Sense of community and neighbourhood form: An assessment of the social doctrine of new urbanism

Emily Talen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

427 Scopus citations


New urbanism, an umbrella term which encompasses 'neotraditional development' as well as 'traditional neighbourhood design', lives by an unswerving belief in the ability of the built environment to create a 'sense of community'. The purpose of this paper is to assess whether the social doctrine of new urbanism can be successfully supported or at least integrated with the social science literature which deals with the question of community formation. Towards this goal, the paper first delineates the social doctrine of new urbanism, and then discusses the conceptual frameworks and empirical findings that either support or contradict the idea that a sense of community will follow the physical form of cities and neighbourhoods generally and new urbanist principles specifically. After laying this groundwork, the remainder of the paper presents an assessment of whether a reconciliation between research and doctrine may be possible, in light of various apparent contradictions between the social claims of new urbanists and the results of research by social scientists. It is concluded that new urbanists need to clarify the meaning of sense of community as it pertains to physical design. Further, it is maintained that while some research supports the idea that resident interaction and sense of community are related to environmental factors, the effectuation of this goal is usually only achieved via some intermediate variable. This latter point leaves open the question of whether any number of other design creeds could produce the same result via a different design philosophy. The need for further research is stressed; this should be focused on investigating the issue more directly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1361-1379
Number of pages19
JournalUrban Studies
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies


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