Investigating the physical determinants of social capital and their implications for sustainable urban development

Cletus Moobela, Andrew D. F. Price, Vivek N. Mathur, Primali Paranagamage

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The concept of social capital is gaining increasing recognition as a concomitant for social and economic development. Robert Putnam’s (2000) exposition of the crucial correspondence between the decline of social capital on one hand and the economic lives of American people on the other received wide acclaim at home and abroad. Contemporary literature on development studies is equally replete with references to the World Bank’s subscription to the value of social capital as an important factor in fostering sustainable development. The relationship between social capital and environmental action has equally been acknowledged. There is also an increasing realisation that the design and form of cities, neighbourhoods and individual buildings have significant implications on social capital as they can affect the way people interact and bond with each other and the sense of community among individuals (Dannenberg et al, 2003; Lindström et al, 2003). The fundamental premise is that some urban designs encourage social ties and informal contact among residents while others violate the evolutionary pattern of civicness within the urban setting. With all these acclaimed contributions of the design of the urban environment, it is imperative that its role in encouraging social and fostering sustainable development is given greater articulation and understanding. Currently, much of the work focuses on what individuals and groups can do, rather than what the physical environment should be, in order to encourage social ties and civicness. Thus, the aim of this paper is to identify and examine the key physical determinants of social capital within an urban development context. The methods used include critical analysis of scholarly work supplemented by results of a survey carried out by the authors in the United Kingdom. The paper argues that social capital is a subject of self-organisation, whose evolution to higher levels can be catalysed by the prevalence of a critical balance in the design of the physical urban environment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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