Date of Award

6-2010

Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning

Department

City and Regional Planning

Advisor

Umut Toker

Abstract

The relationship between the built environment and human behavior has been a topic of debate for decades, increasing significantly since the time of the industrial revolution. The latest arguments in this debate are the claims made by New Urbanists. New Urbanists claim to foster greater sense of community through the use of design. The goal of this study is to explore the relationship between the built environment and sense of community in order to identify which physical properties positively affect sense of community. This thesis not only examines the physical properties claimed to foster sense of community but the social variables that literature has found to also affect sense of community among residents.

Built upon the earlier findings of Glynn (1981), McMillan and Chavis (1986), Nasar and Julian (1995), Talen (1999) and Lund (2002), this study examined residents of four residential developments in the City of Arroyo Grande who were surveyed on their perceived sense of community. The residential developments The Village and Berry Gardens were selected as developments containing New Urbanist design elements. Rancho Grande and Oak Park Leisure Gardens were selected as traditional suburban developments.

The results of this study found two key findings. The Village and Berry Gardens, while containing similar spatial variables, found a noticeable difference in sense of community scores. Residents of The Village felt that their needs and wants were met, that they were active, satisfied members of their neighborhood, and shared an emotional connection with their fellow neighbors. Residents of Berry Gardens were overall less satisfied, less fulfilled, less active and shared less of an emotional connection with their fellow neighbors than all other developments. And while Rancho Grande and Oak Park Leisure Gardens contained noticeably distinct spatial variables, strikingly similar sense of community scores were found. Although Rancho Grande had a density of 2.5 dwelling units per acre and large setbacks its residents felt they could influence one another and belonged in the neighborhood to the same degree as residents of Oak Park Leisure Gardens with 9 dwelling units an acre and shallow setbacks.

Based on the four sense of community indicators used (membership, integration and fulfillment of needs, influence, and shared emotional connection) the results show a lack of relationship between the spatial variables found in each residential development and the sense of community its residents have. The social variables, education, gender, age, and homogeneity, can account for the range of sense of community scores among physically similar developments as well as physically different. This implies that the built environment plays the role of a medium in which all factors influencing sense of community are stimulated rather than determining sense of community.

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