Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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Yesterday I got up very early, drove to Dunkeld (a good hour and a half away) and from there took the train to Inverness to visit the Housing Expo. To say that I wasn't disappointed it is an underestimate – I was incredibly impressed.
The Expo showcases 52 houses designed with ecology and sustainability in mind built on a green field site at Milton of Leys on the outskirts of Inverness. Twenty of them are 'social needs' houses for rent or low cost home ownership. The others are available for purchase. This is the first housing expo of its type in the UK and is modelled on similar events which have taken place in Europe, particularly Finland. It is well-recognised that events of this type stimulate public interest in house design and therefore drive up standards.
Throughout my trip I couldn't help thinking what an achievement this is for a relatively small place like Inverness. The fact that it happened when the building industry is struggling and finance difficult to find makes it even more remarkable that the organisers managed to hold their nerve and pull the whole thing off.
As well as being able to view most of the houses for sale or rent, there are arts and crafts for sale, activities for children and an impressive seminar series on various aspects of building and design.
What I particularly liked about the housing fair was not so much the individual houses but the whole lay-out and feel of the community which is being created. More and more people are coming to recognise that one of the problems with the contemporary world is that we are finding it difficult to create a sense of place. This is why we are plagued by soulless, sterile new housing developments which often have little relationship to the landscape. The use of standard house types and layouts and the lack of facilities and landmarks further erodes the sense of place adding to the feeling that you could be anywhere.
This new settlement completely avoids this feel, not just because the houses are innovative but because there was a masterplanner, Johnny Cadell, who has done a great job in creating an attractive, human place to live. He explains:
The streets of the Expo are designed to be the focus of activity, to be well-used and pleasant places. Standard residential roads differ from this format, having instead detached house layouts, designed for cars. The Expo envisages streets that suit 21st century living, where many will be working from home, where health and fitness are integral, where the needs of families are accounted for locally, where the commuter is not king.
The streets in the development are all therefore quite narrow creating a sense of sociability evident in older places such as Culross and there is also a play park and variation on a village green. Throughout the development Cadell has included unusual design features such as sunken or raised areas using attractive materials such as old railway sleepers.
The main problem with this Expo is that it is only scheduled to be open to the public for the month of August. This means that it is due to close on Tuesday 31s. This is a great shame as it feels to me as if it is only now getting into its stride. There is some talk of trying to keep it open for another week or reopening during the October holiday week. None of this might transpire and so if places, houses and new ways of living interest you I would get there this weekend.