If you imagine a traditional village or urban space you’ll likely have an image in your mind of shops with the business-owner’s living accommodation upstairs. The original living over the shop concept.
A combination of industrialisation and the planning response to high car ownership led to the division of towns into separate zones, such as residential, industrial and recreational. While that was good in terms of separating incompatible uses, it reduced vibrancy and safety in urban centres that emptied out after business closing times. It also led to long commutes with the negative effects on health and family life.
Since 2011, I’ve worked at various distances form my work: in Iraq, in the same building; in the Central African Republic, a thirty second walk; in The Hague, an eight minute cycle; in Addis Ababa, a twenty minute drive. My commutes in Dublin and London ranged from forty minutes to an hour. What I learned from those experiences is that living as close as possible to my work space is something really worth optimising for.
The time saved for spending with family, doing exercise or pursuing personal goals has dramatic effects on well being. Shortening commuting time and enabling people to live and work within the same urban zone – within a kilometre, for example – is something that should be at the core of urban planning. That calls for a real commitment to reverse urban sprawl.
To make live-work urban spaces feasible in currently low-density, sprawling cities, the case has to be made for higher density and greater mix of uses in and around the historic core. In Dublin, despite high demand for housing and ever rising rents, numerous derelict properties and under-utilised plots show the need for planning policy change and tax incentives to influence the market to provide affordable housing where people want to live.
I wish more people could experience the benefits of city centre living as I experienced it in The Hague, where the only forms of transport I needed were train, bike and walking, and everything – supermarkets, parks, cafés, work, friends, libraries, post office – were within ten minute’s walk or cycle.