"The project was a social disaster. The support services desperately needed never followed. Employment opportunities were scarce to nonexistent."
Why Kevin McCloud's Big Town Plan succeeded while Claymore is a social disaster
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Like thousands of others, I’m an avid watcher of the UK top-rating program Grand Designs. The projects inspire such a passionate drive for the progress of new and inventive property development, there’s a distinct feeling each individual designer has a “higher” sense of purpose in their creation.
Rarely – if ever – is it focused on investment potential or capital appreciation. Rental returns, “property clocks” and speculative bubbles are never mentioned. Instead, each home is to be a “haven of shelter” for the occupants, and the common denominator in the features valued most should form the basis of a detailed study for developers and town planners, employed with creating the modern landscape of each state capital’s 2030 expansion plan.
The series has taken us on an adventurous journey, visiting and re-visiting the projects to test their viability and sustainability for the purpose of each individual design. The commonalities that form the needs of each participant involved in the program are relatively simple. They broadly focus on developing a space where family and guests can enjoy a sense of community with their surrounds, with great emphasis placed on designing an environmentally sustainable habitat.
Although money facilitates the design, profiting from the development is not the end focus. For the families involved, the concentration remains firmly on lifestyle.
No one can deny that financial independence is a fundamental requirement in how we perceive an individual’s level of wellbeing – but even without a change in financial status, an upgrade in living standards provided primarily through wise and well thought-out development is enough to bring lasting happiness to the occupants involved regardless of personal income. This is something the series proves with its weekly case studies.
It’s a somewhat obvious assumption – however it’s one that has needed to be proven in various housing studies across the globe. For example, in the mid-1990s, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban development in Boston commissioned a 10-year research project entitled “Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing” (MTO). The social experiment was designed to analyse how a change in living standards would affect people in poverty outside of any change in status to their financial circumstance.
You could argue that results emanating from any improvement in living standards would be easy to predict. However, as with all government departments, money spent on “Captain Obvious” studies tend to burn a hole through common sense. This aside, the survey produced some interesting results that should form a motivation for social policy reforms across our geographical borders.
The survey addressed whether living in a “poor” neighbourhood would have a flow-on effect in education standards, crime statistics, wellbeing, and general lower levels of achievement. To do this, public housing residents were split into three groups with the help of a random lottery.
Each group received a set of vouchers. One set enabled residents to subsidise the rent they paid, enabling an “upgrade” into private rental accommodation in an area where poverty was defined as being less than 10%. A second group received vouchers entitling them to move wherever they wanted. And the third group unfortunately had to stay put.
Despite the move, the financial status of each group remained predominately the same. Salaries didn’t increase and jobs weren’t changed. However, the 15-year study proved without doubt those who were entitled to upgrade their environment experienced a substantial reduction in obesity, diabetes, mental illness, bullying, harassment, and an overall general improvement in their family’s wellbeing.