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How the Future of Work will usher in serendipitous placemaking

In a guest article for Summix’s spotlight on the future of work, Hannah Smart, Director of edge Urban Design, explores how the future of homeworking can deliver placemaking at its best.

Hannah outlines how new homeworking trends can bring about exciting opportunities for communities across the UK – with well-considered mixed-use communities responding to the climate, carbon, biodiversity and energy crises by embracing Garden Settlement Principles.

Hannah Smart, Director, edge Urban Design

Your employer asks you if you’d like a more flexible lifestyle…

You can work from home for at least 2 days a week and they’ll provide you with equipment to work in your own space. Your daily needs will be delivered to your front door on the same day you request them. You’ll save time and money on travel to work. Time will become your most valued currency.

We have been experiencing a fundamental shift in every aspect of our lives in the past three years. Not only are our homes, relationships and family groups changing; but with the knock-on effects of the pandemic being social, cultural as well as economic - the shift in the way we work has transformed, for many of us, beyond recognition.

The cultural and social shifts that we are experiencing make us much less of our work ‘place-based’. Where we used to work at the same desk, 9-5 with the same people in the same place, workers are now less fixed to one location. We want flexibility, we want choice, we let change in. We don’t want the accountability of being in one place and work, in fact, can be anywhere.

What does this mean for the future of placemaking?

It very much depends on where we chose to live before the global pandemic…

The experience of the urban, peri-urban and rural dweller is very different, and this is creating a shift in the locations that people want to live and work in today.

Whilst living in central London was once the most desirable location in our capital, current trends show a preference to relocate to leafy, green, historic village areas, such as Hampstead Heath. We are choosing to spend more time in nature and are reverting to a desire to reside in ‘Garden Settlements’.

If we no longer need to get in the car to get our retail fix or our weekly shop, as the prices of fuel and travel increase, as car ownership decreases in the younger generations and we can work from anywhere, our centre of gravity and our positioning has shifted.

But, most importantly, what we need and want from places has shifted too.

What does this mean for the creation of new places?

If we want flexibility, we need mixed use places… So could this mean the end of ‘housing estates in the countryside’?

Let’s face it, as an industry, we haven’t built the best ‘places’ over the last 30 years. As a car dominated society, we have created housing estates with no facilities, alongside out of town retail centres and ring road business parks, in so many of our towns in the UK.

At the time, this suited our ‘9 to 5’ convenience lifestyles, however, we’re now living with the problems of growing these places, as our desires have changed.

These redundant car towns now struggle to retrofit the levels of facilities that we want in our ’20minute neighbourhoods’, let alone to provide the integrated greenspaces or the feeling of living with nature that we crave.

Our experiential distances have both increased and decreased and our circle of convenience has shrunk. We have created a perfect storm where we don’t need to leave the house for convenience, yet we crave nature and the experiential and emotional aspects of being in places and spaces with fellow human beings.

The only thing we cannot replace through online convenience is this fundamental human need for contact. The positive pheromones created from smiling at a colleague or sharing an experience, in both our working day and our home life.

The psychology of ‘being in place’

New communities can establish the right principles at the outset, they can be designed to work from day one, rather than being retrofitted.

New places must encourage active travel – ‘walking and wheeling’ and internalisation. When we are encased in cars and vehicles, we cannot walk freely, nor move safely from the ambient stresses of a commute or vehicular traffic.

As a result, we cannot be in the psychological state of ‘flow’ that is associated with good placemaking and active travel. ‘Flow’ is characterised by an activity where one is fully immersed in a feeling of energised focus, involvement, and enjoyment.

Really successful places can be designed to better facilitate flow. And, of course, the feelings of flow and harmony bring other psychological benefits - the ‘wonderdrug’ Oxytocin.

It is this hormone that we release when we experience positive social interactions, and it acts as a feel-good painkiller. Successful mixed-use placemaking that integrates places to work at every scale, from a café to a co-working hub or a dedicated office place, can help to reduce stress, relieve loneliness, speed up recovery of physical wounds and even create a positive reaction in the body to improve our immune systems.

Why serendipitous placemaking?

The emotive qualities and the core values of human nature that we crave as homeworkers is found in place.

The pandemic has generated the need for creating real mixed-use places, of the need for activity, of internalisation and walkability and places full of life, hustle and bustle - to support our ever-increasing homeworking.

We have the opportunity to create fantastic new places throughout the UK, that not only meet the desperate needs of our housing crisis, but which also have the capacity to respond to the many other crises we are facing, when it comes to the availability of food, the climate crisis, the carbon crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the energy crisis.

The future of work brings exciting opportunities for placemaking – well considered mixed use places can respond to all these crises by embracing Garden Settlement Principles and this is serendipitous placemaking at its best.