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Urban Form and Social Sustainability: The Role of Density and Housing Type

Glen Bramley and Sinéad Power
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Glen Bramley: School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
Sinéad Power: Analytical Services, Scottish Executive, Edinburgh, Scotland

Environment and Planning B, 2009, vol. 36, issue 1, 30-48

Abstract: In the United Kingdom planning favours a more compact, high-density, and mixed-use urban form. Many of the claims made for such compact forms in terms of the sustainability benefits are contested, and few have been rigorously researched. Drawing upon policy and academic literature we identify two key dimensions of social sustainability: social equity and sustainability of community. Using data from the Survey of English Housing this paper analyses the relationship between key aspects of urban form, density, and housing type, and selected social sustainability outcomes. Simpler analyses suggest strong relationships between urban form and a range of outcomes, although in opposite directions for the equity and community dimensions. However, the impact of urban form on these outcomes is substantially modified once we control for exogenous and intervening demographic and socioeconomic factors. In addition, outcome patterns relating to access to services and facilities favour denser urban forms at the same time as outcomes relating to sustainability of community remain adverse in denser areas. This suggests trade-offs within the social dimensions of sustainability, as well as between the social, environmental, and economic dimensions.

Date: 2009
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