What if housing developments could be done differently?

North Devon Council wants to buy housing to use as temporary accommodation. Picture for illustration

Could there be a more environmentally-friendly way to build houses? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Environmental campaigner Sarah Allen writes for the Journal.

Sarah Allen with her empty black bin in 2018. Ref exe 22 18TI 4416

Sarah Allen with her empty black bin in 2018. Ref exe 22 18TI 4416 - Credit: Archant

With many letters published in the Exmouth Journal expressing concern over the Goodmores Farm housing development and still no answer from 3 West group, the developers currently building on the site, about what eco-friendly features will be included, I’m wondering how housing developments could be done differently?

There is a need to achieve a win win situation. 

Where people and the planet both win rather than the planet losing at the expense of human habitation.

We only have this planet; we need to live in a sustainable way because otherwise planet Earth is at risk (which is currently the case).

Unsustainable living is simply not sustainable, it cannot exist in the long term.

Traditional housing developments focus on humans, although I’m not entirely convinced that human needs are truly being met.

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In the case of the Goodmores Farm development only five per cent of houses built will be affordable, shocking in any area but there is a housing crisis in East Devon. 

I’d also question how far modern housing estates go to meet the true needs of human beings?

Yes, they provide shelter but humans are more complex than that, they need belonging and community, support from those around them and a sense of purpose. How could this be incorporated in new housing developments?

Well, I’d say there are plenty of ways.

We would, however, have to change much of the current system; which, of course, is changeable as it is simply a human construct. It might seem impossible but by using our amazing human powers of imagination we can firstly imagine and then create the world in a way that humans live in a life-sustaining way.

In fact, that’s what is happening right now by the Town and County Planning Association as part of the UK government planning guidelines for Garden City Principles which include:

  • Mixed-tenure homes and housing types that are genuinely affordable.
  • Community ownership of land and long-term stewardship of assets.
  • Beautifully and imaginatively designed homes, combining the best of town and country to create healthy communities, and including opportunities to grow food.
  • Development that enhances the natural environment providing a comprehensive green infrastructure network and net biodiversity gains, and that uses zero-carbon and energy-positive technology to ensure climate resilience.
  • Strong cultural, recreational and shopping facilities in walkable, vibrant, sociable neighbourhoods.
  • Integrated and accessible transport systems with walking, cycling and public transport designed to be the most attractive forms of local transport. (www.tcpa.org.uk/garden-city-principles/ )

Wow, hands up who wants to live in a place like this! I have never, ever, quoted directly from a government website and felt inspired … until now. 

Housing: affordable for people rather than simply lining the pockets of developers, community ownership of land, food growing, zero-carbon and an enhanced natural environment all within a sociable community.

I want this. I want it for me, my family and my community.

The amazing fact of the matter is that the planet wants this too, this would create a life-sustaining and vibrant, win win society.

An alternative model could be a co-operative housing project.

There are many examples of this already happening world-wide, including in the UK. These include intentional communities in which people have simply chosen to be together rather than just happen to be neighbours.

They are often based on eco-communities, regenerative with attempts to address or adapt to the climate crisis.

Generations often work together so, instead of our current model of most of us living in nuclear families or alone, childcare including the actual raising of children might be done by those in the community without children, elders, family and non-family members.

Some meals might be eaten together, prepared by the community and eaten in a communal space.

Usually community members also have private living areas.

I just dream of something like this. How have we let it come to the point that, in the main, we live in such an isolated way with responsibility for food, shelter, child care, laundry, etc. falling on just the one or two adults in the household?

We don’t have to accept the status quo and in fact our planet cannot cope with it, we have to find sustainable ways of living. What can you imagine?