‘It takes a village …’ – and Port Elizabeth is showing us how

23 October 2020

Winston Churchill once famously observed that “we shape our buildings and thereafter, our buildings shape us.” The statement suggests that buildings can provide the context within which people come together to create communities, to grow, to learn, to support one another, and to flourish. 

Community is the social cement that binds people and holds neighborhoods together, and never has this been as importance ty been more apparent – or necessary – than now, as the world grapples with a global pandemic that has forced us into social distancing, self-isolation, remote learning, and working from home.

Like past pandemics, COVID-19 will leave an indelible mark on society. With the pandemic changing how we live our lives, it’s just as likely to impact how we change and develop our communities in order to create more connected and sustainable residential neighborhoods.

Till now, much emphasis has been placed on the physical attributes of the built environment – the quality of the build, fixtures and finishes, need for green space, community facilities, and environmental sustainability. But the Covid-19 crisis is spurring developers and urban planners to think more seriously about how to design resilient and self-sufficient communities that can self-organize, withstand, and respond positively to change. More attention is now being paid to the principals of designing and developing services and support structures that help residents integrate, agree on priorities, work together, and share common interests.

Focus on creating communities
The traditional bricks-and-mortar approach to developing residential real estate is changing fast. In our post-Covid reality, property developers are realising that they also need to take the mental health and emotional well-being of their residents into account. Creating thriving communities involves far more than laying roads, proving infrastructure and building houses; it’s about providing balanced, nurturing environments where individuals and families can find purpose, self-actualize, connect, grow, and flourish.

One of Port Elizabeth’s largest and fastest growing residential estates – Westbrook – is a good case in point. Developed by the Amdec Group, South Africa’s leading developer of new urban lifestyles, this multigenerational lifestyle estate has been developed with a real sense of community at its core. A fully walkable environment dotted with ponds, playgrounds, and picnic areas, and crisscrossed with footpaths, jogging and cycle-tracks, Westbrook offers homes and communal areas that encourage social interaction along with an active healthy outdoor lifestyle.

Westbrook is set on 128 hectares of lush parkland, teeming with birds and indigenous plant life. It occupies a prime location on Port Elizabeth’s western edge, conveniently close to retail and commercial nodes, offering easy access to major arterials, beaches, and PE’s central business district. The completed development will comprise nine residential estates, a bustling town centre with shops, restaurants, offices, and health clubs, a Curro Private school, and an Evergreen Retirement village.

In the wake of Covid-19, affordability and value for money is key. Buyers are looking for compact homes with good work from home potential and an excellent fibre-optic infrastructure so that they can stay connected with friends, family and colleagues via the internet and social media. Safety and security, low maintenance, lock up and go, and live-work-play convenience are also strong motivating factors. Given the deep societal challenges posed by the coronavirus, we can expect far more multi-faceted, multi-generational developments like Westbrook to emerge, estates that provide for the practical and emotional needs of their residents while delivering financial and occupational peace of mind and a host of world-class services, security features, facilities, and amenity.

By Clifford Oosthuizen, MD of the multigenerational estate Westbrook, in Port Elizabeth, which launched its second of nine villages last month.

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