This presentation was given by Saffron Woodcraft, keynote speaker at the Asia/Pacific International Conference on Environment-Behaviour Studies (AicE-Bs).
Is emerging work on social sustainability in “the
grey area between academic, policy and practice
Davoudi et al., 2012. Resilience: A Bridging Concept or a
Dead End? Planning Theory & Practice, 13 (2)
What is social sustainability?
• Social = ‘relating to society or its
• Sustainable = ‘able to maintained at a
certain rate or level’
Source: Oxford Dictionaries, 2012.
Multiple and conflicting
• Equality, democracy and social justice (Sachs 1999; Agyeman
• Underdevelopment, basic needs, stronger environmental
ethics (Vallance et al., 2011)
• Social capital, human capital, wellbeing – relationship to
place & urban development (Colantonio & Dixon 2010;
Dempsey et al., 2011; Weingaertner & Moburg 2011; Murphy
2012; Magee et al., 2012)
• Preservation of social values, cultural traditions and ways of
life (Barbier 1987; Koning 2002; Vallance et al., 2011)
“ … [social sustainability] is a concept in chaos,
and we argue that this severely compromises its
utility and importance.”
Vallance et al., 2011. What is social sustainability? A
clarification of concepts. Geoforum, 42.
Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities The planners triangle
Source: Campbell, The triangle of conflicting goals for planning, and the three associated conflicts.
Figure 1. S., 1996. Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities? Urban Planning and the
Contradictions of Sustainable Development. Journal of the American Planning Association, 62
(3). Planners define themselves, implicitly, by where they stand on the triangle. The elusive ideal
of sustainable development leads one to the center.
Social sustainability as planning
• Planning to support:
– Social capital
– Voice and empowerment
• Must be related to social and spatial
justice in built environment
Debate in planning practice: “… arguably
creates a space for innovation and change
that we have not seen for decades.”
Bertolini et al., 2011. Planning and the Recession.
Planning Theory & Practice, 12 (3)
1. What is the purpose of social sustainability?
2. Who and what is being sustained?
3. Why and at what cost?
4. Is sustainability what is needed?
5. How to translate concepts to practice without
Social sustainability as a
Source: Social Life, Design for Social Sustainability: a practical framework for building communities, 2012.
Table 1: Urban social sustainability: contributory factors, Dempsey et al., 2009.
Source: Dempsey, N. et al., (2011). The social dimension of sustainable development:
Defining urban social sustainability.
Social sustainability indicators
• Three dimensions, 13
underpinned by 45
• Majority of questions
recognised surveys or
• Small number of
scale national datasets that captured key issues within these two dimensions (datasets used were the Understanding Society
Survey, the Taking Part Survey, the Crime Survey for England and Wales, and the Citizenship Survey). A number of questions
were created for the social and cultural life dimension where appropriate questions did not already exist.
TABLE 2: NATIONAL SURVEYS INCLUDED IN THE ANALYSIS Data sources
British Household Panel Survey/Understanding Society (BHPS/US)
• Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), 1996 to present
• 100,000 individuals in 40,000 British households
• Data used from 2008-2009 Innovation Panel Waves 1-2
Taking Part (TP)
• Department of Culture, Media and Sport, 2005 to present
• 14,000 participants
• Data taken from 2010-2011 survey
Crime Survey for England and Wales (formerly British Crime Survey (BCS)
• Home Ofﬁce,1986 to present
• 51,000 participants
• Data taken from 2010-2011 survey
Citizenship Survey (CS)
• Department for Communities and Local Government, 2001 to 2011 (biannual to 2007, annual 2008 to 2011)
• 11,000 participants
• Data taken from 2009-2010 survey
• Data from residents survey Hamptons
benchmarked against national data OAC
& statistically tested categories
• Benchmarked against national
• Only results that had statistical
• Site survey data assessed against
• Created questions assessed
Lessons from the work
• Private vs public sector accountability
• Analysis of underlying factors
• Contextual, qualitative work
• Snapshot vs longitudinal data
• Mixed methods and data sources
Challenges and future work
• Social sustainability is complex and context
• Requires serious consideration of how social
justice & equality translate to the built
• More work is needed to understand what social
sustainability means at neighbourhood level to
ensure the policy agenda doesn’t overtake the