Is Identity Politics Influencing the Built Environment?

Eighty Twenty is Partisan’s fortnightly roundtable event, where we invite business leaders connected with the built environment to have breakfast with us and discuss the issues that matter to them.

Notions of identity, of who we are designing and building spaces for, was the issue most central to our recent roundtable discussion.

Rock ‘n’ Rollers or Rocking Chairs?

Identity politics describes identifying with a concept, especially if there is a shared culture around it.

However, the risk is that identity politics, while encouraging certain communal feelings, can also end up focussing on the exclusivity of one group and its issues, at the expense of others.

The so-called rock ‘n’ roll generation is now an ageing section of the population. A renewed focus on designing places for this age-band may be misunderstanding who it really is, and what it represents.

The notion that 65+ is elderly is fast disappearing, not simply due to increased life-expectancy, but also how people choose to live their lives.

Many 60 year olds are now acting and living as if they were in their 40s.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) November 2018 overview of the UK population notes that 18.2% is now aged 65 or over, with this figure projected to grow to just over 20% by 2027.

What sort of built environment will they want to live in, something that’s aimed exclusively for older, retired people, or something more dynamically multi-generational?

Is Renting the New Normal?

PropertyWire has reported that the private rented sector (PRS) is likely to grow by 24% by 2021.

Is renting becoming the new normal, and if so, how should developers respond to this?

Trends suggest that renting is not simply an option because of the un-affordability of home ownership, but also because it appeals to young professionals aged 25 to 34 who value the flexibility it brings.

Again, the issue of identity takes centre-stage. If developers are to focus on PRS end-users, who are they?

Despite the image of agile young professionals occupying these spaces, a quarter of this market are families with children.

If renting is the new normal, it is likely to include an increasingly broad range of people, a multiplicity of identities.

Are there too many one-bedroom apartments being built in urban centres, not up the standards required for many modern renters?

Can developments suffer from a case of mistaken identity?

Free Movement

For urban centres to become places fit for a broad demographic to live in they must prioritise people over vehicles.

This means unpicking the existing infrastructure and challenging assumptions, especially of drivers themselves.

For developers and planners, this is not necessarily going to be an easy or comfortable process. Placing a greater emphasis on well-being and public spaces is one thing, but devising the practical measures that will discourage motorists without reaping a political cost is another.

An attempt to introduce a congestion zone in Manchester was met with considerable resistance, and lost the public vote in a city-wide referendum in 2008.

Currently, local authorities are very “car parkitecture” focused – car parking is a priority for most schemes looking to get approval.

This is another aspect of identity-focused mindset which needs to change.

Building for a Community

City centre developments must focus on broader notions of identity. They cannot too rigidly compartmentalise their end-users, whether these are older residents, younger renters or motorists.


A city centre, especially a relatively compact one like Manchester, forms its own community, which consists of many different interests, concerns and priorities.

Added to this is the role of retail in regeneration, and how to combine its needs with residents and other businesses.

If footfall is to save the high street, it still comes back to human interaction. Whether it’s a regional town centre, or a bigger urban concentration, these spaces must work beyond the narrow interests of identity politics.

Our Guests This Time

Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:

Tony Baldwinson, Creative England
Stephen Bell, Turley
Wendy Broomhead, Scott Hughes Design
Jaimie Ferguson, OPEN
Chris Lloyd, Glenbrook
David Rudlin, URBED
Nigel Saunders, Pozzoni

“An enjoyable start to the day.”
Stephen Bell

“Really enjoyed the discussion..”
Jaimie Ferguson

“Some interesting perspectives were shared.”
Nigel Saunders

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