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Sustainable Development

Sust. Dev. 19, 289300 (2011)


Published online 26 May 2009 in Wiley Online Library
(wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/sd.417

The Social Dimension of Sustainable Development:


Defining Urban Social Sustainability
Nicola Dempsey,1* Glen Bramley,2 Sinad Power3 and Caroline Brown2
1

Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK


2
Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton, Edinburgh, UK
3
Scottish Executive, UK

ABSTRACT
Sustainable development is a widely used term, which has been increasingly influential on
UK planning, housing and urban policy in recent years. Debates about sustainability no
longer consider sustainability solely as an environmental concern, but also incorporate
economic and social dimensions. However, while a social dimension to sustainability is
widely accepted, exactly what this means has not been very clearly defined or agreed. This
paper aims to address this disparity through a detailed exploration and definition of the
concept of social sustainability within the urban context. The relationship between urban
form and social sustainability is explored and two main dimensions of social sustainability
are identified and discussed in detail: equitable access and the sustainability of the
community itself. Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.
Received 11 December 2008; revised 11 March 2009; accepted 17 March 2009
Keywords: social sustainability; urban form; community; social equity; sustainable development

Background

USTAINABILITY, FIRST DEFINED OVER 30 YEARS AGO, IS WIDELY ACCEPTED AS AN IMPORTANT CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

within which to position urban policy and development, providing the context for a considerable literature
on planning, architecture and urban design (Williams et al., 2000). Sustainable development as a concept
was developed alongside acute awareness that the ecological destruction and the 1980s retreat from social
concerns manifested as poverty, deprivation and urban dereliction that blight many parts of the world are
untenable (Carley and Kirk, 1998; WCED, 1987, p. xi). The underlying tension between the associated aspects of
sustainability environmental, social, economic as well as the wide interpretation of the concept have led to a
variety of urban forms being described as sustainable (Jenks and Dempsey, 2005; Giddings et al., 2002). Despite
the anthropocentric focus of the definition of sustainability (Hopwood et al., 2005), surprisingly little attention has
been given to the definition of social sustainability in built environment disciplines. Related concepts are more
readily discussed and examined within a physical context, such as social capital, which has a focus on strengthening civic participation and localized empowerment via social interaction and sense of community among all
members/residents (Putnam, 2000; Mitlin and Satterwaite, 1996). There is however considerable overlap between

* Correspondence to: Dr. Nicola Dempsey, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development, Oxford Brookes University, Gipsy Lane, Oxford OX3
0BP, UK. E-mail: ndempsey@brookes.ac.uk
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aspects of social sustainability and concepts such as the sustainable community, which is underpinned by, among
other factors, social equity and justice. Such communities are widely envisaged to provide a setting for long-term
human activity and interaction that is equitable, inclusive and sustainable in the broader sense of the term (economically and environmentally as well as socially). This paper examines the underlying principles of social sustainability and their interpretation and provides a definition of social sustainability with particular reference to the
British urban context.
This paper calls on research carried out by the CityForm: Sustainable Urban Form Consortium, which examined
the relationship between urban form and sustainability in UK neighbourhoods over a four-year period. Its starting
point was the testing of the claim that more compact, high-density and mixed-use urban forms are environmentally
sound, efficient for transport, socially beneficial and economically viable. From this standpoint, sustainable development, sustainability and associated aspects were examined in specific relation to the built environment. While
an overall definition of sustainability was sought for the purposes of the wider research project, this paper focuses
on social sustainability in the neighbourhood. The broad discussions of sustainability herein pinpoint not only a
definition of social sustainability at the scale of the neighbourhood but specifically highlight those aspects of social
sustainability that are claimed to be influenced by the built environment at this scale. The following section provides such an examination of existing interpretations of social sustainability and related concepts within the urban
context.

Situating Social Sustainability in an Urban Context


There is a relatively limited literature that focuses specifically on social sustainability, while a broader literature
exists on the overlapping concepts of social capital, social cohesion, social inclusion and social exclusion. Social
sustainability is a wide-ranging multi-dimensional concept, with the underlying question what are the social goals
of sustainable development?, which is open to a multitude of answers, with no consensus on how these goals are
defined (Hopwood et al., 2005; Littig and Griessler, 2005). There has been little theoretical debate on defining
social sustainability, despite recent European policy focus on sustainable communities and social cohesion; an
example of what might be described as the policy agenda overtaking the research agenda. The Bristol Accord
details a common European approach to sustainable communities signed up to by EU member states, which
builds on previous EU initiatives including the Aalborg Charter and Agenda 21. Sustainable communities are here
defined as places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of
existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are
safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all (ODPM,
2006, p. 12). Such a definition highlights the physical (here, urban) context in which communities exist.
The role of cities in sustainable development has become more prominent (Darlow, 1996) due to the growing
urban population 2008 marks the first time that over half of the worlds population are urban dwellers, and
these numbers are set to increase by 72% between 2000 and 2030 (United Nations Population Fund, 2007). The
concept of the sustainable city has gained considerable political momentum worldwide, and European examples
such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Malm have been heralded as best practice (Pitts, 2004; Urban Task Force,
1999). In the UK, this focus on sustainability, neighbourhood renewal and an urban renaissance has been attributed in part to the governments response to the increase in social inequality since the late 1970s (Colomb, 2007)
and the sustained movement of people (marked by disproportionately large numbers of better-off households) out
of cities to the suburbs throughout the 20th century (Champion and Fisher, 2004).1 This counter-urbanization,
supported in part by urban policies such as the UKs New Town programme, contributed to social polarization
and socio-spatial segregation of the less mobile groups left behind in run-down inner city areas (Healey, 1997).
Within this broad urban context, UK government policy responses included the 1977 White Paper on inner cities.
This recognized that broad economic, social and political drivers were related to poverty and urban decline but
1

It is also acknowledged that much of the planning policy in favour of the compact city is also motivated by issues of transport, car use and
traffic congestion (and increasingly CO2 emissions).
Copyright 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

Sust. Dev. 19, 289300 (2011)


DOI: 10.1002/sd

The Social Dimension of Sustainable Development: Defining Urban Social Sustainability


Non-physical factors

Predominantly physical factors

Education and training


Social justice: inter- and intra-generational
Participation and local democracy
Health, quality of life and well-being
Social inclusion (and eradication of social exclusion)
Social capital
Community
Safety
Mixed tenure
Fair distribution of income
Social order
Social cohesion
Community cohesion (i.e. cohesion between and among
different groups)
Social networks
Social interaction
Sense of community and belonging
Employment
Residential stability (vs turnover)
Active community organizations
Cultural traditions

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Urbanity
Attractive public realm
Decent housing
Local environmental quality and amenity
Accessibility (e.g. to local services and facilities/employment/
green space)
Sustainable urban design
Neighbourhood
Walkable neighbourhood: pedestrian friendly

Table 1. Urban social sustainability: contributory factors as identified in the review of literature (in no particular order)
Sources include Chan and Lee, 2008; Meegan and Mitchell, 2001; Turkington and Sangster, 2006; Jacobs, 1999; Bramley et al.,
2009; Yiftachel and Hedgcock, 1993; Urban Task Force, 1999; Hopwood et al., 2005; Littig and Griessler, 2005; Burton, 2000a.

were often not operationalized into much-needed improvements to housing estates (Pacione, 2001); there was
instead a policy shift away from state-funded council housing construction to the private sector for property-led
urban regeneration from the late 1970s to 1997 (Colomb, 2007). Since the 1980s, the urban policy focus has been
on community empowerment, local action and governance and the involvement of multiple agencies in widespread
urban regeneration, such as the Priority Estates Project in the 1980s and New Deal for Communities at the end
of the 1990s (Power and Houghton, 2007), alongside the ongoing incorporation into policy of inter-related concepts including social sustainability, sustainable communities, quality of life, social cohesion and, more recently,
liveability and well-being. This example from the UK highlights the overlap between interpretations of the social
and physical environment. This is further explored in Table 1, which provides a list of factors discussed by theorists
and practitioners as contributing to urban social sustainability and socially sustainable urban settlements.
The table illustrates the wide breadth of related concepts and is suggestive of the close conceptual proximity
between factors, described by some as social aspects of sustainable development and others as sustainable
communities.

Urban Social Sustainability: a Positive or Negative Concept?


In order to define and understand urban social sustainability more fully, it is helpful to consider the factors listed
in Table 1 in light of their inherently positive or negative dimensions. It has been acknowledged that there are
negative sides to the concepts of social cohesion, capital and inclusion. This may be seen, for example, if communities become insular and exclusive in their membership, or if their foundations are public bads such as
prostitution and gambling rings (Forrest and Kearns, 2001; Portes, 1998). Amin (2002) discusses research into
territoriality, which he recognizes as an agent of social cohesion, concluding that such territorial norms are
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commonly perceived as negative, because they can be based on antagonism (Ratcliffe, 2000) (although this is not
always the case (Al-Homoud and Tassinary, 2004)).
Other related challenges arise when a conceptualization of positive versus negative is applied to urban social
sustainability. Such challenges can be illustrated when examining the predominantly physical factors in Table 1.
While few would argue for dirty, unsafe spaces without vegetation over clean, safe and green public spaces
(Dempsey, 2008b), to presume that urban social sustainability can only occur in neighbourhoods with high
environmental quality is short sighted. It may be the case that, for example, collective perceptions of poor environmental quality (e.g. litter or the erection of a mobile phone mast) act as a catalyst for socially cohesive activity
and interaction. While there is no consensus on these related points, it is widely assumed in theory and policy that
such concepts, social cohesion, capital and inclusion as well as high quality living environments, are positive and
desirable social goods (Dempsey, 2006). In this way, positive, not negative, social activity is claimed to be more
likely to occur in high quality physical environments in theory, policy and practice (and to some extent in empirical research (Dempsey, 2006)); and social order rather than disorder is not only politically desirable, but is positively correlated with health, happiness and good quality of life (Wilkinson and Marmot, 2003).
Like the concept of sustainability, social sustainability is neither an absolute nor a constant. Social sustainability
has to be considered as a dynamic concept, which will change over time (from year to year/decade to decade) in
a place. This may come about through external influences: for example, social cohesion and interaction may
increase, prompted by changes in local authority service delivery or the threat of airport expansion. Economic,
environmental and political crises at a local or broader scale may also influence social activity at the local scale.
Focusing on the contributory factors of urban social sustainability highlights scale as an important issue. A number
of factors can relate to multiple scales: social cohesion is often discussed at a national scale (Penninx et al., 2004),
employment at city or district scale, while others such as social interaction and local environmental quality relate
to activity and places on a local and spatial scale. Those factors relating to the latter category are of most relevance
to the research reported here as they have most application in relation to the built environment and how it is
experienced on an everyday basis. The following section will argue that such factors relate, in general terms, to
two broad underlying concepts: social equity and sustainability of community (Bramley and Power, 2009). These two
concepts are discussed in detail and the claimed associations between social equity and the built environment,
in relation to urban social sustainability, are also outlined.

Social Equity
The concept of social equity has its foundations in social justice, distributive justice or fairness in the apportionment of resources, and equality of condition (Burton, 2000a, p. 1970). This clearly reflects the embeddedness of
the principle of social equity within definitions of sustainable development (Hopwood et al., 2005; Chiu, 2002)
focused on meeting the needs of present as well as future generations (WCED, 1987; Holden and Linnerud, 2007)
in order to redress inequalities of outcome (Haughton, 1999, p. 233). Within an urban context, social equity is
related to social and environmental exclusion. An equitable society is one in which there are no exclusionary or
discriminatory practices hindering individuals from participating economically, socially and politically in society
(Pierson, 2002; Ratcliffe, 2000). Such practices may manifest themselves as social exclusion such as racism and
ageism (Kellaher et al., 2004). While it has been pointed out that to achieve sustainability a global perspective must
be taken beyond city or national boundaries (Haughton, 1999), the local scale is critical here in light of the everyday experience of the built environment. In a geographical sense, social exclusion and inequity may manifest itself
as areas of deprivation, which may have poorer living environments and reduced access to a range of public services
and facilities for residents than other areas (Brook Lyndhurst, 2004; Macintyre et al., 1993). Territorial justice can
be said to prevail when access to such services is equalized across geographical areas, also referred to as horizontal equity (Kay, 2005).
In terms of measuring social equity, accessibility is commonly cited as a fundamental measure (Barton,
2000a; Burton, 2000b). It follows that the built environment for example, the key services and facilities, the
public transport routes, the provision for walking and cycling can have an impact on the extent and nature of
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accessibility in a given place. Table 1 indicates some of the aspects of everyday life to which residents and users
need equitable access. These include education and training, decent housing, public services, (social) infrastructure, green space, culture and recreation. Some of these aspects are directly linked to the built environment, either
through the actual provision of services and facilities or by the means of accessing them (e.g. public transport).
Others are indirectly linked: for example, access to decent housing may be measured by the condition of the
physical housing form, but is also dependent on the service provided by the relevant housing association/local
authority. Furthermore, the related aspect of affordable housing (and tenure) may prohibit residents from living
in, and moving out of, different neighbourhoods and areas. To examine how urban form might impact on social
sustainability, a number of services and facilities can be selected at the neighbourhood scale for further scrutiny.
Empirical research conducted in the west of England identified eight services and facilities most frequently used
when locally provided (Winter and Farthing, 1997). These everyday eight are food shop, newsagent, open space,
post office, primary school, pub, supermarket and secondary school. Other services to which theorists claim that
residents need frequent local access include doctor/GP surgery (Barton, 2000b; Urban Task Force, 1999), chemist,
caf/restaurant/takeaway (Burton, 2000a), bank or building society (Barton et al., 1995) and community centre
(Aldous, 1992). While there is no consensus on the optimal distance at which such services should be provided
for residential populations (Dempsey, 2008b), there seems to be general agreement in the literature on the services
and facilities to which residents should have good access. The following list shows local services and facilities as
opposed to more regional services such as hospitals.

Doctor/GP surgery
Post office
Chemist
Supermarket
Bank/building society
Corner shop
Primary school
Restaurant/caf/takeaway
Pub
Library
Sports/recreation facility
Community centre
Facility for children
Public open/green space.

This facilities list includes both key services used by residents on a regular basis, and other services used less
often, but still normally found within the neighbourhood. Key services include GP surgery, post office, chemist,
bank/building society and supermarket, as identified by respondents as essential in the Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (Gordon et al., 2000). Wider macro factors affect the provision of hospitals and secondary schools,
and they are not included here for this reason (e.g. covering a larger catchment area or providing a regional
specialism).

Sustainability of Community
Social cohesion and inclusion are claimed in theory and policy to contribute to strong, fair and just societies for
present and future communities (Lister, 2000). In essence, this relates to a prevailing social order in neighbourhoods and the support of social interaction and networks between all residents. The sustainability of community
is about the ability of society itself, or its manifestation as local community, to sustain and reproduce itself at an
acceptable level of functioning. This is associated with social capital and social cohesion as concepts that encompass social networks, norms of reciprocity and features of social organization (Coleman, 1988), and the integration
of resulting social behaviour (Dempsey, 2008a). Sustainability of community involves social interaction between
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community members; the relative stability of the community, both in terms of overall maintenance of numbers/
balance (net migration) and of the turnover of individual members; the existence of, and participation in, local
collective institutions, formal and informal; levels of trust across the community, including issues of security from
threats; and a positive sense of identification with, and pride in, the community.
Conceptual difficulties arise when discussing the above terms at the local scale, which invariably involves defining the community in relation to the neighbourhood (see Jenks and Dempsey (2007) for a detailed discussion).
It is clear that many interpretations of both community and neighbourhood are closely linked and often interchanged because of the social and spatial characteristics inherent in both. By framing issues relating to sustainability in terms of the community, which for policy makers and some prescriptive theorists is a socio-spatial
construct (Jenks and Dempsey, 2007), a territorial dimension is applied to social sustainability. This reflects the
difficulty of divorcing social activity from the physical setting in which it inevitably takes place (Blackman,
2006).
As is the case with definitions of sustainability, what makes a community sustainable is open to a degree of
interpretation (Burton and Mitchell, 2006). The European policy interpretation of sustainable communities
includes social aspects of sustainability and describes them as active, inclusive and safe (ODPM, 2006). Other
features of sustainable communities are claimed to include a sense of community in a healthy and safe environment (Burton and Mitchell, 2006), social contact and a stable community of residents who feel attached to where
they live (Forrest and Kearns, 2001).
It is clear that sustainability of community relates to the collective aspects of social life. In order to explore such
social life at the neighbourhood level, a number of specific inter-related measurable aspects of community sustainability are identified here. These five dimensions are

social interaction/social networks in the community


participation in collective groups and networks in the community
community stability
pride/sense of place
safety and security.

These dimensions relate to collective aspects of everyday life and are appropriate and meaningful concepts at the
neighbourhood scale; crucially, for the purposes of this paper, there are claimed associations between them and
features of the built environment (Bramley and Power, 2009). Each dimension is discussed in more detail
below.

Social Interaction/Social Networks in the Community


Wirth describes social interaction as the basic process in the formation both of human nature and of the social
order (1964, p. 17), and a cohesive society is said to hang together, in part, through social interaction (Hirschfield
and Bowers, 1997). Without social interaction, people living in a given area can only be described as a group of
individuals living separate lives, with little sense of community or sense of pride or place attachment (Dempsey,
2006).
Social interaction and social networks are consistently described as integral aspects of social capital (Forrest and
Kearns, 2001). Social capital has been described as social networks and the associated norms of reciprocity
(Putnam, 2000, p. 21), and also refers to features of social organization including trust, the density and knowledge
of relationships within networks and obligations and expectations (Pennington and Rydin, 2000). These features
are said to facilitate reciprocal actions and spontaneous cooperation (Putnam, 1993). Social capital is an intangible
form of capital (or stock), which is unlike physical capital as it exists in the relations among persons (Coleman,
1988, p. S101, authors italics). The nature and extent of social capital, as the social organization of different social
settings such as individuals, families and communities (Edwards et al., 2003; Forrest and Kearns, 2001), has a
direct influence on social cohesion (the ongoing integration of behaviours of residents in a given neighbourhood
(Dempsey, 2008a)).
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It has been argued that interest in these concepts is due to a preoccupation with apparently decreasing levels of
social capital and cohesion. This, some sociologists suggest, indicates that the social cement of a previous era is
crumbling and ... we are being collectively cast adrift in a world where the previous rules of social interaction and
social integration no longer apply (Forrest and Kearns, 2001, p. 2126). It is unclear when this golden age of
traditional morality actually was. Pahl questions the basis of such assumptions, arguing that there is a plethora
of empirical research that undermines them (1991). Furthermore, it has been suggested above that social cohesion
and social capital may be not implicitly positive concepts (Coleman, 1988), where outsiders may be excluded and
individual freedoms restricted (Portes, 1998). Having said this, it is widely assumed in theory and policy that both
concepts are positive and desirable social goods (Forrest and Kearns, 2001).
It is argued that social networks are social support systems, indicating that the people we know and feel we
can depend on can influence other aspects of life such as feelings of safety and sense of well-being (Fischer, 1982,
p. 3; Pierson, 2002). While Fischer (1982) concedes that the supportiveness of networks can be overstated, it is
argued that such social, and mutual, support is integral to peoples values and identities as well as to civic society.
Such social networks can range from weak, such as recognizing someone by sight, to strong, including close
friends and family. It is argued that, at the local scale, weak networks or ties can be as important as strong ties,
particularly in relation to the size and nature of a neighbourhood, as well as providing a variety of social opportunities (Skjaeveland et al., 1996). While it is clear that both strong and weak ties can be expected to exist within a
community at the same time, not all relationships within, for example, a group, a family or a community are
equally weighted and one should not expect them to be. While extra-local social networks are increasing and
becoming more dissociated from forms of local interaction, there is still a strong contingent in urban sociology
literature that maintains that the neighbourhood is an important arena in which social activity occurs (Forrest and
Kearns, 2001; Stafford et al., 2003).
Examples of the claimed relationships between the urban form and social interaction and networks relate to the
density, layout and extent of mixed land uses in a street or neighbourhood. For example, high-density mixed-use
streets with overlooking (flatted) residences are claimed to facilitate social interaction because of the increased
range of people (and motivations) using the street over wholly residential ones (Jacobs, 1961; Talen, 1999), although
this is refuted elsewhere (Raman, unpublished Ph.D. thesis).

Participation in Collective Groups and Networks in the Community


Participation in local and community activities is described as one of the domains of social capital (Forrest and
Kearns, 2001) and a dimension of social sustainability related to social coherence and social network integration
(Littig and Griessler, 2005). This may manifest itself within the neighbourhood/community as, for example,
attendance at a neighbourhood group opposing the erection of a mobile phone mast or regular participation in a
sports team on the local green space (Dempsey, 2006). Such participation is claimed to relate closely to ones
sense of community, since it too taps into the associated concept of civic society: measures of civic sociability and
civic culture often include participation in organized activities (Putnam, 1993). These measures also include
political participation, such as electoral turnout, even though it has been argued that in some respects voting is
not a typical mode of political participation, because it is participation in an undemanding form (Putnam, 2000,
p. 35).
It is not however a foregone conclusion that if participation in organized activities in a neighbourhood does not
occur, such behaviour is necessarily described as socially unsustainable. People have many and different types of
social network, both within and outside the neighbourhood, which may mean that they cannot participate regularly
in localized activities, or that their particular interest is not shared by others in the neighbourhood. Furthermore,
people may not have a propensity or desire to participate (after Keller, 1968). However, despite claims to the contrary (Skidmore et al., 2006), it is clear that participation in organized activities is widely considered to contribute
positively to community sustainability.
Claims have been made that participation is associated with density and land use mix in the way that mixing
land uses and increasing density may provide residents with a greater variety of activities in which to participate
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(Talen, 2001). This is also linked to the level of accessibility of community facilities, which may have an influence
on participation in particular activities. Empirical evidence from the US demonstrates that commuting time
is inversely related to community participation, and individuals with longer daily commutes are less likely to
participate in community affairs (Putnam, 2000).

Community Stability
Inherent in definitions of sustainability is the concept of inter-generational equity. Alongside aims of supporting
social capital (e.g. through good educational and community facilities) and minimizing crime and anti-social
behaviour, it is suggested by theorists and policy makers that a community requires well established, long-term
residents in order to be described as sustainable (Silburn et al., 1999). In the literature, there is no consensus on
the part that residential turnover plays in the social sustainability of an urban setting. Resident mobility may be a
symptom of the failure of a neighbourhood or community, exacerbated by low social cohesion or reduced feelings
of attachment illustrated by residents moving out of areas (Bramley and Morgan, 2003). However, resident turnover in a neighbourhood may improve the overall contribution of new residents to its sustainability through their
active participation and active citizenship (Kearns and Forrest, 2000). Furthermore, some neighbourhoods provide
an appropriate setting for residents at particular life stages that are characterized by greater mobility, such as those
studying in universities or setting up a first home. Low residential mobility has also been linked to increased feelings of attachment to neighbourhoods and an increase in local social networks and interaction (Wilson and Taub,
2006). While it has been argued that community stability, or low residential turnover, is not necessary for social
order to prevail (Forrest and Kearns, 2001), it is widely regarded as a positive social quality, which can be jeopardized by high levels of social mobility (Power, 2004). The claimed associations between community stability and
the built environment are not clear and direct. Residents decisions to stay in, or move out of, a neighbourhood
may be related to the perceived quality and maintenance of the built environment, the level of accessibility to key
services and facilities (such as schools) and the type and size of dwellings in relation to the life stage of the resident
(Wilson and Taub, 2006).

Pride/Sense of Place
It has long been argued that physical settings, activities and meanings are interrelated (Gehl, 2001; Lynch, 1960).
Relph states that to be inside a place is to belong to it and to identify with it (1976, p. 49), which can be as much
about the physical environment as the people who inhabit it. Prescriptive theory advocates achieving a sense of
place through carefully designing spaces and buildings and, for example, the retention of landmarks (Duany,
2003). A positive sense of attachment to a place is considered a dimension of social sustainability because it is an
integral component of peoples enjoyment of the neighbourhood in which they live (Nash and Christie, 2003).
While it is acknowledged that residents sense of place attachment relates to the physical environment in which
they live, the socio-spatial interpretation of neighbourhood and community adopted in this research also acknowledges the attachment that residents have to the people living there. This is often described as a sense of community and is related not only to other residents, but to the social order, common norms and, to a lesser extent,
civic culture in a neighbourhood (Kearns and Forrest, 2000). According to Talen (1999), sense of community
can be defined as an amalgam of shared emotional contact through interaction with others, place attachment and
a sense of membership in terms of feelings of having a right to belong (p. 1370). Fukuyama (2000, p. 15) states
that there is a direct and positive relationship between norms and values and the sense of community: the deeper
and more strongly held these common values are, the stronger the sense of community is. Such a sense of community may manifest itself through the built environment, for example through common norms and codes of
behaviour (Kearns and Forrest, 2000) such as an unwritten rule about keeping gardens tidy and lawns mown.
Pride/sense of place is closely related to the built environment, since it is claimed that such feelings can be
affected by the perceived quality of a place (Talen, 1999). For example, if a place has high levels of litter and
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vandalism, this is likely to affect peoples sense of attachment to somewhere that does not feel looked after (Nash
and Christie, 2003). This could then have negative effects on feelings of safety, which might in turn reduce levels
of social interaction and community participation. Sense of attachment to a place is also inextricably bound up
with the concepts of belonging and territoriality; Forrest and Kearns (2001) argue that the importance of the urban
form should not be underestimated in relation to ones sense of identity and belonging. The built environment
and the sense of attachment to a place that people have of that built environment are shared by residents of a
particular neighbourhood, and together create its own order, its special ensemble, which distinguishes it from the
next place (Relph, 1976, p. 2).

Safety and Security


The perceived safety of a neighbourhood is said to be a fundamental part of social sustainability (Barton, 2000a).
In its definition of social cohesion, the UK House of Commons Committee positioned perceived safety within
Maslows hierarchy of needs, with the fulfilment of basic needs required before social cohesion can be achieved
(House of Commons, 2004; Maslow, 1954). In this way, it is an antecedent of any positive social activity taking
place in a neighbourhood (Barton et al., 2003; Shaftoe, 2000). Providing security and, with it, feelings of safety in
a neighbourhood is closely related to the other dimensions of community sustainability. In a neighbourhood free
from crime and disorder, residents can feel secure in their social interactions with other people and participation
in community activities. It is argued that people hate to feel unsafe or to live in an unsafe place and that most
simply want reassurance that they have nothing to fear from their neighbours (Shaftoe, 2000, p. 231). Such feelings of safety arguably enhance trust and reciprocity between residents and contribute to the sense of community
and sense of place in a neighbourhood.
Some of the claimed associations between safety and the built environment include the cited benefits of natural
surveillance, i.e. active frontage such as windows directly overlooking streets, which is said to increase perceived
comfort and safety when people interact with one another. Poor condition and maintenance of the built environment are claimed to have detrimental psychological effects on peoples sense of safety (Worpole, 2003). The idea
of nobody caring is closely linked to the broken window syndrome, where even cosmetic damage can invite more
serious anti-social or even criminal behaviour (Wilson and Kelling, 1982, cited by Nash and Christie, 2003,
p. 47).

Conclusions
It is argued that the sustainability debate has moved on from the ecological and environmental to the social and
economic, such that social sustainability has emerged as a theme in its own right (Turkington and Sangster,
2006, p. 184). This paper contributes to the growing literature on social sustainability by providing a review of the
concept, and associated concepts, at the neighbourhood scale. This has been led by the identification of dimensions
of social sustainability and associated aspects that are claimed to be influenced in some way by the built environment at the neighbourhood scale (Bramley and Power, 2009).
These overarching dimensions at the core of the notion of urban social sustainability are identified as social
equity and the sustainability of community. Whilst social equity issues are powerful political and policy concerns,
and centre upon a distributive notion of social justice (Burton, 2000a), the more collective sustainability of community dimension, although seemingly more nebulous, is also fundamental to the concept. This second dimension is essentially concerned with the continued viability, health and functioning of society itself as a collective
entity, encompassed in the term community. This is not to suggest that these two dimensions are completely
independent of one another, merely that this is a useful conceptual distinction. In exploring social sustainability
at the neighbourhood level both of these dimensions need to be covered.
The CityForm research group defines urban sustainability in relation to social life, economics, ecology,
energy and transport. In such holistic examinations of sustainability, care must be taken to ensure that concepts
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underpinning the definition of social sustainability retain integrity and coherence in relation to the overarching
understanding of urban sustainability. A balance between the different dimensions of sustainability may be required to ensure that social sustainability does not come at the expense of economic or ecological sustainability.

Acknowledgements
This paper forms part of the output from the core research programme of CityForm the Sustainable Urban Form Consortium, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under its Sustainable Urban Environment
(SUE) Programme (grant number GR/520529/01). The authors would like to thank Professor Mike Jenks, Professor Katie
Williams, Professor Elizabeth Burton, Lynne Mitchell and Dr. Carol Dair for their contributions at the initial stage of this
research.

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