Walkable communities richer in social capital

Flickr photo by dePrefundis

A UNH study, utilizing the short-form Saguaro Social Capital Benchmark Survey, found that more walkable neighborhoods had higher levels of social capital in measures like trust of neighbors and participation in community events, such as entertaining friends in one’s house, working on a community project, volunteering or attending a club meeting.

Shannon Rogers, lead Principal Investigator for the study with UNH’s Natural Resources and Earth System Science (NRESS) program, based the results on surveys of  10 neighborhoods in Portsmouth, NH and 10 in Manchester, NH.

Rogers notes that other studies find that residents more social capital, have better health, higher levels of happiness and greater  economic success.

The study obviously can’t rule out reverse causality.  It’s quite possible that the people who choose to live in more walkable communities do so because they value greater levels of interaction and engagement and it is this predisposition rather than the layout of the city that drives levels of civic engagement.

The article, “Examining Walkability and Social Capital as Indicators of Quality of Life at the Municipal and Neighborhood Scales,” appears in the recent issue of Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Abstract: Walkability has been linked to quality of life in many ways. Health related benefits of physical exercise, the accessibility and access benefits of being able to walk to obtain some of your daily needs, or the mental health and social benefits of reduced isolation are a few of the many positive impacts on quality of life that can result from a walkable neighborhood. In the age of increasing energy costs and climate considerations, the ability to walk to important locations is a key component of sustainable communities. While the health and environmental implications of walkable communities are being intensively studied, the social benefits have not been investigated as broadly. Social capital is a measure of an individual’s or group’s networks, personal connections, and involvement. Like economic and human capital, social capital is considered to have important values to both individuals and communities. Through a case study approach this article argues that the generation and maintenance of social capital is another important component of quality of life that may be facilitated by living in a walkable community. Residents living in neighborhoods of varying built form and thus varying levels of walkability in three communities in New Hampshire were surveyed about their levels of social capital and travel behaviors. Comparisons between the more walkable and less walkable neighborhoods show that levels of social capital are higher in more walkable neighborhoods.

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