Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Social Sustainability, Residential Design and Demographic Balance: Neighbourhood Planning Strategies in Freiburg, Germany

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Social Sustainability, Residential Design and Demographic Balance: Neighbourhood Planning Strategies in Freiburg, Germany

Article excerpt

Introduction

Although sustainability discourses continue to dominate governance and planning policy agenda across Europe (Rydin, 2010), the social dimension often remains eclipsed by environmental and economic concerns. If, as a number of authors propose, these three elements together form a sustainability 'triple-bottom-line' (Davidson, 2010, 872) or even a 'three legged stool' (Evans et al., 2009, 686), then, for many, disjointed and uneven work remains. Reasons for this continuing anomaly are varied. Vallance et al. (2011, 343) note that the term social sustainability has become intimately associated with a 'brown-agenda' concerned with social development in less developed and developing countries, with only limited relevance to the higher-order needs of concern to policymakers in more developed societies. Another reason is simply that the 'conceptual chaos' undermining the utility of the term (Vallance et ab, 2011, 342) means that, in the absence of an agreed definition, common principles or goal, this element of sustainability may best be put aside until greater conceptual clarity prevails.

Ultimately, therefore, social sustainability remains widely viewed as a work in progress. Recently, however, the two concepts of 'sustainability of community' and 'social equity' (Dempsey et ab, 2012; Bramley et ab, 2006) have begun to anchor the term more securely, and have emerged to tether a range of supporting factors, including social inclusion, social capital, safety and residential stability (Dempsey et al., 2011, 291). In this way, the emergence of the two concepts as a structuring framework for a range of related and interdependent concepts has reinforced social sustainability's relevance for all societies, and has begun to draw on deeper, historic interests about residential social mix (Sarkissian, 1976) and 'social balance' (Mann, 1958) across urbanised societies.

Directly recalling these older ideas of social mix and neighbourhood balance, sustainability of community has been defined as the 'ability of society itself, or its manifestation as local community, to sustain and reproduce itself at an acceptable level of functioning' (Dempsey et ah, 2012, 94), while social equity is rooted in ideas of social justice, distributive justice and equality (Dempsey et ah, 2011, 292). The scope and complexity of the ideas that the two concepts draw upon mean that unresolved tensions can surface, for example, between the cohesive and exclusionary forces of social capital (Putnam, 2000) in community planning, the contested notions and evaluation of 'community' itself (e.g. Harvey, 2000) and in the details of community-strengthening factors, including the stability of a residential population (Sarkissian, 1976, 233) against the long-term regenerative force of residential turnover. Putting these detailed arguments to one side, a significant, if basic and long-running conceptual difficulty arises over the question of spatial scale, and the physical units of planning to which the principles of social sustainability should apply. As Sarkissian (1976, 243) notes: 'throughout decades of discussion on social mix, remarkably little attention has been paid to the vital question of scale. What is the unit which the mixers propose to mix?' The author notes how the scale of mix has shrunk 'more by accident than by design', through Edward Gibbon Wakefield's mixed colony in New Zealand, through the scales of garden city and suburb by Ebenezer Howard and finally through the finer detail of Clarence Perry's concept of the Neighbourhood Unit (Sarkissian, 1976, 243). The question of physical scale and the extent to which local communities should relate to and reflect society appears unresolved against the scalar gap between 'society' and the non-specific but pervasive level of 'local community'.

On the specific demographic aspect of age structure as a social sustainability concern, the existing literature is relatively quiet. The overall aim of this paper, therefore, is to broaden this particular aspect of the social sustainability agenda by exploring how the age structure of neighbourhoods can be important to its long-term prospects, particularly in relation to attendant factors of spatial extent in creating large scale cohorts and housing delivery and market dynamics in producing the conditions for large-scale ageing in place. …

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