The editors of Town Planning Review have selected ‘Can Self-Build Housing improve Social Sustainability within Low-Income Groups?’ by Helena Obremski and Claudia Carter as the Featured Article for TPR 90.2.
The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.
When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:
This paper came about because relatively little research exists on self-build housing projects in the UK and the percentage of new homes provided this way is one of the lowest in Europe, Northern America and Australia. At the same time, prominent topics of debate are how to provide more affordable housing, especially for low-income citizens and socially marginalised individuals, and how to create more sustainable communities and cohesion in urban neighbourhoods. We therefore decided to focus our paper on the current knowledge gap regarding low-income communities, assessing five self-build affordable-housing initiatives in England and Wales, to further investigate and clarify connections between factors influencing social sustainability.
Research on affordable self-build housing has so far mainly focused on environmental sustainability and improving the quality of settlements. A lack of clarity regarding the social sustainability aspects emerged during the assessment of existing international self-build literature. Three past Town Planning Review papers (Crawford et al., 2008; Dempsey, 2009; Hamiduddin, 2015) provided some steer and influenced our research focus and analysis around three core concepts: social capital, social cohesion and participation.
Our research identified ‘feedback loops’ between social cohesion, social capital and participation. In particular, participation was affected by factors such as the communal spaces, the interests of self-build residents and the presence of a management framework from the start of the projects and beyond. Our analysis of interviews with participants and project managers elicited the importance of (continued) engagement in activities within self-build communities and how an effective management framework and a sustained collective shared vision facilitate increased levels of participation and social cohesion, and maintain social capital. However, we also found that the intensive and sometimes prolonged organisational and construction phases of the projects can in some cases negatively affect social cohesion due to clashes in character and priorities, and erode social capital and social cohesion.
Therefore, we concluded that given ‘the right’ physical and social dimensions, self-build housing projects can provide more socially sustainable communities.
The authors also commented:
Helena: “The social dynamics of planning have always interested me, and although social sustainability has gained momentum in recent years, this concept remained somewhat vague. The research provided some unexpected findings and an insightful understanding into the way in which self-build development influences some social aspects of the communities we studied. I hope to see more self-build developments coming forward as I see this as a genuine way to provide more socially sustainable communities, given the right set of factors are in place.”
Claudia: “Having grown up in Germany and seen friends participate in self-build projects of various kinds I always have found it slightly puzzling why it is quite rare in the UK. There are so many different kinds of self-build projects and associated goals and the research for this paper, while very focused and bound in scope, opened my eyes to the range of factors and connections that play a part. With social isolation, continued austerity and a host of environmental and social challenges I believe we will see many more self-build projects and research in the future.”