Tool: 7/7 SOCIAL COHESION | Measurement Criteria for a Mediterranean Sustainable Urban Model

One of our missions is to spread something that is implicit in the concept of sustainability since it was enunciated, and it is precisely that it cannot be understood without including, for example, social and cultural issues. While we have seen in previous stories how each of the several domains (or thematic areas) impact on the four sustainabilities, and as happened with the urban metabolism and environmental sustainability, the relationship of “social cohesion” with social and cultural sustainability is perhaps the most obvious.

The way we live, how we move, with whom we speak in the street, where we buy bread, where we study and work form a part of small everyday actions that build our social relations. They all occur in one place … on the sidewalk on your street, queuing at the town hall, in the park bench, in the corner where you get on the bus … they do not occur in a vacuum but in the city, the main protagonist of the web and this series of articles. And as you can imagine the kind of town where we live affects how we relate to others.

We have already described various everyday situations that can occur in this neighborhood. Actually few things happen there, few people live and most of them occur in the garden surrounding the house or in other parts of the city. As we said in our previous story on complexity this kind of areas are described as monofunctional, i.e. a place where only one thing happens… that people live there (well actually they only sleep as the rest of their lives take place in other parts of the city). But that is not all. As we saw earlier, monofunctional areas promote relationships between equals.

The house where I live has a tile roof and a round staircase to enter. The foreigner who lives next door has the same house but with a small tower and without staircase. The retirees in front, Ramon and his wife (whose name I do not know) live in a house like ours but they have painted the facade in ocher and have paved the whole plot because grandpa was tired of mowing and pruning trees in winter. Actually all the houses in my street are the same … well those in my street, in the one aside, beyond … and so the whole urbanization.

Generalizations can be odious, but it seems logical to think that people living in the neighborhood has similar social conditions and a similar purchasing power, since all houses are the same. And no one new appears around the neighborhood, well just a clueless car looking for the house of an acquaintance, and which is unable to distinguish it from the rest, or when someone mistakes the neighborhood and gets into ours. Since there is nothing to do here, nobody different appears and nothing new happens. This is not to be classist. So far the description of this neighborhood may wrongly lead to think these problems occur only in the districts of upper middle class. But this is not the case. Actually, monofunctional areas with their associated problems may appear in urban areas of all types and condition. If we think of what could be an opposite case, a slum, this is also monofunctional since no outsider gets in; only those who live there occupy the streets.

The place for coexistence par excellence and that defines the urban condition is the public space, the backdrop for all our actions. One of our heroes is the Danish architect Jan Gehl,  perhaps one of the utmost leaders that turned Copenhagen into a world reference in urban sustainability. He was one of the first to say that the quality of public space promotes and enhances social activities, something we have already seen in one of our previous stories.

As we have discussed, we are sure that in this neighborhood many more things happen in our daily way to work, while we buy the newspaper, we wait for the bus or go for a walk. And those things happen along with people very different from you. Again we cannot generalize, but possibly your neighborhood has many different types of homes. There will be luxurious homes on the avenues, rental apartments for students, large and small houses, attics, etc. and people of all kind and condition will live there. But not only different people lives in your neighborhood but also residents of other parts of the city go there or pass by on their way to other places just because things are happening in the area where you live. Going to the doctor at the health center, shopping in the market, going to school, swimming in the pool or borrowing a book from the public library in your neighborhood are everyday actions, which not only meet our needs but also allow us to get in touch with others.

Let’s see how a socially cohesive city affects urban sustainability:

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY. As we will see in one of the indicators below, one of the ways to measure a neighborhood’s level of social cohesion is the ability of the population to have the necessary facilities within a walking distance… again we are talking about the efficiency of the density of people and events, which again leads to a reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.

SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY. As we have seen so far, we are talking about improving the degree of coexistence between groups of people with different income, genders, cultures, ages and professions.

CULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY. The use of public space as a social meeting place is clearly linked to our Mediterranean culture.

ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY. As we have seen housing typology determines, at least in part, the type of population we find in our neighborhoods. Our governments should ensure public and universal access to housing. Thus, the establishment of policies to promote public housing with viable economic conditions is one of the obligations of our administrations.

Finally let’s see how to measure the level of social cohesion of our cities:

. There are indicators designed to measure the social mix of a population but, as was the case of urban metabolism, they imply a very complex calculation that makes it non-sense to be explained here.

· As mentioned earlier the PROVISION OF SOCIAL HOUSING and its unconcentrated distribution throughout the city, as happened with many housing estate complexes after the Spanish Civil War, it is a way to ensure a certain degree of social mix. Sustainability indicators show that at least 15% of homes in our cities should have this condition.

Finally, we would like to highlight once again the importance of making an urbanism of proximity. Against the possibility of starting the car and reaching in 5 minutes the school, the market, the library or the pool, we strive for an urbanism of proximity in which 75% of the population may be in a WALKING DISTANCE TO FACILITIES of 5-10 minutes (depending on the character of these), thus occupying and sharing the public space.

This article concludes a series that has tried to show with current stories how the urban environment around us affects how we live, and to show a series of small values that allow us to get an idea of how sustainable we and the cities in which we live are.

To get more technical information about these indicators you can look up pages 601-610 of Guía Metodológica para los Sistemas de Auditoría, Certificación o Acreditación de la Calidad y Sostenibilidad en el Medio Urbano.