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Turn Nimbys into Yimbys by giving them a stake in the development process, argues Ben Derbyshire
Julia Park’s latest column for Building Design – Strong suburbs or regressive rhetoric? – provided a welcome and comprehensive analysis of a recent Policy Exchange report, Strong Suburbs, which made the case for providing street votes to empower suburban homeowners to redevelop and therefore densify existing housing.
Policy Exchange’s report was in part inspired by my practice HTA’s concept of Supurbia, which also focused on the empowerment of homeowners to densify suburbs, which Julia described as “making everything messier”. I will admit the Supurbia project was greeted with pretty healthy scepticism when we first came up with the idea 10 years ago. In supporting Strong Suburbs I’ve enjoyed the renewed debate it has sparked on this crucial issue at this important moment as we plan our post-covid cities.
First, where I think we all agree: suburban intensification has significant theoretical benefits; tackling the crisis of housing supply and affordability, reducing car usage, increasing population density to create more thriving, self-sustaining neighbourhoods in some of our less successful dormitory suburbs. The key to unlocking this potential lies in finding a mechanism that can turn Nimbys to Yimbys by giving them a stake in the development process.
On Julia’s point that everything becomes messier, we share that concern and have proposed that the uniformity of most suburbs lends itself to the use of ‘plot passports’, a concept we have learnt from our work on custom-build, which pre-determines the permissible envelope of additional development, balancing the opportunity with the rights of neighbours. The Policy Exchange report takes this a step further, pitching the proposal closer to the planning reforms currently under review, by suggestion that an area design code would be the means by which order would be maintained.
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