On November 9th, 2023, Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) and Happy Cities hosted the webinar Housing That Connects Us #2: A conversation with UK innovators, part of the year-long Building Social Connections project in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gerontology. This is the second webinar in the Housing That Connects Us series, following October 4th’sThe health and climate rationale for intergenerational ‘sociable’ design.
Over the next year, Building Social Connections is bringing six Metro Vancouver jurisdictions together to co-create new design policies that support wellbeing for residents in multi-unit housing. This work responds to Metro 2050 – Metro Vancouver’s newly-approved regional growth strategy. In particular, it will help these jurisdictions the new requirement that Metro jurisdictions show how their ‘local policies and actions’ will ‘help to increase social connectedness in multi-unit housing (page 72.) .
In this webinar, we discussed the crucial connection between housing and well-being with the UK’s largest non-market housing operator and a London-based design consultant engaged in shaping development policy. With over 100 participants joining on Zoom, we also learned from the experiences of many passionate attendees working in the field.
Here is a webinar round-up which includes the video recording, speaker slides and other resources, along with some of the most memorable excerpts from the conversation.
Co-moderator Michelle Hoar, Project Director at Hey Neighbour Collective, opened the event with a brief summary of the activities of Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC). HNC brings together housing providers, non-profits, researchers, local and regional governments, housing associations and health authorities to experiment with and learn about ways of building community, social connectedness and resilience in BC’s multi-unit housing communities.
- Evidence Backgrounder – How social connectedness between neighbours supports health and well-being
- Discussion paper – by HNC, for Metro 2050 Regional Growth Strategy consultations: Developing Truly Complete Communities: Social equity, social connectedness, and multi-unit housing in an age of public health and climate crises
- Practice guides – written specifically by HNC for residents, landlords, housing operators, non-profit organizations and municipal governments:
- Supporting residents to become community connectors in multi-unit housing
- Landlord and housing operator-led approaches to growing community in multi-unit housing
- Developing organizational partnerships to build community in multi-unit housing
- Roles for local government in strengthening social connectedness and resilience activities in multi-unit housing
- Videos – 5-minute bite-sized looks into key topics in the HNC ecosystem:
- Building Social Connections: Housing design policies to support wellbeing for all
- Interactive toolkit by Happy Cities: Happy Homes: Building sociability through multi-family housing design
- Report by Happy Cities: Designed to Engage: Policy recommendations for promoting sociability in multi-family housing design (PDF)
- Blog series by Happy Cities: Learning from community housing movements: Six principles for building happier homes
Natasha Reid, founder of the design consultancy MATTER . SPACE . SOUL, presented the Place Quality Model which she implemented while a Public Practice fellow alongside planners in the Greater London borough of Brent, UK. Enacted into Brent’s residential development requirements in the summer of 2023, the model offers a practical and holistic template for how to embed health, social impact, inclusivity and equity into multi-unit housing development.
Paul Quinn, Director of Regeneration for Clarion Housing Group – the UK’s largest non-market housing developer and operator – drew from his extensive 40-year experience in social housing to discuss hopeful developments in the UK housing ecosystem. Highlights included Clarion’s groundbreaking Age-Friendly and Play Strategies, and an international campaign to develop smart, multi-generational neighbourhoods and housing with the International Organization for Standardization. Drawing together points of inspiration across intergenerational housing and urban design, Paul described how the activities of vibrant, diverse communities can be effectively nurtured within multi-unit housing development.
- Overview: Wellbeing and placemaking at Clarion
- Report by Clarion: Cultivating neighbourhoods that care: A manifesto for change (PDF)
- UCL study, 2020: “A housing design audit for England reveals that 75% of new housing development should not have gone ahead due to ‘mediocre’ or ‘poor’ design.”
The discussion then opened up to the audience, starting with a series of thoughtful questions for the webinar’s UK presenters from three Canadian housing and planning experts:
- William Azaroff: CEO, Brightside Community Homes and Board Chair, BC Non-Profit Housing Association
- Leigh Bursey: Board member and Chair of Advocacy Committee, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association; former city councilor in Ontario and a front-line housing worker in Newfoundland with lived experience of homelessness.
- Emily McDonald: Planner with City of North Vancouver, working on updating the city’s zoning bylaw.
Conversants emphasized the urgency for sociable design and programming in multi-unit housing to foster neighbourly connections and mutual support. While local context matters, it also became clear that there was much in common between UK and Canada-based participants, who shared a collective commitment to building socially connected communities in their regions.
A public Q&A with webinar participants, moderated Hey Neighbour’s communications associate Ryan Cope, also fostered an enriching conversation on shared challenges and opportunities.
“One of the friendliest places I have lived in (part time) is on an island off the coast of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This village of 27 homes on a rural island engendered a sense of safety and belonging for the residents (of all ages). Our daily life required shared resourcefulness on many of the basics of life (e.g. getting across to the mainland, getting around the island, accessing groceries, helping one other with home tasks, or challenging situations – e.g. power outages or storms. The ease of social connectedness and trust among residents allowed the children to visit each other homes and play together. We had many common/shared (in nature such as beaches) places for spontaneous connections too.”Sue
“Best place I was in was a co-housing community where cars were not central to design. Front footage was tight and faced onto a shared galley style walk where there was a lot of pedestrian oriented interaction by design. It was so different from design where people drive up to or into their homes. Car-free buildings with car share and active transportation design create a lot of those opportunities.”Diana
“Life in co-ops was my best experience. There was communal green space in the middle of the co-op where kids would run around and play. Eyes from the whole community were on them, but they were free to be creative. We had community food gardens and tons of knowledge, seed and food sharing took place – especially because there was a lot of cultural diversity and people grew different things. The fact that co-ops are self administered through volunteerism meant that everyone had a small but significant role in their community. We worked together, we got to know everyone, we had community dinners/music nights, and we always had a collective lens to ensure no one ever suffered (isolation, financial crisis, physical needs). We set up a check-in buddy system for the most vulnerable. Membership committees selected for diversity. As co-op aged and population aged, we started planning for physical adaptations for aging in place.”JP
“I lived onboard ocean liners for about 7 years. I think it was such a friendly place because everyone there was working towards the same basic goals and it was a carefully constructed environment where everyone’s needs were (generally) met and people could focus on their work and enjoying life. Diversity was a given.”Dalise
“People make the place.”Paul Quinn
“There’s no such thing as independent. That’s a fallacy. We don’t truly want that. We want housing that supports healthy interdependence.”Michelle Hoar
As we navigate an increasingly complex landscape of housing challenges in the UK and Canada, these insights illustrate the potential for future knowledge-sharing initiatives, where innovative approaches can be exchanged in ways that bridge the gaps.
Keep an eye out for future initiatives and collaborations as we continue finding ways to foster socially connected and inclusive multi-unit housing for healthier and happier societies.
This project received funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the views expressed are those of the author and CMHC accepts no responsibility for them.
We are thankful to the SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue for supporting HNC project director Michelle Hoar to travel to the UK to meet with innovators working at the intersection of housing and social health.