What is stopping us from building fairer cities? Our network tells us…

As part of our major programme for this year, Building recovery: closing the gap we’ve carried out a survey of our network to identify and understand the built environment sector’s ambitions and challenges when it comes to creating fairer cities and reducing inequalities.

In advance of our full report on the challenges of a fair recovery, we’re highlighting the survey findings to give an idea of the urgent challenges facing city makers. We had respondents from a range of sectors, reflecting our varied network:

Pie chart of survey responses by sector

We asked respondents to outline what makes a fair city. The most used terms used by respondents to describe a fair city were ‘inclusion’, ‘more and equal opportunities’ and ‘affordability’.

Word cloud with common terms on what makes a fair city

“A better London that can sustain itself in the long term. A London that only works for a few will destroy itself.” – Survey respondent

When asked which area their organisation’s recovery missions related to, welcoming public space, affordable homes and environmental sustainability seemed to be at the top of the agenda across all sectors.

Graph indicating recovery missions

80% of respondents said they were confident their organisation has already or will better address inequalities in the long term as a result of Covid-19 – demonstrating the commitment within the sector to do things differently.

This survey also explored the barriers that organisations are facing that prevent them from having a bigger impact on inequalities. Common responses were as follows:

  • Lack of funding: 60%
  • Lack of time and capacity: 48%
  • Lack of understanding the needs of the most disadvantaged communities: 47%

Asked about what would help overcome these barriers, 72% of respondents thought that training in community engagement skills and approaches was required to make everyone in the built environment put fairness at the very top of the agenda.

“We are involved in community development and growth, however addressing inequality is not a financially viable option.”- Survey respondent

Our final question was ‘What difference would it make to London if we tackle inequalities?’ We wanted to get an idea from Future of London’s network of their ambition and the vision for the future. Responses indicated that overall London would be happier, more liveable and more resilient – goals we can surely all agree on. The most common statements by theme were as follows:

Infographic demonstrating common terms on the potential for fair cities

The words ‘talent’ and ‘attract’ were frequently mentioned indicating that for many, a fairer city is one that attracts talent enhances people’s capabilities and provides opportunities for all.

“Inequality means that people experience barriers to fulfilling their potential. This is inherently wasteful: people’s resources are not used to effect (and therefore talent is squandered). Support and assistance is often not directed to help people achieve better livelihoods – it is designed to discourage access to support, it is hostile and as a result it pushes people back, rather than forward. Reversing the approach will make Londoners more resourceful, creative and active in society.” – Survey respondent

The results clearly demonstrate the strong ambition and commitment of our network to address inequalities through recovery. But there are some areas where we require additional training, understanding and energy. There are obvious issues with funding which require creative thinking in times of stretched budgets and resources. In addition, there is a need for us to improve collaboration between sectors to share expertise on and build confidence in community engagement and to improve our understanding of our most vulnerable communities.

Do these challenges sound familiar? Are you looking for practical ways to overcome these issues so that you can increase your impact? Keep an eye on our website for the launch of our report which brings together findings to date from the Building recovery: closing the gap programme and prioritises the challenges the sector must overcome to build fairer cities. Our forthcoming conference on 11 November will serve up some inspiring and useful examples to address the barriers we’ve heard about from our network. Make a note in your diary now and keep an eye on the website and mailing list for more details and registration.