How can we support communities when we build places?

A research piece undertaken by Footwork's Founding Director Clare Richard's in 2017 explores six social design principles intended to support a more socially integrated and sustainable city.


With mounting pressure to build new homes, whole neighbourhoods and towns, economic interests are compromising good intentions and drowning out the need to create lively and diverse places with a sense of their own identity.

This is a well-known issue, with a long and largely undistinguished history, yet it is not something that architects, or built-environment professionals in general, are trained to address. The Mayor of London, in the draft New London Plan, spells out the challenge: to deliver “a more socially integrated and sustainable city, where people have more say and growth brings the best out of existing places while providing new opportunities to communities”. This acknowledges the fundamental importance of the social purpose of design and accepts that the design of places is in part a social science.

To ignore this not only risks repeating the problems of the past, but also losing the battles of the present – gang-related knife crime and increasing homelessness are indeed relevant to future development and regeneration. The extensive social aspirations within the draft New London Plan, although well-founded and increasingly recognised by politicians, planners and designers, they are not carried through into detailed policy or guidance. Until they are defined, given teeth and made enforceable, the Mayor’s challenge cannot be successfully delivered.

ft’work has therefore defined a set of six social design principles, with the aim that they be embedded within each stage of the planning process and given equal status with ‘spatial design principles’. Informed by the wealth of available research – ranging from the impact of health inequalities to the benefits of integration – they are a set of tools to aid the design, assessment and delivery of major development and regeneration projects.