Measuring community sustainability: exploring the intersection of the built environment & social capital with a participatory case study

  • Shannon Rogers
  • Semra Aytur
  • Kevin Gardner
  • Cynthia Carlson


Municipalities all over the globe seek to evaluate the sustainability of their communities and this process requires an interdisciplinary perspective. Walkability and social capital are important measures of sustainable communities that are not necessarily considered together in measurement schemes. Through a community-based case study, the following article examines the relationship between select measures of social capital and self-perceived walkability. Descriptive statistics demonstrated that higher levels of social capital existed in more walkable communities. More sophisticated analysis further supported this association. A community index was created from responses to questions about participating in civic engagement activities such as donating blood, attending a committee meeting or public hearing, interacting with individuals in various neighborhoods, and contributing to a community project. A trust index was also created with answers to survey questions about general trust and trust of neighbors and other members of communities. Multilevel models demonstrated that higher levels of walkability were associated with higher levels of participation in community activities, even after controlling for socio-demographic factors. Similar patterns were found for the trust index where higher levels of walkability were positively associated with positive responses to a variety of trust questions. Implications for sustainable communities policy and management are suggested.


Social capital Sustainable communities Walkability Multilevel modeling 



The research described in this paper has been funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Graduate Fellowship Program. EPA has not officially endorsed this publication and the views expressed herein may not reflect the views of the EPA. We would also like to acknowledge the UNH Graduate School and the NRESS student support fund for their support of this research. We would like to thank Ben Brown, Sarah Kissell, and Joanne Theriault for their assistance with data collection. We also appreciate Kevin Leyden’s advice in the early stages of this research.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shannon Rogers
    • 1
  • Semra Aytur
    • 2
  • Kevin Gardner
    • 3
  • Cynthia Carlson
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science Program & Environmental Research GroupUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Health Management and Policy DepartmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Civil Engineering Department & Environmental Research GroupUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

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