Building enduring, functional neighbourhoods by involving the community

Housing shortage is an urgent issue – yet, urgency should not over-ride community engagement for long-term, high quality design outcomes.

“New housing, whether through intensification or greenfield development, involves change. Many people have a negative perception of housing intensification, worrying about amenity, land values and the potential generation of slums,” says Lisa Mein, urban designer and Senior Principal at Boffa Miskell. “However, if you arm people with as much information as possible and clearly show the positive flow-on effects of the development, they are more comfortable about change and will embrace and connect with a project in a constructive way. It goes both ways, too, with local people feeding back important information about the community and the area to the developers and designers.”

Lisa has much experience of urban development and renewal projects, including urban renewal programmes in the United Kingdom of a much larger scale than has generally been seen in New Zealand to date.

When she returned to New Zealand and joined Boffa Miskell in 2004, she brought some innovative new consultation and engagement approaches, based on the knowledge she had gained overseas, to the Talbot Park community renewal project in Glen Innes, Auckland. At that time Talbot Park had become a dysfunctional area of state housing and Housing New Zealand sought to transform it into a safe and well-knit neighbourhood as a flagship project for its newly launched community renewal programme. Boffa Miskell had been engaged to lead a multi-disciplinary team in devising a masterplan to guide the comprehensive redevelopment of the area, including a more varied range of housing stock, intensification through more medium-density housing and the application of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles.

“Because the redevelopment was happening within an existing community, there were many challenges, not least negativity towards housing intensification,” Lisa recalls. “We wanted to be able to engage the whole community to ensure the project benefitted everyone and was well integrated into the surrounding Glen Innes area.”

Lisa advocated engaging tenants, neighbours and other stakeholders, including healthcare providers, schools and faith leaders, to encompass the full community. The project team initiated a series of workshops and open days to gather information from the locals and engage them in the design process. Ongoing channels of communication were set up to keep people informed through the planning and construction phases. A regular newsletter was drafted and circulated with updates including positive stories and a project office established onsite where people could easily discuss the project and seek support if needed.

Lisa says the community engagement strategy successfully turned around the wider community’s negative perception of the project and widespread fears about housing intensification. The project was receiving positive press by completion and subsequently won a number of awards.

“It was exciting to be involved with what was a leading project in medium density housing at the time and one that helped pave the way for other medium density developments in Auckland. It is 100% social housing and these days more mixed tenure would be advocated but, nevertheless, it is still looking good nine years down the track and the former sense of crime and danger is greatly reduced. It’s satisfying to demonstrate how good urban design principles can underpin sustainable community development and low impact design solutions.”

Lisa and the Boffa Miskell design team continue to apply similar community engagement and consultation techniques to other projects. Boffa Miskell uses these techniques to target groups of people who require different needs from housing for example; iwi groups, the aged community, and those requiring social housing.

17 August 2016