Recovery will be a priority for built environment professionals for years to come, and for many the harmful impact on equalities is of real concern. This is a huge challenge: health, education, employment, housing, social connections and the environment all play a part. It’s hard to know where to begin. This insights report, the first in FoL’s Building recovery: closing the gap programme, starts to unpick this complexity and asks what do we mean by a fairer city and what is holding us back?
Read on for highlights identified through a broad cross-sector survey, events and research.
Attitudes to a fair recovery
A survey with our broad network tells us that for many addressing long-term inequalities has always been a focus of their work, but Covid has driven inequality to the top of the agenda.
Whilst the sector feels confident in its ability overall to address inequalities two considerable gaps were identified by respondents. Nearly three quarters of our network identified a lack of community engagement skills and the awareness of the practical approaches needed to make everyone in the built environment prioritises fairness. The private sector in particular felt that the main barrier preventing them from having a bigger impact on inequalities was not understanding the needs of the most disadvantaged communities.
The top 5 challenges
Combining the survey results, events and research, five key challenges were identified set out under the Mayor’s recovery missions.
Housing – the ongoing debate on how to deliver truly affordable homes in London was nuanced by a focus on how to use recovery as an opportunity to address the key affordability and quality issues affecting our diverse populations. We heard of one developer addressing the controversial tenure mix challenge and about how the design of our homes needs to change for those who will continue to juggle living and working from home. Design should also be prioritising socialisation and creating a sense of community for our more vulnerable citizens.
Public space – the exponential increase in our use of outdoor space has caused an unprecedented resource challenge for local authorities but is also an opportunity for greater local ownership and community engagement. The heightened competition for space means much better consultation and engagement is needed with under-represented groups such as women, the LGBTQ+ community, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities to mitigate against exclusion.
Culture – against a backdrop of shrinking budgets, councils must take a strong lead to ensure that the full economic and social benefits of a thriving culture in our communities can be felt. It is our most vulnerable citizens who will suffer the most from a reduction in cultural activities if it is not made a priority at local and national levels. And beyond large cultural institutions, there is a role for all those involved in placemaking to include buildings, spaces or support mechanisms that foster culture at a grassroots level.
Transport – the pandemic has dramatically changed the way we move about around cities but there are huge equalities implications. A car dominated recovery will have a greater impact on deprived ethnic minority pedestrians who are more than three times more likely to be a casualty on Britain’s roads than white pedestrians in non-deprived areas. Flexible ticketing is needed for those who are responsible for childcare/school drop-offs, supporting elderly relatives or picking up shopping, who are more likely to be women.
Skills – the pandemic has renewed thinking on employment and skills to support a sustainable economic recovery. The net zero targets require an additional 350,000 full-time equivalent workers by 2028 in the built environment sector. This is a huge opportunity but one that will need an entirely new approach if it’s to bring in a more representative cohort of people to the industry.
The challenge of a fair recovery has provided a litmus test of the sector’s attitude towards delivering a fairer city. The issues identified in this report will inform the second stage of this programme. In response we will identify and share emerging and existing good practice to help urban practitioners implement policies, projects and approaches that deliver equitable places.
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