city centre sites, often brownfield, to deliver a new offer that wouldn’t necessarily work for a high-rise apartment or commercial office space scheme.
Being more creative with under-utilised urban sites is perhaps essential following the rejection of a predominantly green belt approach to strategic development in the rewriting of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.
This is by no means a solution. People aren’t walking into established communities with all the amenities they desire. In these early days, there are challenges we face in terms of availability, affordability and quality of local services, such as nurseries, schools, and GP practices. We need to get significantly better, and quickly at designing in green, open spaces in the city centre where families can spend time together.
These risks though should not be used as justification for walking away from developing family living in our city centre. Places and communities are made and shaped by the people who occupy them. I suspect that the families moving into these townhouses will accept these challenges as an opportunity to create their own community.
Innovation drives economic growth. To create strong, vibrant, well-balanced sustainable places we need to challenge the received wisdom and do so by continuing to innovate. We can start to do this by providing a genuine mix of housing, creating environments where families want to put down roots.
Let’s listen to the innovators and the market disruptors because they’ve already connected the dots and are recognising what this young population that loves urban living want but don’t yet have.
- Rebecca Fieldhouse is planning associate at Iceni Projects