The physical and material challenges of how to shape new net zero neighbourhoods are coming into focus, but how can the social and economic dimensions of new neighbourhoods evolve at the same time? Can we learn from how communities are thinking about climate resilience and adapting existing neighbourhoods?

In one of the world’s most nature depleted countries, green field sites are a precious resource that need to be used wisely. The RTPI & RSPB led study ‘Cracking the code, designing for nature recovery’ (2022) – shows how important it is to understand a site’s strategic context and consider public transport connections and renewable energy provision . The UKGB’s ‘Case study for low carbon residential developments’ (2022) showed the carbon cost of site infrastructure and how can be used effectively.

As more challenging energy and embodied carbon targets become the norm – how places are formed, how materials are sourced needs to adapt more rapidly than before. Standards are moving towards Passivhaus Plus equivalence (low energy construction/systems and all energy demand met renewably). This will drive more compact forms and make solar orientation an important urban design consideration. Despite the challenges encountered in B&NES for developers in meeting the district’s new energy and embodied carbon standards Bath University found that ‘most applicants believed that the policy will be effective in reducing operational and embodied carbon emissions’.

Furthermore meeting stretching targets for embodied carbon in new build homes could add 19% to costs whilst the means to achieve net zero embodied carbon hasn’t yet been established at scale. However the UKGBC led report ‘Building the Case for Net Zero’ (2022) noted that: ‘When considering any such capital cost increases, it is worth reflecting on historic trends. In the period between 2009 and 2015, the additional capital costs of delivering new homes that met the Code for Sustainable Homes level 4 had almost halved – principally due to clarity and consistency on medium-term policy direction, allowing the supply chain to confidently invest in the changes required….’

Anticipating the Future Homes Standard in 2025 the homebuilding industry has developed: ‘The Embodied and Whole Life Carbon: 2023-2025 implementation plan’. This brings together homebuilders, manufacturers, expert and government organisations to develop assessment tools, work with manufacturers and develop benchmarks.

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As well as being spatial, material places are economic and social. In the way that we remember and envisage them they are also emotional and felt. Thinking about net zero shouldn’t shift our eyes from the experiential qualities of neighbourhoods.

Making neighbourhoods more self-sustaining, dynamic and less singular also seems ungently necessary. New neighbourhoods need to be capable of being demonstrably lived in – supporting social networks, interactions and regenerative behaviours, connecting people with nature. As well as being compact they need to be economically thriving and resilient – enabling proximity of uses and supporting economic diversity. In the way that homes can be tenured and stewarded differently so too could public and employment spaces be organised to support a diversity of ownership and participation.

If future it’s likely that we will look increasingly at well located low density city neighbourhoods and make these denser. Part research for the evolution of their Neighbourhood Public Square in Ladywood Birmingham the 3°Neigbourhood by Civic Square with Dark Matter Labs bravely tackles the need for adaptation in the face of potential climate breakdown whilst building towards a more hopeful future. They visualise six transitional neighbourhood fundamentals that could rewire neighbourhood resource flows and maximise the use of space and materials that already exist.  They describe the role of stronger social and civic infrastructure in achieving this transformation.

Image above – This Planet is our shared house – extract from the 3°Neigbourhood by Civic Square with Dark Matter Labs

Heading Image – Baugruppen Reiselfeld, Freiburg, Germany

RTPI & RSPB (2022) Cracking the Code, Designing for nature recovery

UKGBC (2022)  Building the Case for Net Zero: A case study for low carbon residential developments

Simaitis, J. et Al (2023) Pioneering Net Zero Carbon Construction Policy in Bath & North East Somerset, University of Bath

UKGBC (2022) Building the Case for Net Zero: Closing the gap towards net zero carbon new-build homes

Future Homes Hub (2023) Embodied and Whole Life Carbon: 2023-2025 Implementation plan for the homebuilding industry

Civic Square & Dark Matter Labs (March 2024) 3°C Neighbourhood

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