New paper on walkability in cities

Crosswalk sign

Crosswalk sign

Our new paper, "Rethinking walkability: Exploring the relationship between urban form and neighborhood social cohesion," published in Sustainable Cities and Society, sheds light on the link between the form of the city and our social experiences.

How does urban form affect social experiences like cohesion? In our new paper, we used open data to explore these links statistically. The short answer: walkable urban form is best analyzed through its constituent properties when looking into social impacts. Land-use diversity seems to be a particularly important lever for making communities more socially cohesive.

Methodology overview © 2023 Andrew Sonta

This work leveraged computational tools to dive into the obvious but uncharacterized link between urban form and the human experience. It used a US-wide open urban form dataset to characterize walkable urban design, in addition to an open survey dataset that measured cohesion and demographics with a total sample size of 9670 in six US cities. We found, controlling for demographics, that land use diversity had a significant positive impact on social cohesion. We also found that physical density, social density, and transit connectedness had significant negative impacts on cohesion, though this association is largely driven by the very dense neighborhoods in cities. These findings shed light on different theories of the built environment, offering insights for designers, engineers, and policymakers interested in the social effects of the built environment.


Columbia University Data Science Institute

US National Science Foundation