When you think about your back garden or the back gardens of homes across the country, what is it that you imagine? Finalists in a new design contest have thrown traditional concepts of the garden on its head, with the contest asking participants to come up with plans for communal gardens that aim to increase effective and genuine social integration on housing estates across the country. We all imagine our own little peaceful haven in a back garden, envisioning the therapeutic nature of gardening, but could we be missing out by not having access to communal gardens that truly bring a sense of community to an area that feels like a bygone era?

Six teams of designers and architects have been shortlisted by the government to design prototype housing in England. The idea behind these housing estates is to ensure social integration increases and the idea of the traditional back garden might be a thing of the past. Instead, the idea is to introduce communal gardens. There is a desire that the next generation of housing estates in this country should be healthier, much greener, fast and simple to build and allow for genuine social integration for all, allowing the elderly and infirm to enjoy parts of life that might otherwise seem difficult to them.

The landscape of a garden has a massive impact on the health of its users and visitors. The winning designs in the Home of 2030 contest demonstrate how this has been a central part of the design process, with communal spaces that run right up to the front doors of houses, vegetable gardens that are maintained and shared between households and dining areas out in the communal areas to share those precious moments together. The more connected we are as human beings, the healthier we become. This is especially the case for our mental wellbeing. The difference in designs can be seen in whether there are clusters of four homes that are constructed around a courtyard garden, or whether it involves larger gardens and quantities of houses.

The idea behind the homes is that a scheme will award £40,000 development grants and the homes could well be self-built with green roofs, straw walls and other environmentally friendly concepts for both the structures and the communities, such as car-free zones etc. We should be moving away from the identikit, poor build quality of many new home housing estates in the UK and there should certainly be a focus on a green solution to all of our problems.

The plans for communal gardens as part of a contest is certainly an interesting way to look at urban planning and how to make sure that our future generations are connected. In too many housing estates across the country there is little or no sense of community in the same sense as there was 30 years ago and longer. Once designs are in place, it is important that architects and urban planners come together to ensure that it can become a functioning reality and not just communal gardens that are a nod to a past that is unattainable. The best architecture and urban landscape is that which integrates into the community, respects traditions whilst at the same time looks towards a bright new future. There always has to be that balance in architecture and design for all.