8 January 2020

When Diversity and the Built Environment Collide

Diversity seems somewhat of a buzzword in many industries, not least in the Built Environment. So, let's set out some specific examples of how diversity has positively influenced the Built Environment and where a lack of consideration of diversity has negatively impacted the industry.

Research into this area has found that local planning authorities' knowledge of diverse groups within their areas can fail to distinguish between different needs within one specific group. For example, it had been assumed the dominant South Asian population in Southall, West London would want large living spaces for extended families but in fact the younger generation wanted traditionally 'Western' accommodation and 'Western' shops.

Dominic Grace, head of London residential development at Savills has remarked on how current planning law fails to reflect a diverse society: "Our planning system is very much rooted in the 1950s expectation of how people live – either in a council house or as an owner- occupier in a three-bed house". Use Classes typify this expectation; co-living spaces for example do not fit neatly into the available options.

However, an example of an organisation moving with the changing dynamic is Because I am a Girl Urban Programme. This programme was set up to address the increased risk and opportunities for teenage girls living in cities. They aim to do this by increasing girls' safety and access to public spaces by, for example, ensuring policies and laws are more inclusive to teenage girls' safety and they also encourage girls' participation in urban development and governance of their cities. The programme is currently taking place in 5 cities, mostly based in Asia.
Another example of good practice is The Willowbrook Centre, a charity that receives funding from Southwark Council to carry out planning advice work with hard-to-reach groups and disadvantaged individuals. Because of this scheme, groups meet regularly to look at sites, planning applications and emergency policy.

Assisted living for LGBT people is an area of interest, with Manchester City Council recently announcing their plans to open the city's first assisted living for LGBT people. Older LGBT people are statistically less likely to have children to care for them. Tonic Living, the first company to attempt to open an LGBT care home has run into difficulty trying to raise funds to realise this idea. Funders have been hesitant to invest in a market that they perceive to be too restricted. However, there are currently over one million people over the age of 50 who identify as LGBT and the number over the age of 60 will increase by more than 40% within the next 20 years.

It does seem as though there are organisations and initiatives which are progressing Diversity and the Built Environment in a positive way, but there is still a long way to go. One thing most companies and organisations can agree on is, if we can create inclusive solutions and diverse ways of thinking this will positively affect the bottom line.

Sarupe is an associate in our Commercial Real Estate team.

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