Panel Paper: Physical Environment and Community Social Capital

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 10:25 AM
Lincoln (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yunwoo Nam, University of Nebraska
It is not uncommon for local governments and citizens to assemble together to try to make their community a better place to live. The urban walkability has gained increasing attention from local governments in policy-making and design for livable and sustainable communities.

Following the popularity of the walkable community subject, a considerable amount of studies have been devoted to examine the built environment and walking/biking mainly by the interest in the relationship between physical conditions and health outcomes. However, relatively less attention was given to the connection between walkability and a neighborhood’s social environment such as social capital, civic engagement, and safety (crime). This paper attempts to connect the elements of walkable environment with the nature of social capital and civic engagement. Social capital has been an important topic in both the theoretical and applied researches of public policy literatures. It has been applied in a variety of contexts to explain the ability of a community to solve the community concerns.

Theoretically active and walkable community is expected to increase the chance of social interactions and to enhance the sense of community, which leads to the activation of social capital, informal social control and civic engagement. Social capital mobilizes social resources that have the potential to facilitate modes of collective action which can be translated into the willingness to intervene for the common good. It develops as a form of informal social organization that helps neighborhoods to achieve shared expectations and collective actions such as lowering crime rates and facilitating civic engagement, which are important for the community’s well-being and quality of life.

The main objective of this research is to examine the relationship among elements of walkable community and social capital related neighbourhood outcomes. Specifically this paper empirically examines whether more walkable environment is associated with the higher level of social capital, civic engagement, and safety.

The research method used here is a combination of analytical reasoning based on theories and empirical tests. This work includes a wide array of objective measures available for city-wide analysis as well as field observation methods for the street level analysis. Geographic Information System (GIS) provides a useful tool to evaluate the quality of built environment for walking, visually as well as quantitatively. This paper also develops and uses walkability audit tools to measure the physical environment features that are related to neighborhood walkability. The field observation method provides detailed measures of both physical conditions and social behaviors along street segments. The study area is the city of Lincoln, Nebraska. Six neighborhoods are selected by the urban design types, walkability, and neighborhood characteristics. Resident survey is conducted to measure physical activity, social capital and civic engagement.

Data are collected from various sources such as census, business patterns, and city government. Variables of social capital and civic engagement are collected through interviews and surveys.