Neighbors by Design: Determinants and Effects of Residential Social Cohesion

Date of Completion

January 2011


Sociology, Theory and Methods|Psychology, Social




Sociologists have long been concerned with the significance of the local community in modernity. According to many of these scholars, the close-knit communal bonds that once characterized villages and small towns have been lost. Increased population, anonymity, ease of mobility, dual-earner households, technology, and media scares have all been cited as reasons for the disintegration of local community ties. Other scholars counter that homogeneous rural and suburban contexts, and heterogeneous urban contexts, provide ample opportunity for the cultivation of local community bonds. While scholars have focused their attention on social relationships in macro-level geographical regions, they often fail to appreciate the micro-level factors and contexts that are essential components of the local community. For this dissertation, I examine demographic, physio-spatial, and interactional factors associated with residential social cohesion—the primary building block of the local community. I utilize close-ended surveys, open-ended interview questions, and ethnography to address three primary substantive issues. First, I develop scales to measure residential social cohesion as an aggregate phenomenon among neighbors. Second, I analyze the relationship between particular sections of streets, or "niches," and residential social cohesion. I examine three types of niches, those on linear through streets, dead-end cul-de-sacs, and bulb cul-de-sacs, and find that bulb residents experience the highest levels of social cohesion, followed by dead-end residents, then through street residents. The third substantive issue I address pertains to the relationship between micro-level social cohesion and macro-level social integration. My analysis reveals that residents who experience higher levels of social cohesion with their immediate neighbors also experience greater degrees of community social integration, as expressed by higher levels of community attitudinal cohesion, community behavioral cohesion, local trust, distant trust, institutional confidence, and a greater propensity to join organizations. Collectively, this research sheds light on the impact of the built environment on micro and macro social relationships, and underscores the significance of micro-level social cohesion for vibrant local communities. ^