Growing academic interest in the social dimensions of sustainable cities has broadened the field of urban science to become more interdisciplinary. Researchers are looking to fields such as community development and Quality of Life (QoL) for social indicators related to sustainable development. Broad concepts including sense of place, place-making, and place-based indicators common in community development, neighborhood development, and planning literature are now found in sustainable city work. These social indicators have the unique capacity to help city designers, developers, managers, and officials understand the relationships between urban residents and their built and natural environments as well as social and community environments [1
This study undertakes an assessment of these broad place-based concepts and their connections with community satisfaction and QoL. It takes place in two planned sustainable neighborhoods in Freiburg, Germany—Rieselfeld and Vauban. These locations were chosen due to Freiburg’s reputation as one of the world’s most sustainable cities and the city’s deliberate emphasis on sustainability and resiliency in developing these two neighborhoods. The study’s goals are to (a) help increase understanding regarding the importance of place-based indicators in measuring the success of sustainable development at the local urban level, and (b) highlight important connections between indicators of QoL, sustainability, resiliency, and place-based indicators.
The work on sustainability and resiliency presented in this paper is based on the definitions by Meerow et al. [2
] and the World Commission on the Environment and Development [3
]. Meerow et al. defines resiliency in an urban context as “the ability of an urban system—and all its constituent socio-ecological and socio-technical networks across temporal and spatial scales—to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions in the face of a disturbance, to adapt, to change, and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future adaptive capacity.” The World Commission on the Environment and Development defines sustainability from a development perspective as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” A detailed discussion of placed-based indicators is provided in Section 1.1
, but it is important to understand that this study focuses primarily on the social dimension of sustainable neighborhood design and thus examines only place-based indicators with social implications.
The manuscript begins by discussing place-based indicators and characteristics of sustainably planned neighborhoods. This leads into the introduction of the two sustainably planned neighborhoods surveyed via questionnaire regarding QoL, placed-based indicators, and sustainability. The factors measured, analyzed, and discussed in this study include factors (1) explaining the decision of current residents of Rieselfeld and Vauban to move there, (2) environmental behavior and attitudes among the residents, (3) social engagement within the two neighborhoods, (4) housing and neighborhood satisfaction, (5) and neighborhood expectations. A more detailed description of the factors as well as the way they were measured is provided in Section 2.2
of this paper. The study methods and findings in Section 3
showcase correlations between these factors. Section 4
provides the context for interpreting the study findings including limitations and directions for future research.
1.1. Why Look at Place-Based Indicators?
Place-based indicators are not new to sustainable community development and are very diverse [4
]. These indicators often focus on individual and community perceptions of their environments as well as their affect or feelings towards those environments. “Sense of Place”, for example, is a social indicator that has been especially connected to sustainable community development. Sense of place generally concerns the meaning individuals place upon a specific location or community [8
]. Table 1
outlines previous place-based constructs in addition to measuring sense of place.
The measurement of these place-based constructs has been linked to various measures related to the success of sustainable neighborhoods. For example, the relationship between sustainability efforts and sense of place are likely mutually beneficial where one can be leveraged to increase the other and vice versa [6
]. Much more research is still needed regarding place-based indicators. For instance, community health and well-being are not universally connected to place-based indicators across studies [17
]. This study adds to the evidence regarding the link between sense of place and other place-based concepts regarding the social aspects of sustainable neighborhoods. It is important to note that it focuses primarily on the social dimension of sustainable neighborhood design by examining only place-based indicators with social implications.
Researchers often include safety perception indicators in questionnaires and methods regarding sense of place [18
]. These types of place-based indicators help us understand the various vulnerabilities of and risks to neighborhoods [20
]. They may also help us understand community resiliency [20
]. Sense of place is generally a strength-based indicator coupling asset-based or capacity building efforts as well [22
]. Pstross, Talmage, and Knopf [23
] note the importance of including both assets and vulnerabilities in community development assessments, so the voices of the community can be best shared.
Values are also influential on place-based indicators. While measurement of environmental values has had some traction in the literature [8
] especially in the field of ecosystem services, there remains great room for their inclusion in measures and perceptions of sustainable neighborhoods [25
]. Place-based social indicators may help reinforce or build values for the local community and environment [27
]. Furthermore, community values can be mapped into different typologies and used to inform environmental or sustainable development efforts [28
]. This study looks at the relationships between community and environmental values in its assessment of place-based indicators and the perceptions of community satisfaction and QoL.
Indicators research concerning well-being can take macro and micro approaches. Macro approaches look at aggregate figures or rates and may compare different communities to those figures or rates. Micro-indicators look at well-being within communities and may compare individuals or groups within those communities. Macro-indicators of sustainable development in the U.S. associate with macro-happiness indicators [29
]; however, more studies using micro-indicators are needed to understand which specific social aspects of sustainable neighborhoods are most important to their residents. Social indicators, especially micro-social indicators, have been linked to community satisfaction, which can enrich community development and lead to involvement and engagement [30
]. Similarly, Badham [31
] calls for place-based indicators to be democratized, which requires more micro-level approaches. Meta-analyses and cross-community and -country analyses will also help inform future work regarding community well-being. Community indicators that include both social and place-based have demonstrated merits in work across studies to assess community well-being [32
]. This study adds to this body of work by specifically looking at intentionally planned sustainable neighborhoods.
1.2. Characteristics of Sustainably Planned Neighborhoods
Ongoing rapid rural to urban migration is transforming natural landscapes and ecosystems into manmade urban environments, creating unique and complex social, economic, and environmental challenges. Today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas. This trend is continuing with projections suggesting that the percentage will increase to 68% by 2050 [33
]. This will be coupled with significant increases in “ecological footprints” associated with urbanization. Increasing changes in land uses and urbanization emphasizes the need for sustainable neighborhood development, including at the neighborhood scale. A vast amount of literature on sustainable development already exists [34
] and is, therefore, only briefly discussed in the following paragraph. Rather, the paper’s focus is on the social dimension of neighborhood development.
The increasing number and growth of urban settlements provides an opportunity to address environmental and social challenges through comprehensive sustainable neighborhood policies and planning strategies. Moreover, the growth in the number and size of megacities, or those cities with populations over 10 million, requires a greater emphasis on planning cities and their neighborhoods based on social well-being and QoL factors as key factors in sustainable development efforts. The research presented here addresses this need.
Existing literature emphasizes five dimensions of sustainable development that are key to successfully creating sustainability in urban communities or neighborhoods [13
]: (1) economic sustainability, (2) social sustainability, (3) ecological sustainability, (4) sustainable spatial development, and (5) cultural continuity. As a result, different approaches have emerged that promote the application of these dimensions to sustainable urban neighborhoods. Research has demonstrated the efforts of neighborhoods excelling in various social aspects of sustainable neighborhood planning [39
]. For example, Li el al. [40
] and Webster et al. [41
] discuss Beijing’s approach to urban sustainability through ecosystem development; Joubert [42
] focuses on cultural dimensions; Jones et al. [43
] addresses the importance of economic stability; Hopwood et al. [44
] highlights the human dimension; and Galster et al. [45
] centers around identifying thresholds and barriers for achieving sustainable neighborhoods.
Like sustainable development, the social dimension of sustainable neighborhood planning is a complex and interdisciplinary concept with various explanatory factors and multiple theoretical thrusts [1
]. While there is wide acceptance of the importance of the role and importance of the social factors, but its goals and how to reach these goals through planning and policy are still unclear [46
]. Outside of social and environmental justice, the social area of sustainability has not been fully addressed, especially at the neighborhood level [48
The paper’s goal is to investigate how the social factors work in achieving neighborhood sustainability and which ones are critical to achieving positive results in amenities. We need to gain an understanding on how to quantify the social indicators and to plan communities using social factors [46
Specific services and facilities at the neighborhood scale, which are often directly related to urban form, impact social well-being and happiness. There have been several studies recently that have focused on the services and facilities at the neighborhood scale that have attempted to include social well-being, happiness, and QoL. Winter and Farthing [51
] identified eight indicators leading to neighborhood satisfaction QoL, and social participation. Most of these were facilities such as schools, supermarkets, and other amenities. Other studies point to access to health facilities, cafés, and community centers [52
]. Table 2
shows the findings from the literature for both the physical and non-physical/social indicators critical in developing sustainable neighborhoods [1
]. Non-physical indicators included cultural traditions, cohesion, social justice, participation, community, and residential stability, among others.
1.3. The Case of Freiburg, Germany and Two Sustainably Planned Neighborhoods
This paper looks at social and place-based indicators of neighborhood development in what some believe to be one of the most sustainable cities—Freiberg, Germany. In this study, we look at two neighborhoods specifically designed and built with sustainability principles and practice at their core. This article does not go into the details of Freiberg’s history and design processes due to the vast amount of literature already available [26
]. Rather, we provide basic information about the city and the two neighborhoods, Rieselfeld and Vauban, which are the focus of this paper. Important planning policies of the city and differences between the two neighborhoods are discussed in more detail as part of explaining results of some of the statistical analyses. Figure 1
shows the locations of these neighborhoods.
Located at the foothills of the Black Forest in the Southwest corner of Germany and near the Swiss and French borders, the City of Freiburg has a population of approximately 220,000 people. Freiberg became known for its green infrastructure, public transportation, solar applications, and significant public participation. Today, the city supports eco-tourism, universities, and research. For example, The Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg is one of the oldest universities in Germany and provides a significant share of employment opportunities.
Fostered by the large academic community, the green movement was strong in the city as early as the 1970s. This resulted in a successful protest against the construction of a nuclear power plant close to the city [60
], with the city’s leadership committing to sustainable development as policy [58
]. By the 1980s, equity considerations and sustainable development objectives were integrated with social and community participation goals. Support for public participation and long-term planning policies supporting sustainable growth and strategies for environmentally friendly investments paved the way for the development of the two neighborhoods when housing shortages became apparent.
Other studies also point to this period as a milestone as Freiburg’s history. The political landscape was certainly impacted, as city officials committed to long-term sustainability, including an increase in the renewable energy portfolio [59
]. According to former mayor Dieter Salomon (2002–2018), the city’s long-term strategic approach included proactive government willing to embrace forward thinking policies, strong public participation, and support for environmentally friendly businesses and policies [62
These developments stand out in the public discussion and academic literature on Freiburg’s efforts to become more sustainable as they are considered “eco-neighborhoods” [63
]. Their development has entailed different interpretations and ideologies of what a sustainable community is as well as size and planning approaches. Vauban, an infill development located on a former French military base, was designed as a family-friendly community for 5500 residents. Its development phase began in 1994 with construction beginning in 1998. The neighborhood was fully developed by 2010 [64
]. Rieselfeld was built on the outskirts of Freiburg as a greenfield development for up to 12,000 residents. Construction began in 1995 [66
]. The first resident moved to Rieselfeld in 1996 and the neighborhood was fully developed by 2018 [26
Corresponding to the environmental movement, a housing-related social movement developed as well in the early 1980s aimed at countering a developing housing crisis that was pricing younger residents out of the market. This shortage led to increased cost of living within the city and rapid suburbanization. As a result, policy makers explored social equity opportunities such as more affordable and equitable housing during their planning and construction of Rieselfeld and Vauban. In both cases, the development process addressed these issues, not only through the integration of sustainable design and ecological concepts, but also by engagement that acknowledged the need for community-based social infrastructure and programs. Today, both neighborhoods are held in high esteem for their holistic social-based sustainability planning. The research presented in this publication evaluates the social responses and characteristics of those living in these communities.