This article seeks to set out some of the thinking that drove the submission for the Hilton Design Competition run by the Department of Communities. In preparing the submission I was aware that I was exploring ideas outside the parameters set by the brief. However, I was excited by the opportunity that such a broad intervention provided: atleast seven sites in the one suburb, all within walking distance of each other, and all intended for significant revitalisation and renewal.

My initial instinct was to find a way to connect the sites, in a way that benefited not only the future public housing tenants, but also the broader community. What if there was a way to design a network, so that when public housing tenants moved in, they were not isolated in their rear battle axe sites, but instantly part of a broader community? And what if the new public housing structures offered respite not only to these tenants, but also to other members of the neighbourhood, who might be seeking connection and a less isolated way of life?

“Social wellbeing matters. Feelings of belonging and connection to other people and community are essential elements of human health and happiness.
People with strong connections to family and friends live, on average, 15 years longer than people who are disconnected. Yet modern cities are facing an epidemic of social disconnection that is shortening lives, weakening communities, and costing millions of dollars in health care.” [1]

As a response to this thinking, the proposal offered an approach to infill development that sought, first and foremost, to foster social connection. The benefits to the wellbeing of individuals, as a result of being socially well connected, is now well known[2]. Housing plays a vital role in providing opportunities for these social relationships to form. This proposal expanded the remit of the brief to include not only the provision of modest, dignified public housing, but also consideration of the social dimension of development. It seeks to improve the wellbeing and quality of life for both residents and neighbours, by improving the quality of their social connection. It provides spaces that make it easy to find that connection and to sustain it in the long term. Seen in this context, public housing becomes a positive inclusion into a suburb, with something of significant benefit to offer the entire community.

The ability to support public housing tenants, by providing them the opportunity to develop social connections, should not be underestimated. This type of service is of equal necessity as the provision of the housing itself.

'It is wrong to think that the basic care needs come first, and the need for relationships second. In many respects, it is the other way around. Relationships provide people with access to the basic care they need. [Older citizens] may not need formal, public care services, because they rely on friends and family. They are cared for, supported, made to feel significant by these relationships...
Policy tends to focus on individuals in need, but in reality, the unit of success ... is a social network, a set of relationships. People who have significant social relationships are far more likely to be happier, healthy, and less dependent on public services than people who are isolated and lonely.
We should not assess individuals’ needs and resources in isolation. We should examine first the kind of relationships they have.’ [3]

[1] Tackling the crisis of social disconnection, Charles Montgomery, July 1, 2017 [2] ‘...there is a wide body of research on social connectedness which demonstrates the positive impact of close relationships with others on people’s health and wellbeing (Allen 2008) ... A recent meta-analysis (Holt-Lunstad, 2010) of research into the health impact of social relatedness finds a 50% better survival rate among the socially connected than among those who are isolated, stating that ‘Social relationship-based interventions represent a major opportunity to enhance not only the quality of life but also survival’.

Brenton, M. (2010). Potential benefits of Cohousing for Older People: A Literature Review.

[3] Leadbeater, C. (2009). Sam and May’s Recipe: A Lifetime of Consuming Is No Preparation for Old Age. The New Old Age: Perspectives on Innovating Our Way To The Good Life For All .