A sense of wonder will create amazing spaces

22 May 23

Lively, distinctive places attractive to residents and visitors alike will bring health gains and more.


Our panic around the sheer numbers of homes that need building, driven by a model of housebuilding that is increasingly speculative, has led us to create places that are not fit for the long term.

This results in neighbourhoods that are poorly designed and of low quality. And because we don’t listen enough to people in their specific local contexts, we don’t understand what they need.

But with the right approach to land use, planning, design, development and long-term management, these problems are all fixable.

At the Quality of Life Foundation, we carry out research to understand what people need from their homes and neighbourhoods to live healthy, happy lives. We also explore the barriers to this and how to overcome them.

We share our findings with community groups, policymakers and built environment professionals in the pursuit of healthy homes and sustainable neighbourhoods. We have a vision of a housing system that improves people’s quality of life over the long term. And we believe that vision can be a reality.

Lively, interesting and distinctive places can instil a sense of wonder and creativity that’s attractive to residents and visitors alike. Arts and culture have a key role to play. As well as strengthening community pride, the arts and culture sector helps local people build skills and confidence, which generates significant health rewards. Play is a key enabler of both cultural expression and wellbeing, starting at the playground and building into old age. But our public spaces and buildings very often are not designed with play in mind.

Places and facilities where people can meet, connect and cultivate relationships are vital to creating strong communities with a high sense of belonging and identity. Without decent social infrastructure, people are more likely to become isolated and lonely, which has serious impacts on health and mortality. Plus, isolated communities cost the economy billions every year in estimated productivity losses. Access to meaningful work and training is another pillar of community wellbeing and life satisfaction.

What we can do together

By looking at ‘the system’ through the lens of the Quality of Life Framework, it is easier to see what changes are needed to ensure that homes are designed, delivered and cared for in ways that support health and wellbeing.

So what are those changes? Well, policymakers at local, regional and national levels must address the shortcomings of existing policy and legislation - revitalising planning departments, investing in decent, affordable homes across a mix of tenures, better regulating the private rented sector, and adding more accountability into the planning and development process.

Greater influence now

To give people greater influence over decisions made in their area, we would suggest communities audit all of the activity already taking place locally, which is often more than you would think. Bringing these groups together for a structured visioning event can be useful in setting priorities and opening a dialogue with the local authority. As confidence, trust and participation grows, more ambitious initiatives can be taken on – who knows where it will take you?

This is an extract from our Perspectives series.

Did you enjoy this article?