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Community Life Satisfaction and Impact Measures - a new model of impact

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

Sense of community and community attachment are key concepts in the fields of community psychology and urban sociology. Additionally, the context of neighbourhood, as a strong example of place-based communities, has been the target of several studies from different disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and geography. Even though the concepts of sense of community, community attachment and neighbouring were not originally introduced in the built environment discipline, they are connected to the reviews and studies of built environment through neighbourhoods’ spatial configurations. However, in contemporary society, it is acknowledged that the urbanites social ties are not limited to people being physically close, due to the opportunities for high-speed transport and mobility, and virtual networking and connections.


Throughout time, theorists have argued that the role of physical space in the creation of community is largely overplayed. Additionally, they also argue that planners need to detach themselves from the idea that physical planning can create a sense of community on its own.


The claim that a high percentage of human social life is dedicated to communities of interest, virtual communities and friendships is not in dispute. However, what is questionable is the degree to which the existence of place-based local communities can affect the quality of residents’ lives in neighbourhoods. In other words, how feeling a sense of community, community attachment and the acts of neighbouring could be a value to the local communities, alongside the rise in virtual communities.


The concept of community has been continually redefined through history. Academic definitions of community considered the three elements of essential components of most definitions: a specific place, common ties, and social interaction. Traditional sociologists have also classified the concept of community by three elements: place, interest, and identity. It is acknowledged that the type of community can range from community of place (a neighbourhood or a town) to community of interest (fans of a football team) and community of occupation or practice (a community of people who share a profession).


The social life of urbanites, who were confined to place-based communities in the past, is now shifted mostly to place-less communities known as communities of interest or networks.


Community in the historical or traditional sense was an involuntary aspect of locality. Limited mobility caused neighbourhood’s residents to satisfy their everyday and social needs not far from the neighbourhood’s boundary. In today’s neighbourhoods, place-based communities indeed exist, but territory is not a prerequisite for social interactions among urbanites.


Moreover, in the past, all types of communities existed within the boundaries of neighbourhoods causing the place to be an inseparable part of community definition. Neighbourhoods’ residents were constrained to either work very close to where they had chosen to live or live very close to where they had chosen to work. There was a similar trend for communities of interests such as religious communities. People were usually active members of their religious society through their local churches, mosques, or other religious edifices in neighbourhood centres. Therefore, communities in the past were not limited to local communities; rather communities of interests were forming inside local communities.


The concept of “community lost” was developed in the late nineteenth century as a consequence of the rapid development of industrial patterns that seemingly caused gaps between the individual and their local communities. The nineteenth century was a period of rapid transformation in most European countries, changing them from relatively stable agricultural to dynamic, urbanized industrial societies. The leading assumption of “community lost” view was that twin forces of industrialization and urbanization were negative forces that disrupted and destabilized social life.


Now we see a move to virtual communities. It is identified that a sense of virtual community distinguishes virtual communities from other types of virtual groups. The sense of virtual community is defined as members’ feelings of membership, identity, belonging and attachment to a group that interacts primarily through electronic communication. It is argued that a sense of virtual community has three dimensions (missing the two dimensions of integration and emotional connections):

(1) membership – people experience feelings of belonging to their virtual community

(2) influence – people influence other members or their community and

(3) immersion –people feel the state of flow during virtual community navigation.


The dimension of immersion can be considered as a substitute for the dimensions of

integration and emotion connections in non-virtual communities. The immersion that people feel in virtual communities may not allow a sense of integration and emotional connections among members.


Still further literature defines the term “network communities” as the use of networking technologies by and for local communities. Network communities and the Internet use by local communities are believed to increase civic involvement by providing pervasive online resources and by connecting a territorial community to local communication and discussion channels. Network communities may also enhance a greater sense of community through the richness of means of communication. They can contribute to the awareness of members of being part of a territorial community and encourage the inclination to take an active part in dealing with local problems. Now the psychological literature, suggests that the sense of community is composed of four elements:

(1) membership – the feeling that who belongs to the community and who does not;

(2) influence – the ability to express and influence the group which works both ways, some influence by the group on its members is needed for group cohesion;

(3) integration and fulfilment of needs – the feeling that members are awarded, and some needs are satisfied by being a member of the community; and

(4) shared emotional connections – the common history of members in a community, which includes the extent and quality of interaction between members.


A Model of Community and Life Satisfaction

The central question asked is, in what ways does a person's sense of having interests in common and interacting with his or her community and/or neighbourhood affect his or her overall quality of life? And can the psychological sense of community be created so as to positively impact a person’s life satisfaction and wellbeing.


We already know that having a perceived good quality of life, has many positive benefits; reduced use of health care services, reduced self-report of loneliness and its negative consequences, increased life expectancy, higher levels of resilience and an overall greater sense of well-being.

It has also been suggested that in addition to specific direct and indirect effects, the sense of neighbourhood and community also serves as a critical intervening variable through which other perceptions and experiences of neighbourhood and/or community and life satisfaction conditions come to impact on a person’s life.


Thus, for example, it has been argued that the sense of lack of physical or psychological safety not only affects individuals directly through an increase in fears about their safety, but it also reduces their interaction with one another and seriously impedes the development and/or maintenance of community at the local level.


There are two sets of exogenous variables that also need to be considered because of their likely impacts on either neighbourhood community or overall life satisfaction.


The first set pertains to the personal characteristic’s individuals bring into their neighbour. They include education, income (yes or no), and size of household. A second, possibly confounding, set of factors includes special ways in which a person may be attached to his or her neighbourhood. These include symbolic attachment, that is, whether a person lives in a neighbourhood or is involved in a community that has a distinctive name and/or whether a person is involved in neighbourhood associations or civic activities such as volunteering.


The model that has been developed to bring together the elements of sense of neighbourhood or sense of community is therefore based in the validity of previously tested instruments. The development of a model to assess the changes in the variability and overall life satisfaction experiences of those engaged in a community or neighbourhood has been built from a statistical robustness approach as well as an instrument validity approach. It is after no point in asking people questions about their experiences and attitudes if the responses do not have good robustness, reliability, and validity.


The model can be used as a one off but is primarily designed to capture the longitudinal nature of changes over time and the impact of changes to the neighbourhood and /or community. The data that is gathered will show the impact of the experience of neighbourhood community on an individual's subjective quality of life.


The data includes not only the indirect effect on life satisfaction that feeling like a part of a community contributes to overall neighbourhood satisfaction but also the direct effect of neighbourhood community on how individuals feel about their lives as a whole.

It is posited that the findings will help practitioners in two ways.


First, it will explore the neighbourhood and/or community and how it contributes substantially to the degree to which a person is satisfied with his or her life in general. It explores the concept that in spite of the opportunities that individuals have to build social support networks outside of their local areas, the extent to which they feel that they "fit in" with their neighbours and/or community and can depend upon them for various kinds of social support does make a difference in their lives as a whole.


Empirical support for this relationship has the potential to provide the kind of justification for community development efforts that meets the demands of sceptical private and public funding agencies. These findings also provide additional support for those who have had to defend community-building projects in the face of criticism that resources should be spent only on those activities that focus directly on economic development.

Second, the fact that the impact that the degree of neighbourhood and/or community has on life satisfaction can be empirically measured suggests some interesting possibilities for experimental and quasi-experimental community development projects. Practitioners might consider, for example, developing baseline measures of perceptions of community and life satisfaction prior to specific intervention projects. Changes in the values of both variables could then be measured after the project concluded or at various stages throughout.


A Model of Community and Life Satisfaction and Impact Measurements






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