The Arc is Greater than the Sum of its Parts
In the context of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, economic development is but one ingredient that makes up the region’s recipe for growth.
Opportunities for local employment, bringing together a whole host of jobs and talent, skills, and salaries, are only attractive if they coexist with good quality housing, schooling, social infrastructure, and open space. Exceptional, successful, and sustainable places all blend a sense of community with economic and social capital.
Planning for growth of this kind calls into question existing assumptions that might be rather outdated. Many local plans (and Council development strategies) prepare for a future within their tightly defined boundaries, yet our population is much more mobile than it has ever been. Innovators in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge region, like AstraZeneca based in Cambridge, employ across Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk, and Hertfordshire. We also communicate differently, using collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which transcend spatial constraints. The Arc as a broader concept is useful not only as a means to better comprehend connectivity but should be the lens through which regional planning provides for growth and development.
Future generations now expect more from their towns and cities environmentally. While the aspiration to provide safe and secure places for families to grow up in has not changed, there is a newfound emphasis on access and active nurturing of green spaces and sustainable modes of transport using the 15-minute neighbourhood as a working model. New housing must interface and actively support these aims, creating communities and neighbourhoods which supply our daily needs without undue travelling, while enhancing biodiversity and providing for well-managed open land which is sensible and publicly popular.
In practice, design and masterplanning are the fundamental building blocks to create new communities. At the earliest stages of inception, we can prioritise landscaping, community exchange; a feeling of arrival, and character areas which are tied together by distinctive design cues and street furniture. Developers also need to work collaboratively with local councils, charities, churches, and advocacy groups representative of community intergenerationality to support the organic development of community. The web of social networks, groups, and support functions, which we take for granted in established communities need to be allowed, and supported, to grow and thrive. Developers have a duty to create meaningful relationships with the groups which vocalise for new and existing residents.