CORDIS - EU research results

Contribution of Compact Neighbourhoods to Social Sustainability

Final Report Summary - COMPACTABILITY (Contribution of Compact Neighbourhoods to Social Sustainability)


Oxford Brookes University, School of the Built Environment, investigated social sustainability of compact neighbourhoods in two cities of London and Berlin. The main questions to be answered included: key qualities of the ‘compact neighbourhood’ and ‘social sustainability’, measurement of the indicators, and their interconnectivity. The research team included Dr. Shirazi (principal investigator), Prof. Keivani, Prof. Butina Watson, and Dr. Brownill. This report briefly presents key findings of the research.

The research consisted of 4 interconnected stages: data collection, data processing, interactive analysis, and recommendations. Data collection took place in four case study neighbourhoods in London and Berlin. Selection of case study neighbourhoods was based on a 2-stage process: selecting a number of potential cases (15 in London, 7 in Berlin), and finalising the list after site-observation and in-depth investigation. The selected neighbourhood were Kilburn [KN] and Bethnal Green [BG] in London, and Klausenerplatz [KP] and Samariterkiez [SK] in Berlin.
Data collection and data processing in four neighbourhoods comprised three topics: urban form, social activity mapping, and social sustainability. To measure urban form, the research investigated four indicators of density, mixed land use, urban pattern and street network, and building typology. Data collected from the site observation were added to the existing ArcGIS maps. For mapping people’s activities in public neighbourhood spaces, different types of people’s activities (including moving, sitting, standing, conversation, cycling, running, playing and gardening), taking into account the age and gender, were recorded in different time-slots (two-hour intervals from 8am to 6pm) in a weekday and Saturday. Collected data were processed using ArcMap software. For measuring social sustainability seven indicators were identified: access to facilities, social interaction, safety and security, sense of attachment, participation, quality of neighbourhood, and quality of home. Each indicator included a number of measures which were formulated as different questions in the form of a household survey questionnaire. In total 1304 questionnaires were distributed, 488 returned. Collected data were processed using SPSS software.
Urban form analysis provided an in-depth knowledge about the basic qualities of neighbourhood space. The results of social activity mapping demonstrated spatial, gender, and age pattern of social activities within the neighbourhood public space. Regarding social sustainability dimension, descriptive, crosstabular, correlation, and regression analyses showed how different qualities of social sustainability have been perceived and rated by the inhabitants. At the end, indicators and related measured were scored between 0-200, resulting in a ‘social sustainability value’ for each neighbourhood. Finally, combining outcomes of three research inquiries identified areas of strength and weakness at the neighbourhood scale that formed policy and design recommendations in order to enhance social sustainability qualities.


Although all four cases are considered as compact neighbourhoods in their particular urban settings, there are considerable differences in terms of urban form. Overall, German cases have higher population densities (200.6 pph [KN],190.8 pph [BG], 247.6 pph [KP], and 279.8 pph [SK]). Land use maps show that German cases are more mixed use than British cases (percentage of mixed use plots: 21 per cent [KN], 17 per cent [BG], 60 per cent [KP], and 73 per cent [SK]). While in London mixed land use is highly concentrated along the high streets, in Berlin mixed use plots are scattered over the inner neighbourhood areas.
In terms of urban layout, German neighbourhoods are mainly based on a gridiron-like urban blocks, while British neighbourhoods are laid over a more free and organic urban pattern. Dominant building height in German neighbourhoods is 5-6 storey, British cases are more diverse mainly ranging from 2 to 4 storey. Building typology is more diverse in British cases; while all the buildings in German neighbourhoods are flats, one can find different building types of semi-detached, terraces, and apartments in British cases (percentage of flats: 83 [KN], 88 [BG]). All the neighbourhoods are well connected to the city through integrated street networks and public transportation. Space syntax analysis shows that both global and local integration values are high, though at the local scale inner streets in British cases which provide access to private estates are the least integrated streets.

In all the cases, Moving is by far the dominant activity within the neighbourhood space (percentage of Moving activities to all activities: 73 [KN], 66 [BG], 53 [KP], 59 [SK]). Study shows that difference in the number of activities is directly related to the urban layout and urban facilities: Sitting and Cycling is more observable in Berlin neighbourhoods than British ones. While Sitting activity rate is only 2.2 per cent and 4.7 per cent in Kilburn and Bethnal Green respectively, it is 15.9 and 12 per cent in Klausenerplatz and Samariterkiez. This is due to the high mixed land use and wide pedestrian space which provides room for restaurants and cafes to serve people outdoor. Another significant difference is Cycling: while in Kilburn and Bethnal Green, Cycling has a low intensity (2.98 and 6.89 per cent of all activities), in Klausenerplatz and Samariterkiez this figure is 14.7 and 13.68. It can be said that implementing traffic calming measures, and cycling paths across the neighbourhood makes it safe for cycling.
Overall, there is no significant gender difference in terms of total number of activities at the neighbourhood space, but age difference is remarkable: while adults are the main users of neighbourhood space, elderly people and teenagers are the least users. Spatially, intensity of outdoor social activities is positively correlated with land use and accessibility. Neighbourhoods adjacent to high streets with busy commercial and service activities are less likely to have liveable inner areas, as most of the outdoor activities take place unevenly alongside these commercial hubs.

Table 1 (attached) presents the value of social sustainability indicators in each neighbourhood, scored between 0-200. As this table suggests, in all the case study neighbourhoods, basic urban facilities are very accessible. Walking and cycling is by far the most frequently used mean for the daily shopping. Safety and security, and quality of home, are in the second and third place. This means that case study neighbourhoods are benefitting from a satisfactory level of safety and security, and overall quality of home meets the expectations. Closer look at the collected data shows that sense of safety reduces considerably during the night time, and children safety on the streets is a main concern for families. Interestingly participants show high level of satisfaction with the feeling of privacy, noise, and size and number of rooms. This challenges claims from literature that suggest there are high levels of dissatisfaction in compact, high-density areas.
Sense of attachment and quality of neighbourhood have a medium value. The percentage of participants who have no plan to move out of the neighbourhood is relatively high (percentage: 63.3 [KN], 69.8 [BG], 88.8 [KP], and 70.3 [SK]) which reflects acceptable feeling of neighbourhood attachment. A moderate satisfaction with different aspects of neighbourhood such as neighbours, lightening, and maintenance is expressed by the inhabitants, though they have concerns about the cleanliness and traffic congestion.
As the table shows, the weakest aspect of the social sustainability is interaction and networking, and neighbourhood participation. In fact, weak level of interaction and networking challenges the dominant argument in the literature that higher densities encourage higher social exchange. Collected data show that the mean number of neighbours at the neighbourhood known by name is 3.11 [KN], 5.29 [BG], 11.61 [KP], and 7.68 [SK], the mean number of friends is 4.42 [KN], 7.34 [BG], 4.31 [KP], and 4.24 [SK]. Regarding neighbourhood participation, data shows that inhabitants are not aware enough about the community-based organisations, are reluctant to get involved in neighbour-related activities, and feel that they are not approached by local authorities to consultation.
Comparing the four neighbourhoods, Klausenerplatz with a social sustainability value of 128.40 is the most socially sustainable neighbourhood. The rating for the other neighbourhoods are Kilburn [122.02] Samariterkiez [121.53] and Bethnal Green [119.84].