Modelling Urban Social Sustainability
In recent years, sustainable development has increasingly influenced urban policy, housing and planning in cities all over the world. Debates about sustainability no longer consider it solely as an environmental concern, but also incorporate social and economic dimensions. However, while a social dimension of sustainability is extensively accepted, there seems to be no consensus on the perspectives and criteria that should be adopted in defining the concept, making it difficult to achieve a generalised definition. Additionally, one of the main goals of sustainable development has been to search for the most suitable urban forms for human settlements, which not only enables urban environments to function better, but also provides the requirements for achieving long-term sustainability. As stated in the literature, studying social sustainability through the lens of urban form is a topic in need of further empirical exploration and conceptual clarification (e.g. Bramley & Power, 2009; Colantonio & Lane, 2007; Dempsey et al., 2010). Therefore, this study aims to develop a way of defining social sustainability. It does this through developing a multi-dimensional model for measuring social sustainability at the neighbourhood level. This model is then used to investigate the relationship between social sustainability and urban form. This study comprises two main phases of analysis. The first phase of analysis focuses on developing and statistically testing the social sustainability measurement scale. Both exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses are used to identify the underlying dimensions of social sustainability and to test the validity and reliability of the proposed measurement model through 261 household questionnaire surveys in five case study neighbourhoods in Dunedin, New Zealand. The second phase of analysis focuses on examining the impact of people’s perception of urban form on their perceived level of social sustainability using multiple regression analysis. The social sustainability model developed in the first phase of the study is further used to analyse the relationship between selected elements of urban form (i.e., density, quality of urban design, land use mix, and sustainable transport) with the dimensions of social sustainability. The model demonstrates how dimensions of social sustainability may be promoted or weakened by different elements of urban form.This study has two sets of findings. First, this study found that the social sustainability scale incorporated six dimensions: social interaction, neighbourhood satisfaction, social participation, safety and security, social equity, and pride/sense of belonging. Second, it found that there is a strong relationship between selected urban form elements and dimensions of social sustainability in both positive and negative ways. For example, it was evident that in denser areas, people’s access to facilities and services was higher, while their perceived levels of neighbourhood satisfaction and sense of safety were lower. The results of this research indicate that land-use mix and the provision of public spaces are urban form elements that can encourage people to have more social interaction and participation in their neighbourhood and therefore, increase their satisfaction with their neighbourhood as a place to live. This study contributes to knowledge of social sustainability and urban form both theoretically and practically. The main theoretical contribution of this study relates to the inclusion of the dominant dimensions of social sustainability in the literature and integrates them into one model which is then statistically tested. This allows for the presentation of a clearer definition of social sustainability. This identification of the main dimensions of the concept within the urban context provides a basis for future studies. This study contributes to the body of knowledge practically, as it delivers useful information on the urban form elements that enhance the social sustainability of neighbourhoods. Knowledge of these critical elements can assist local government, policy makers, urban planners and designers in understanding the interrelationships between the physical and spatial elements of urban form and the social qualities of an urban area. This understanding can be used to inform the development of more liveable and sustainable environments.
Advisor: Freeman, Claire; Bond, Sophie
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Geography
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: social sustainability; urban form; social interaction; neighbourhood satisfaction; social equity; sense of place; safety and security; social participation; density; quality of design
Research Type: Thesis