The importance of Space Between Buildings
SLOAP The acronym for Space Left Over After Planning, a phrase often used in design and planning circles. The visual reference for this being the many hostile spaces found in our towns and cities, where little or no thought has been given to the design of public space. They are often the spaces between high rise buildings, or where roads have dissected communities and created ugly wastelands. Such spaces frequently generate crime and unsociable behaviour and certainly not the spaces to dwell and linger!
As noted in The National Design Guide, ‘these are the places affect us all – they are where we live, work and spend our leisure time. Well-designed places influence the quality of our experience as we spend time in them and move around them. We enjoy them, as occupants or users but also as passers-by and visitors. They can lift our spirits by making us feel at home, giving us a buzz of excitement or creating a sense of delight. They have been shown to affect our health and well-being, our feelings of safety, security, inclusion and belonging, and our sense of community cohesion.’
These can be the public spaces we enjoy as town squares and parks, but equally the spaces between our homes in residential areas. Too often we see suburban spaces lacking cohesion or identity. Instead, the typical meandering road, with pavements either side make scant contribution to the enjoyment of travel for those on foot, bike or car. It is the identity of public space which creates places we enjoy and love to visit and inhabit. Space given over to public enjoyment, might reduce housing numbers, but the welfare benefits are considerable and would reflect in house value, should that be a determinant. The National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] recognises the importance of placemaking by noting that
‘Planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places which promote social interaction, including opportunities for meetings between people who might not otherwise come into contact with each other – for example through mixed-use developments, strong neighbourhood centres, street layouts that allow for easy pedestrian and cycle connections within and between neighbourhoods.’
The desire is to create spaces that are safe and accessible, so that crime and disorder, and the fear of crime, do not undermine the quality of life or community cohesion. The use of attractive, well-designed, clear and legible pedestrian and cycle routes, and high-quality public space encourages the active and continual use of public areas which enable and support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs.
The report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission notes that ‘We need to develop more homes within mixed-use real places at ‘gentle density’. As evidence the Commission received, particularly from the Town Country Planning Association, Royal Town Planning Institute and the Green Building Council, emphasised, the polling, focus group and pricing data is fairly consistent and compelling on the types of homes, places and settlement patterns that most people want most of the time. The precise nuances and relative weightings vary from time to time and place to place. There may even be generational patterns. However, the research is remarkably consistent. Most of us prefer places we can walk in, where there is greenery frequently present and where we find the streets and squares beautiful to look at and be in. We prefer places that do not cost the earth but can help us live in harmony with it. This, the evidence seems to say fairly coherently and consistently, is what most people want and where they flourish.
The creation of high quality, beautiful and sustainable buildings and places therefore is fundamental to what the planning, development and construction process should achieve. No more SLOAP please!