New Australian research has examined the role of specific land uses - such as green spaces, libraries and cafes - within communities. These spaces may offer residents an opportunity to engage with each other to curb anti-social behaviours within their community.

We already know that suburbs where community members are willing to work together to address unwanted behaviour are better able to regulate crime in their community. This is known as informal social control or collective efficacy, this process has been shown to occur more often in advantaged communities. However little attention has been given to the way physical and structural elements of a neighbourhood might also affect collective efficacy.

This new research examined the role of land use arrangements in fostering or impeding the social encounters that allow informal social control to occur. The authors group land uses into “social wedges” (features that carve up neighbourhoods, such as rivers and highways), “social holes” (land uses that create situations where there is no occupancy, such as parks or industrial estates), and “social conduits” (neighbourhood land uses that encourage interaction between individuals eg. traditional public spaces such as libraries and community clubs, or ‘third places’ such as privately owned restaurants and cafes). The research finds that in neighbourhoods with higher numbers of social conduits, residents report higher collective efficacy and engagement in local civic action.

They also note that greenspaces can be social conduits or social holes, depending on whether they are well-used and seen as places for social interaction to occur such those with playgrounds or picnic facilities or ‘dead’ spaces to be avoided such as vacant land.

There are important implications for planners and placemakers coming from this research, regarding the effect of land use on social interactions and connections that can overcome some of the negative effects of urbanism.

Read the full article about the research (External link) that was published in Urban Studies 2018.