Creating social networks through Architecture, Urban Planning, and Design

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SOCIAL media continue to create an impact in making the world smaller and better connected. More than ever, people feel the need to share their interests and daily activities in hopes that their connections would also find it fascinating. This back and forth dance of “sharing” and “liking” gives one a sense of approval and also boosts self-esteem.

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It is not a surprise that the need to belong in or to create a network is also reflected in newer developments nowadays. Master-planned communities in particular are being shaped to encourage interactions. According to an interview with Urban Land Institute (ULI) Senior Fellow, Ed McMahon, people are gravitating toward communities that foster their interests.

While health and wellness, proximity to good schools, and access to public transit remain to be important considerations for homebuyers, shared spaces like coffee shops and libraries are now becoming more appealing. These work spaces become common areas where people have the opportunity to collaborate and socialize.

Farm-centered developments have also contributed in creating a sense of community and are becoming more prevalent in the United States. Aside from supporting a healthy lifestyle by growing your own food, agropolitan developments allow spontaneous interactions among neighbors. Agropolitan development, which is essentially taken from the words agriculture – farm and polis – city, brings the city into the farm. This approach can be traced back to the Middle Ages and is practiced in Southern France and in many parts of Europe to this very day. Agropolis is a strategy of integrating farm or countryside and city yet sustaining the environment.

In the Philippines, the Quezon City Government has launched the “Joy of Urban Farming” program in 2010 to encourage its city-dwellers to grow their own food. While these urban farms are currently being maintained by the government, it could be a good opportunity in the long-run for them to be sustained by the community.
Design also plays a major role in developing networks within residential communities. Condominium developments in major cities offer smaller private spaces and allocate a larger space where people can hang out. A smaller space is assigned for private activities and the neighborhood or common areas like the community garden, roof deck, gaming area, fitness center, and clubhouse become the extended living room. Designers also create spaces that will encourage people to go outdoors and engage with neighbors, hopefully, eliminating old habits of just going straight from your car to your home and closing your door to the rest of the world.

In the late nineties, Palafox Associates had the privilege to work with renowned architects and town planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk on a pioneering new urbanism project in Laguna. “New urbanism” is a relatively young term, introduced in the early 1980s in the United States to call forth the need to create pedestrian and transit-oriented neighborhood design and a mix of land uses towards more cohesive communities. Under the guidance of the Yulo Foundation and client Terelay Investment & Development Corporation, we collaborated with Duany, Plater-Zyberk Architects & Town Planners on the master plan of Dos Rios, a master-planned community in Cabuyao and Canlubang in Calamba, Laguna. The Dos Rios project (‘dos rios” means two rivers) is a pioneering venture that underscores the concept of New Urbanism and involves designing habitable spaces wherein people live at the upper floors and shop and work below. Residences are planned in such a way that the town square is just five minutes away through a road network capable of supporting developments like universities and churches.

According to Duany and Plater-Zyberk, there are five principles of an ideal neighborhood design. The neighborhood has a center and an edge; the optimal size of a neighborhood is a quarter mile from center to edge; the neighborhood has a balanced mix of activities—dwelling, shopping, working, schooling, worshipping, and recreating.

Good architecture, planning, and design will be for naught without proper programming, however. Programming is about engaging the community to use spaces for its intended functions. For example, a developer might want to promote the use of its roof deck by holding regular activities and events there that the community can enjoy, like yoga, gardening, or even rooftop film viewing and musical performances. Biking clubs can also be formed to encourage use of bicycle paths within master planned communities. “So over time it’s going to function more for residents and less for selling new homes,” says Peter Dennehy, member of the ULI Master-Planned Communities Council.

People will inevitably look back on the friends they have made in communities they lived in. It is important that architecture, planning, and design support these kinds of relationships and link more and more people closer together. The focus should not only be on creating aesthetically pleasing spaces, but also places that foster connections.

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