Incorporating social thinking into urban design and follow up studies of its impacts on behaviour change?


Hello there,

I wondered if anyone been involved in city planning, urban design or renewal projects advising the planners, designers, local government, or corporate sector on incorporating social thinking into the design process so that city infrastructure is created with the needs of people in mind.More importantly, has anyone been involved in a follow-up study to see if designs had the desired social impact intended at the level of behaviour change?

I'm looking for examples of this and would love to hear from anyone who has or has written about these issues. It's for a working paper I'm working on at World Resources Institute, an American environmental think tank.

Thanks a lot.
Best wishes,

Dr Cathy Baldwin
Research Fellow, Social Factors and Urban Design
World Resources Institute, 10 G Street, NE, Suite 800, Washington, DC 20002, USA |
Blog: | Twitter: @EMBARQNetwork |
EMBARQ helps cities make sustainable transport a reality.

Feb 3, 14 4:26 pm

You mean design by committee taken to its ultimate conclusion?

Feb 3, 14 4:43 pm

HI there,

I mean planning and design projects where sociological thinking or social aims have been incorporated into designs through participatory community involvement or consulting with professional social scientists, so that design features support positive social goals, e.g. the visibility of women on the streets, creating strong relationships and neighbourly relations in a housing development, giving people a place-based identity that they believe in etc. Also where there has been some kind of research or evaluation has taken place to see if the intended architectural or planning goals have had a positive and proven social impact on the intended beneficiaries/users/community members?

Thanks v much.


Feb 3, 14 4:58 pm

How grand of examples are you looking for?

There are a lot of old main street downtown revitalization programs out there that were quite successful across the US.  The successful ones usually draw upon a whole range of things from traffic studies, to historic, to creation of 'events'.  All of them are about creating 'space' that attracts rather than someplace you want to leave. 

I know that when I was on the local Historic Board, we had several various studies that we used to educate the public about the financial gains of these downtown historic districts.  You could start there and find those studies...

Feb 3, 14 5:35 pm

The follow-up studies are generally historical analysis. Buffalo Waterfront for one.

There are plenty of others: Bradley Plaza in Brooklyn, Pruitt–Igoe, Detroit's Black Bottom and more recent Renaissance Center, etc., etc.

Feb 3, 14 5:57 pm

I remember reading an example (I think it was an article given to the competitors for Europan in Vienna) how the urban planners in Vienna incorporated what would make a city a safer place for women. They did this by surveying women of Vienna what they think would make Vienna a safer place for them. In the end it meant more street lighting at night, more small parks in close proximity to housing so that the children can be watched and more bike lanes and pedestrian paths. Apparently Vienna is one of the safest cities in the world according to the UN after they implemented the changes. I am sure if you search for this info you can find it.

Feb 3, 14 6:12 pm

Most anything by Jan Gehl would fit into your description, or is that too slick?

There is a ton of publications on the topic lately . Two books recently came across my desk are "Testify! The consequences of Architecture", by Lukas Feiress, and "Going Public - Public Architecture Urbanism and Interventions", by same person. Lots of case studies in those books that you can use I am sure.

In case these are too design-oriented I would absolutely recommend something like "The New Suburban History" by Sugrue and Kruse, and work from there.  They talk about the social side of urban form in exactly the opposite way from William Whyte, and give a context to how social form and urban form interact that you may surprise. You may not like it if you are looking for a particular answer regarding the importance of form and process though. They show there is a lot more to the story than the black and white narrative most people have come to expect when it comes to urbanism and what is the Right way to do things.

For more bureaucratic perspective, also recommend looking into the recent planning efforts of New York City, including the transformation of Times Square. That particular project was one of a great many all over the city. Quite top down though, and I suppose it is based on the idea of giving people what they want before they know it, which is also opposite to what you are looking for perhaps. For myself I would say all three of the above approaches are necessary to tell a real story about community and design.

If interested in the practitioners rather than the work you might try contacting someone like Hiroko Kikuchi of Creative Ecology, who is working very much on community based projects in USA and more recently in Japan. If you like, shoot me an email and I am happy to make an introduction...

Feb 3, 14 9:26 pm

Thanks very much to everyone for these extremely helpful remarks. Vienna sounds like an interesting example and interesting to know that US projects are historically evaluated. My company is working with Gehl so I am across them, and many thanks for the other examples. Will have a think about practitioners as the actual design steps taken are more of interest....

Feb 4, 14 2:48 pm

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