COMMENT | Quiet revolution in city centre family living

Rebecca Fieldhouse SquareDoes 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

Your Comments

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Q: Does starting a family have to end the fun of city centre living?

A: Maybe not initially but certainly once children reach school age.

By Unaplanner

City centres are not for children.

By Flashbulb

My vote for most used and dreadful buzzword of the year is ….Disruptor
Building houses in the city centre not exactly a new thing.

By Grumpy Father Christmas

@Unaplanner,@Flashbulb,@GrumpyFatherChristmas – as a Disruptor I quite like using the word to upset people like you and if cities aren’t for Children then they will die and finally Merry Christmas 🙂

By postive person

Can’t imagine anywhere worse to bring up a child despite all the profit-seeking developer rhetoric. Back to “your next big thing” drawing boards chaps.

By Alan

I’d turn the question on its head: can city centres thrive over the long term if they are not welcoming to families? The evidence from cities like Vancouver, Melbourne and Rotterdam is that they cannot. To quote mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa (whose policies on parks and transport have turned that city around): children are an indicator species for cities.

By Tim Gill

I loved that phrase you used, it was very clever – ‘Revolution not evolution’.

No, it was the opposite. ‘Evolution not revolution’.

Well whatever. Because that is me. I ‘evolve’, but I don’t… ‘revolve’…. Or vice-versa. I suppose what you’re trying to say is, you don’t want another Chris Evans on your hands.

By Alan

There are lots of kids living in the development I live in. They’re townhouses not flats, and it’s a great community. All over Europe children live in city centres.

City centres are for children just like everyone else.

By Anonymous

I must have missed these two exciting ‘revolutions’. That aside, the point of the article is sound – Manchester is unfit for families because it is unfit for anyone who isn’t totally transient, young and wealthy. Dutch cities are full of facilities for families and everyone else too – Manchester is sorely lacking in physical and social infrastructure.

By Jonty

Alan, I’m afraid I can’t agree with you point about Chris Evans. That IS what we want.

By Tony Hayers

City centres are for kids in EUROPE..Can be so here too….

By Schwyz

Monkey tennis?

By Alan

In Europe though people with children move out of the city as soon as they can afford to. I lived in Murcia and there was a snobbery there that you weren’t doing great if you still lived in the city, local politicians would promise to build more houses further out. Our city centres are small with a lot of area for families to live in the suburbs.

By Kapur

There is an opportunity for Manchester to build sustainable communities which includes children, in the centre, but this plot is not it. It is party Central until the early hours at the weekend. That street is full of revellers. This is not appealing as a place to live unless you are way in the sky and out of earshot of the noise. Developing East Manchester is the way forward where there is ample space to build plenty of appropriate properties with parks and schools.

By Elephant

For once I agree with Elephant! I bet there wont be a single family leaving in these for the next 20 years. Its a very welcome development as this type of property is desperately needed for wealthy professionals / retirees that don’t want to be cooped up in a transient block of flats with 1000 youngsters. As a professional with a young family there is zero chance of me moving to the city centre as the school infrastructure is not there. This ain’t London or New York

By Grumpy Elf on the Shelf

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