Places for People - Residential areas

© Anne Beer, 2003

Outdoor places in residential areas

'Doorstep' Greenspaces
Different parts of a residential site support different activities and need different design and management solutions - the following relates to the areas adjacent to and nearby (within 100m) of the home.

Regeneration of greenspace can only succeed if it involves local people

The ideas presented below are achievable, but only if backed up by a total re-organisation of who is responsible for looking after each of these greenspaces. At present it is the municipality's responsibility in the overwhelming majority of cases, and this has put a substantial cost burden on limited funds.

To implement the changes in the appearance and function of this landscape immediately adjacent to the dwellings, it is necessary to identify a clear management and maintenance structure and a means of paying for this, as well as paying for the initial implementation of any ideas about how to design the spaces.

It is suggested that there are four stages:

  • making each 'doorstep' area distinct
  • redesigning this distinct space to support what local people want to do in it
  • funding any redesign and involving local people in the implementation
  • identifying the maintenance and management implications and solutions.


Making distinct 'doorstep' areas
A first step is to make these 'doorstep' areas distinctive from the other greenspaces. This can be done most easily by the introduction of some form of 'edge' (fence, shrubs, ditch) and by adding 'gateways' at all entrances to each 'doorstep' space (these can be symbolic gateways, although if local people want them there is no reason why they should not even be conventional gates).

Restructuring the area in this way creates a distinct zone. This aids the formation of a special identity in local people's minds (the area can even have a distinct name to aid the development of a clear image). With this identity comes the possibility that the local inhabitants can begin to claim 'ownership' of the space concerned and so feel that it belongs to them.


Visually strong edges can be formed, even in relatively small spaces - these can be mixed shrubs and if carefully chosen can develop into useful hedge-like habitats supporting a range of bird species. Little nooks and crannies can act as seating areas with one or two benches.

Redesigning this distinct space to support what local people want to do in it
It is important that each 'doorstep' zone is laid out, designed and managed in the manner chosen by the people who live around it - this has been achieved elsewhere through using a 'planning for real' site layout and design process. This is where interested people from adjacent properties work together with expert advisers to make an agreed model of the site - deciding jointly what should happen and where, what they would like it to look like and be like as a place and how they might be involved, individually and as a group, in the implementation and management of the scheme. Such a method of developing local involvement requires a trained 'animateur' to work with the local people, to stimulate them and enable them to make their own space.

Agreeing funding of the redesign and the level of involvement expected of the local people in the implementation
The long-term financial and social benefits of greater involvement by community groups in looking after their own local doorstep spaces will be immense (see the case study of
high density housing in Scandinavia). However in the short-term, substantial sums will be required to bring about the necessary changes in the physical structure. Poor communities cannot afford to undertake all the work themselves, so 'starter budgets' are required from governmental or other sources. In the case of the 'doorstep' areas, just creating them as distinct spaces by constructing new 'edges' and 'gateways' will itself be costly, as will 'clothing' the spaces to make them as the local people want. However, it is now generally recognised by the regeneration teams that doing nothing could well be far more costly to society in terms of accelerating the rate of social breakdown, of which there is already evidence.

Identifying the maintenance and management implications. Establishing funding mechanisms to support the long-term maintenance of the site by local people.
Once a sense of belonging and control over the space is established, it normally becomes easier to identify effective mechanisms to finance and implement maintenance schemes.

There are many mechanisms for doing this which have been used in private developments of apartment blocks elsewhere. One that has been successfully pursued in Sweden, in order to finance the maintenance of these 'doorstep' green areas, is to set up a neighborhood greenspace management committee with the power to collect a small sum from each household for ground maintenance. (This could be done through a rent system which is already in place.) In high-rise housing these doorstep areas can serve very large numbers of people: in some of the 1960s housing blocks as many as 200 families can live around one of these 'doorstep spaces'. This has the advantage that substantial sums can become available for high quality local design and management solutions, from very low levels of service charge . This can generate sufficient money to employ workers (preferably local people), provide tools and insurance cover for their own part-time gardener. Such a system could provide a good number of job possibilities for early retirees and those wanting part-time employment near their home.

The mechanism of leaving a community group to carry out the maintenance is not advised, as there tends to be such a fluctuation of interest by individuals. For this reason such groups tend to function effectively only for short projects with clearly defined end products. For that reason it is useful to encourage the community's involvement at the initial implementation phase and for special projects only, rather than long-term maintenance. The active involvement of community groups in construction might be achieved by making District level subsidies available to officially constituted 'housing block' community groups.

For any community group wanting to be involved in designing their own doorstep area there is a very useful introduction to the basics of Designing small scale Landscapes on Internet. There is also information about the Planning for Real method and how a community group can operate to get its own communal garden project up and running. There is also useful information about designing for children playing in communal spaces, which shows that it is not equipment that they need but settings/places which stimulate their natural play activity.

External areas

High density housing

A change of approach

User zones


User reactions

  Design approach

The home

The garden



See also the information on Designing for Children's Play in Housing Areas

Designing for the
ess able bodied


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Text and illustrations (unless stated otherwise) © Anne R. Beer, Map21 Ltd, 2001, all rights reserved.
Terms of use: Any involved in education or training may copy the contents of these web pages with the proviso that they always make reference to the original copyright.

© Anne Beer, 2000
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Map21 Ltd

Latest update 13 Dec 2003