The Steel Valley Greenspace Project - sustainability and the regeneration of the existing green spaces and domestic gardens within the built-up area
Sustainability - in the context of Stocksbridge this means working out how to make a place we are proud to call home - improving the quality of life
In a case like Stocksbridge, where most of the built developments are well established, the overriding question is:
what we can do to make the way we occupy and use the space around our homes more sustainable - as a support for a good quality of life and how can we aim to do least possible further damage to the natural environment (in relation to the latter see the section of these webpages on Biodiversity in Stocksbridge).
We know things in our immediate environment can and will change over time; our problem is how to make sure any change is for the better so that we can be more sustainable in our interactions with the local environment. Working out what is appropriate within our local environment requires effort, but the rewards can be great.
The three major points that need to be considered in relation to Stocksbridge are:
For instance, in terms of:
- an improved appearance of neighbourhoods can make outsiders see a place as more attractive. This in turn leads to enhanced property values. If you doubt this, remember the estate agent's mantra - location, location, location. Think of other places you know that have exactly the same housing types and sizes as yours, but the cost of buying the units is much greater or much lower than yours. Then think about what the 'place' those houses are in looks like. It is interesting how often the main visual difference is that there are lots more trees and shrubs in one place than another - throughout the UK, as well as in America and Europe, the presence of lots of vegetation is now known to make a big difference to house prices.
- if we feel happier where we live, then that community is likely to be more stable. Stable communities have been identified as critical for local people to enjoy having homes in a particular place. Such communities are experienced as places within which people feel safe.
As with every other built-up area, the way the town was laid out and designed in the past was not really very sustainable in terms of the environment. In Stocksbridge, one particular problem is a good example of this: a high proportion of the houses lack shelter from the wind, which increases the cost of energy for every household. Unfortunately in the past no attempt was made to:
- design the houses with extra insulation to deal with their position on a north facing slope
- to lay them out in a way which created shelter
- to provide shelter through planting tree belts, which would have helped to protect the houses from the north winds.
The problem now is how to change things gradually so that the housing can become more sustainable, at least in terms of energy consumption. Research has shown that part of the answer is to add more trees and shrubs. This slows the wind and creates areas of calm air, since the trees make the surface texture over which the wind blows much rougher. A mixture of houses and trees slows any wind at the level immediately around and just above above the buildings and the slower wind speed means that less heat is extracted from the walls and windows of each house. That such a policy would also enhance the visual character of the housing areas by making them look more 'green', is an added advantage.
Local quality of life
We each experience our 'quality of life' not just by the way the economic and social factors influence what we can do and how we behave, but also through the way that the environmental qualities of the place we call home influence us. The local environment can help or hinder us: it can add to the pleasure of life or severely detract from it and at different times in our lives, depending on how fit and energetic we are, we can feel very differently about the local environment of the place that we call our neighbourhood.
A way of assessing our local quality of life
An easy way to work out whether we are happy with the immediate external environment is to consider how proud we feel about the place we call home and the area immediately around it - our neighbourhood. How do we feel when visitors come to see us?
Another way is to think how you would describe to a blind person a walk to an open space within ten minutes of your home. You could describe:
- what you see
- what people of different ages could do there
- whether there are places that older people and people with a disability can sit and have a chat with a friend or neighbour
- whether there are places that a mother could take a toddler and baby for a walk
- whether there are places you can sit out of the wind in the spring and autumn
- whether there are shady places for the summer
- whether the vegetation in the neighbours' gardens along the walk give a sense of delight as you walk along the street
Thinking about your local area in this way should make it possible for you and your friends to start thinking what could be done to improve:
- the view from your homes
- the view into the space around your homes
- the usefulness of the local green spaces at different times of the year. If you and your friends of different ages don't use them, consider why not - what stops you enjoying these green spaces?
What are the factors in the environment which can make us feel happier whith where we live?
Part of the concept of 'quality of life' in the home environment is the pleasure to be had from contact with nature in our everyday life. Seeing:
- the flowers and leaves as they change through the seasons
- the birds and small mammals as they move through our gardens and open spaces
- the changing insect life throughout the year - the butterflies, moths and ladybirds, as well as
- those that plague us, such as midges
So if we can bring more nature near our homes, supported by appropriate habitats (in the urban context this usually means vegetation of different types managed in differing ways), then this can make our daily life more interesting and, therefore, more enjoyable. It is important to realise that for most people to be happy about where they live, there needs to be a gradient of landscape types - from neat looking and highly maintained near the home to progressively wilder as people move out into the less-used green spaces of the town and into the woodlands and coutryside around the town. But vegetation does not have to look wild and unkempt to support wildlife - this can flourish in well-maintained gardens too, if the right species are planted (see how to garden for wildlife).
The untapped potential for improving the quality of life of the people living in Stocksbridge
As the team of the Steel Valley Project (SVP) were out and about doing their countryside and nature work, they began to recognise the untapped potential of the multitude of urban green spaces in the built-up area of Stocksbridge. Some of these local green spaces were very special and did much to enhance the special character of their local urban landscape; but others were little better than eyesores and rarely, if at all, maintained. Some were owned and looked after by Sheffield City and some seemed to be private spaces, whereas no-one appeared to be responsible for others. Some seemed to be rich in their potential to support wildlife and particularly birds, through the habitats that had developed on them since initial clearance. Others were wastelands as far as habitats were concerned. But no information had ever been gathered about these spaces - many were just the 'left over' pieces of land produced over the decades by the planning process.