An interesting problem has arisen in the project I am focused on at work. We’ve been working on a social planning project and there has been an array of conversations about community hubs. It’s become apparent in my investigation that not all community hubs are equal and there are particular pressures and politics on such facilities. That’s probably no surprise. However, the situation that’s emerged is that there is some need to consider how hubs are formed and where they are located. A range of issues impact on the way community hubs take shape, particularly where they are intended to meet specific needs and ‘wicked problems’ (e.g. homelessness, IV drug use).
At the moment, there appear to be different kinds of hubs, i.e. youth hubs, learning hubs, health hubs etc, often anchored by a particular service or tenant, i.e. library, medical service etc. However, some organisations are just hard to house due to the nature of the social and personal challenges they address and not all community services are necessarily compatible. A decision to include a childcare centre in a community hub, for example, will mean that homeless services, sex worker support services, GLBT services and IV drug user services cannot co-locate. Likewise, such services cannot locate near schools. I am unsure whether this is the regulatory requirement or a generally accepted norm in response to what is regarded as ‘community standards’ (thus averting some kind of moral panic or hysterical epidemic). Given that services are increasingly person focused and ‘joined up’ with ‘no wrong door’, it occurred to me that the result of this is that some community hubs are ‘no go’ for some members of the community. Some hubs need to be more specialised to make the most of various organisational synergies. This is difficult to reconcile under the ambit of social inclusion and presents some specific service design issues in the face of limited capacity and political will for facility provision.
So, the generic idea of a community hub doesn’t seem to serve the complexity of our communities and localities, yet the trend, for the purpose of effect and efficiency, is to co-locate and cluster services. In outer suburban areas, where community resources and facilities are thin on the ground, the generic community hub becomes even more difficult for clients to negotiate because such places are established to be all things to all people while also ensuring that the needs of the most disadvantaged are met. Drawing on my own experience of community centres and projects, I am fully aware of how hard it is to be all things to all people. In response, I’ve started to think around the development of a typology of community hubs that manages these complexities in a compassionate way, ensures locational advantage and networked service design for those services and their users. Such a typology would be predicated on a matrix of criteria and filters e.g. fit, commonality, risk etc. As a planning tool, a flexible approach to typologies for community hubs could become a useful mechanism for integrating thinking around facilities, services, need and land use, while also ensuring those ‘hard to house’ organisations are well situated to do their vital work.