|Out in the spring sun: |
Me (approx. age 5) with
life-long friend & neighbour, Dean.
Best Practices in Neighbourhood Design
Over the past years, best practices have begun to surface in relation to neighbourhood design (Example: LEED-ND). In reviewing some of the features of such model neighbourhoods, I find myself reflecting on the major changes that have occurred over time to the community where I was raised:
- Local amenities such as the local playground, basketball court & shade trees were removed.
- The local pharmacy & grocery store were relocated to a large commercial mall several blocks away.
- A highway was constructed behind our property. On ramps/entrances cut our major east/west arterial road into short sections with limited connectivity.
- The nearby open space, farmed and forested areas have been replaced by suburban residential development.
- There are fewer families living in the condominium complex.
My intuition tells me that there is a relationship between these changes and the altered nature of that community. I went looking for some research to substantiate this intuitive knowledge and found a nifty little research paper called ‘Social Capital and the Built Environment: The Importance of Walkable Neighbourhoods’. In this study, Dr. Kevin Leyden carried out research to examine whether the built environment (i.e., the way we design and build our communities and neighborhoods) affects the degree to which people are involved in their communities and with each other.
The researcher’s premise was that some neighborhood designs enable or encourage social ties or community connections, whereas others do not.
Through his research, Dr. Leyden found that:
Dr. Leyden noted that :‘Spontaneous “bumping into” neighbors, brief (seemingly trivial) conversations, or just waving hello can help to encourage a sense of trust and a sense of connection between people and the places they live. These casual contacts can occur at neighborhood corner shops, at local parks, or on the sidewalk. To many residents, such contacts breed a sense of familiarity and predictability that most people find comforting.’
Change the Environment: Change the Community
In light of Dr. Leyden’s findings, it is reasonable to assume that the changes my neighbourhood underwent have had an impact on the nature of the community. We removed the on-site recreational amenities and nearby service uses such as the pharmacy & grocery store meaning that not only do residents have fewer opportunities for casual contact and chance interactions but now they must get into their vehicles and drive several city blocks in order to meet basic household needs.
Coming Soon: ‘Fostering Community. Part 2 – Official Plans & Community’
Leyden, Kevin M. Social Capital and the Built Environment: The Importance of Walkable Neighborhoods . Journal of Public Health. 2003 September; 93(9): 1546–1551. Available online: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448008/ [Last accessed June 1st, 2012)
Putnam (2000) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 2000.