Why neighbourhoods must be built around a culture of sharing

The crises in the climate and natural world mean that we need to reimagine how we build and how we live. Not only must we address the materials used in construction, but how neighbourhoods are planned, designed and managed, recognising that the decisions we make as residents – from waste and recycling to transport and food – are informed by our surroundings. 

With land becoming an increasingly scarce resource, it is inevitable that neighbourhoods of the future will see us live closer together in tight-knit communities, where our everyday needs are met within a short distance. Sharing  residential space is positive for both the environment and for personal wellbeing. We’re living through what has been called the Age of Loneliness with 45 per cent of adults in England reporting that they sometimes feel lonely. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, 5 percent of adults in England report feeling  “often or always” lonely – amounting to one in 20 adults. 

Research points to the fact that social living alleviates loneliness and improves emotional health. In particular, there is a clear correlation between social eating and social bonding, with one study finding that 76 per cent of people believe sharing a meal is a good way to bring people closer together. However, a third of weekday evening meals are eaten in isolation, with an average adult eating 10 meals out of 21 alone every week. We intend to build a community canteen in the Phoenix neighbourhood, serving local food and drink, affordable and accessible for all.  

Various studies have found that co-housing, a type of shared living that emerged in 1960s Denmark, has a positive impact on mental health, through the creation of social and emotional bonds. Jan Gudmand-Høyer, an architect and major proponent of the style, described cohousing as a link between ‘utopia’ and the ‘outdated single-family house’ back in 1968. But while the concept is growing in popularity over recent years – and is sometimes cynically deployed by developers – we have not seen transformatiion in the way neighbourhoods are planned. We plan to enable such a change. Shared living will be at the heart of the Phoenix Project, our sustainable neighbourhood in Lewes, East Sussex. It will include a diverse range of indoor and outdoor space – including courtyards, play areas, gardens, shared balconies and green roofs and streets – that encourage interaction between people of all ages. We are planning to work with local groups to explore the option of some co-housing that could include shared kitchens, laundries, storage, dining areas, care for the young or less-abled and elderly. 

Across the wider site we intend to foster a culture of sharing – through services such as electric bike and car hire, a Library of Things – such as the one in Landport –  and a centralised reception for parcels and deliveries, which can be collected or delivered by a neighbourhood freight service.

Results from a questionnaire taken at the Phoenix Project Design Festival. Respondents were asked what they would consider sharing and were given the option to select multiple categories

At the centre of the Phoenix will be a network of Foundry Yards: a series of public squares and spaces. Here, there will be an elevated pedestrian and cycle riverside route along the Ouse, opening up the riverfront and giving public access for small boats. In the buildings around the Yards, there will be an entertainment and arts space in the Foundry Gallery, a well sound-proofed music venue, a bakery and coffee shop, an artists’ hub, work and meeting spaces anda simple but stylish hotel.. These amenities will be just a short walk from people’s homes– a principle known as the five-minute neighbourhood. 

Overall, it’s about creating spaces – both indoors and out – that are meant to be shared and enjoyed by the community, that encourage convivial, neighbourly interaction. You can read more about our plans for the Phoenix Project here