According to sociologist Ray Oldenburg, for a healthy existence, it is essential to have a balance of the three important places in our life—the home, the workplace and thirdly, an inclusively social place. However, rapidly shrinking urban environments, are making it more and more difficult to access ‘inclusively social places’ such as parks, community halls, multipurpose centres, youth/child facilities, libraries, performing arts centres, etc.
Why do we need sustainable community infrastructure?
Sustainable community infrastructure is vital for creating and maintaining strong communities. They act as a catalyst for expanding social and economic opportunities, which in turn uplift the quality of life. It gives its residents a sense of belonging, the opportunity to take part in collective activities and the prospect of building social networks. Senior citizens, children and people with disabilities are especially benefitted, as neighbourhood for them is a main point of reference. They also foster a pro-environment culture where collective action and peer pressure facilitates behaviour change.
For such inclusive social places to exist and thrive in a community, the right infrastructure first needs to be present. Only if there is a neighbourhood park, can children come and play together. Similarly, only if the community has access to a multipurpose centre, can they assemble for social, educational or recreational purposes. Community infrastructures then, by providing public spaces that house the networks, facilities and public programs, act as the foundation upon which strong neighbourhoods can flourish and grow.
Take for instance the city of Medellin, Columbia’s second largest city. It had an infamous past of being tagged as the most violent city in Latin America and the world, with a murder rate of 381 per 100,000 people in 1991. However, the homicide rate has since fallen more than 80% to a rate of 20 per 100,000 in 2015. This dramatic change, of what is now being considered as a model city, has been attributed in part to the large-scale investment in sustainable community infrastructure. The establishment of schools, libraries, green spaces, and culture and knowledge centres has directly contributed to reducing both crime and unemployment.
Closer home, in Mumbai, the non-governmental organization, SPARC (Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres), which primarily works with slum dwellers has set up a not for profit construction company called SSNS (Sparc Samudaya Nirman Sahayak), which in collaboration with communities, professionals and governments, provides financial and technical tools for building houses and toilets for slum dwellers. So far, SSNS has built 3879 in-situ houses, 3900 rehab units and 878 community toilets.
Investing in ‘strong’ community infrastructure
Community infrastructure experts Clutterbuck and Novick, emphasise the need to invest in ‘strong’ community infrastructures- that “will integrate physical and social planning and development and will invest adequately in both”. For instance, residential layouts, although they provide basic amenities like parks and commercial complexes, still form ‘weak’ community infrastructures, as residents have to depend on different locations for other needs such as education, retail or healthcare, to be fulfilled.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, the city of Bangalore’s authority body’s Revised Master Plan 2015, stipulates that all residential developments with a total land area above five acres would be required to reserve 5% of the land area for civic amenities. This presents an amazing opportunity for land developers to invest in ‘strong’ community infrastructure, which contributes and upgrades the quality of life of the residents. For instance, the recently launched Assetz’s 63° East, built over 17.7 acres with 60% open spaces, has been designed to provide a ‘strong’ community infrastructure. Through its various amenities that cater to its resident’s social and physiological needs, the building blocks necessary for a robust community infrastructure are provided for.
Urban communities, currently being challenged by population growth, urban sprawl, pollution, inequality and socio-spatial polarization, will benefit greatly from ‘strong’ community infrastructure.