When we introduced the topic of social sustainability for our recent #CityTalk with the Berkeley Group and Social Life , we knew that we had a challenge on our hands trying to define that which “many a thesis has tried and failed to define”. It was clear that we needed to put many more brains together to begin to wrap our minds around ways to build and design socially sustainable communities.
Reaching over 210,000 followers, our #CityTalk on socially sustainable communities drew over 100 participants from across the world. The timing could not have been more perfect, on the eve of the launch of the report by the Berkeley Group and Social Life entitled “Creating Strong Communities: how to measure social sustainability”. The report describes the development of a framework to measure the social sustainability of new housing and mixed-use developments, from the perspective of the housing industry.
The incredible feedback and ideas during the #CityTalk tweetchat certainly helped question and develop our understanding of social sustainability, and so we have compiled some our favourite ideas:
1. The look and feel of a socially sustainable community
Based on the responses received, it became clear that the concept and conflict of safety and openness would be essential, and that while a sense of community spirit and identity was necessary, a community should ensure that it remains open to diversity and residents from across the city.
A1 – Safe and free at the same time – this might be also the biggest challenge. #CityTalk— ConnectedConstr (@ConnectedConstr) September 27, 2012
#citytalk A1 socially sustainable communities have what Jane Jacobs called “public characters.”— Justin Cranshaw (@CompUrbanist) September 27, 2012
A1: friendly community, easy access, know your neighbour and people say hi to each other. #citytalk— Volume Factory (@VolumeFactory) September 27, 2012
A1) A socially sustainable community is open yet safe, and home to people of different backgrounds and abilities.. #citytalk— Joe Peach (@thisbigcity) September 27, 2012
A1 participation in government should be free and easy to anyone #citytalk— Mitchel Loring (@MLLoring) September 27, 2012
#citytalk A1 people who get on, stuff for everyone however vulnerable, buzz in the air, everyone feels they belong and get what they need— Social Life (@SL_Cities) September 27, 2012
2. Design housing so that neighbours interact Beyond the need to provide spaces and places for people to interact across new and existing housing developments, some participants took things one step further questioning the walls between neighbours, and the roles communities should play in designing new housing. We may need to look back into the way we lived in the past, to design the way we want to live in the future,
A2) Encourage individuals to be builders of their own houses and communities, creating a shared environment #citytalk @thisbigcity — Mackenzie Keast (@mackenziekeast) September 27, 2012
A2) We need to rethink walls as porous spaces vs barriers. Kraals were the original cluster-complexes in SA. Security + Community. #citytalk — TEDxUCT (@TEDxUCT) September 27, 2012
Q2. More neighbour interaction with car parking in back lanes, no driveways, incorporate front porches #citytalk — courtney claessens (@sidewalkballet) September 27, 2012
3. Can urban design lead to happiness? It may be difficult to define what exactly entails citizen happiness in the public realm, but lighting, trees, access to amenities and beautiful spaces were popular. However, a good point raised was that the definition of happiness could vary vastly between communities across the world. For some, quality of life and well being were better measures, while in less developed communities, just having basic needs met through basic services could constitute happiness.
@thisbigcity q3 #citytalk What are those elements? Trees trees trees studies show. Also spaces to meander and make discoveries. — Guy Horton (@GuyHorton) September 27, 2012
A3) Natural light can’t be forgotten when considering designing the built environment for human happiness #citytalk — Joe Peach (@thisbigcity) September 27, 2012
#citytalk A3 bad urban design doesn’t make people happy. Places that help people to talk to their neighbours are good for wellbeing. — Social Life (@SL_Cities) September 27, 2012
#CityTalk A3: for most people in cities globally, happiness is a factor of basic needs being met – health, education, food, public amenity. — richard palmer (@richpalmeris) September 27, 2012
4. Transport infrastructure as a tool for more sustainable communities? While transport infrastructure is clearly important, a focus on a variety of modes rather a single mode would serve residents better. Transport routes and links should also do more than connect people to the urban centre, but consider the networks that exist within communities, and help link people to destinations like libraries, museums, schools and other places of interest. Promoting high densities of housing along transport corridors is not just smart, but encourages designers of transport infrastructure to consider the social elements of mobility which can become embedded within communities.
4) Transport should connect people to key community gathering places – universities, libraries, shopping, museums, nightlife, etc. #CityTalk — Kali Taylor (@kali_d_taylor) September 27, 2012
A4: Transit needs to be more convenient than taking your car, stops should be close, and should run frequently.#Citytalk — Kayla Jonas Galvin (@jonaskayla) September 27, 2012
A4: variety and minimise commute is the answer. people should travel less than 40min to improve their happyness #citytalk — Manuel Portela (@manuchis) September 27, 2012
A4. need to create appropriate streetscape network around it and allow for higher densities along major corridors @futurecapetown #citytalk — Mackenzie Keast (@mackenziekeast) September 27, 2012
5. Giving residents a voice and a stake While advances in technology and social media are major drivers for change, it is there combination with more traditional campaigns like stickers, town hall meetings and genuine engagement that really given residents a sense of a voice, and a stake in their communities. Here are some of the many many ideas which were shared.
A5 – Crowdfunding spaces! With that approach citizens can be stakeholders instead of big companies. #CityTalk — ConnectedConstr (@ConnectedConstr) September 27, 2012
A5: JapanTown in SanFrancisco had a great “pin your ideas” map – ppl pinned the good, the bad, and their ideas for improvement #citytalk — Maianne Preble (@t4yt4m) September 27, 2012
@urbanmoxiestl Mind Mixer came to mind for me as well. We wrote about it last year thisbigcity.net/online-communi… #citytalk — Joe Peach (@thisbigcity) September 27, 2012
A5. Pop-up DIY urbanism– the “I wish this was _______” stickers, etc. Decision-making doesn’t need to be political #citytalk — courtney claessens (@sidewalkballet) September 27, 2012
A5: Can’t remember name, but community organizer in New Orleans post-Katrina… used giant sticky notes to let residents be heard #citytalk — Mitchel Loring (@MLLoring) September 27, 2012
A5. The best way is for authorities to treat future users as clients and not assume they have the answer from the start #citytalk — Robert Bowen (@ArchiRube) September 27, 2012
6. Examples of socially sustainable communities?
Are there any examples around the world, which give us good case studies for further investigation of the successes of socially sustainable communities? The participants seemed hesitant to respond but IKEA, Toronto and Copenhagen made the cut, with the support of entrepreneurship being singled out as one of the defining factors which make these communities a success.
A6: Jægersborggade in Copenhagen; a single street that is both a tight knit community and an entrepreneurial hub. #citytalk
— Kasey Klimes (@KaseyKlimes) September 27, 2012
A6) It doesn’t exist yet, but ‘IKEA’ is working on its vision for a sustainable community in London #citytalk gizmag.com/ikea–breaks-g…
— Joe Peach (@thisbigcity) September 27, 2012
A6. Kensington Market in Toronto. Local entrepreneurs are supported and thrive in a walkable ‘hood @kensingtonbia @futurecapetown #citytalk
— Mackenzie Keast (@mackenziekeast) September 27, 2012
7. Building new housing that makes everybody feel safer As important as the aesthetics of new housing to give pride to residents, is the design of that housing such that the community become roleplayers in overseeing spaces and instilling a sense of safety. But innovations in technology should not be ignored either, and as one #CityTalk’er mentioned, robots may soon have a role to play too!
@thisbigcity <A7> A dense neighborhood with mixed uses that keeps people on streets. Less dead space, more eyes on street = safer. #citytalk — Erika Kubsch (@UrbanMoxieSTL) September 27, 2012
A7 @thisbigcity Housing arranged to create safe courtyards where strangers are easily observed#citytalk — Robert Bowen (@ArchiRube) September 27, 2012
@thisbigcity A7 Design places so people inhabitat them and you will have a community of eyes-there’s your safety More people=safer #citytalk — Jen Black (@DeeprootsNEK) September 27, 2012
A7) Tech innovations have the potential to engineer safety. Wont be long before nanobots detect residents’ unique pheromones. #CityTalk — Dinika Govender (@DrivingMissD) September 27, 2012
8. The negative impacts of community building needs a new value system
The complex topics of displacement, gentrification and renewal, which often results in communities experiencing change can be a sensitive issue to discuss. What is needed is perhaps a new set of values which prioritizes people and their livelihoods over economic gain for public bodies and other institutions. This may be seen through innovative financial support schemes, performance led zoning and community involvement in place-making.
A8)Strict zoning promoting mixed-use diversity. Like PowerConst. project in CT’s S.Metro. Promote variety of income-group housing #citytalk
— Andres de Wet (@AndresdeWet) September 27, 2012
A8. “Gentrification with justice”– involving the communities that are being redeveloped; have place-making initiatives #citytalk
— courtney claessens (@sidewalkballet) September 27, 2012
A8)However, gentrification is a market-related trend. Unless a community works together, could be powerless to stop it. #citytalk
— Andres de Wet (@AndresdeWet) September 27, 2012
A8 – By a great urban planning concept that prioritizes diversity over economical benefits looking for the long-term value. #CityTalk
— ConnectedConstr (@ConnectedConstr) September 27, 2012
Image courtesy of Daveybot at flickr.com