The role of collective space in the construction of social cohesion. Case study: Greater Santiago

Emilio Berríos,

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile

Cohesion and social capital are fundamental for a healthy society, representing the principle of fraternity that allows empathizing with others and moving towards greater equity and social justice, which in turn promotes greater equality and freedom pursuing the common welfare. Aligned with this, the role played by open collective spaces on the community and public sphere is crucial for urban sustainability in all its dimensions, but especially socially.

The relationship between the built environment and urban social cohesion, also referred as sense of community, has been investigated mainly at the neighborhood (micro) scale, with little development at larger scales such as the macro-neighborhood (meso) and the city (macro). Micro-scale analyzes can account for cohesion phenomena that could nevertheless be counterproductive to the whole urban system or city, eventually promoting greater social fragmentation. Hence, the importance of addressing the phenomenon in a holistic and multi-scale way.

Specifically, this research focuses in open collective spaces as a privileged place for public interaction and the development of a community, not limiting the public definition to the legal distinction of property, but rather to the encounter with others, outside family members, and often unknown people who nevertheless are part of the same society, thus promoting the construction not only of bonding ties, but also of bridging and linking different social groups of the same system.

Thus, the central objective of this research is to understand to what extent the spatial and territorial attributes of open collective spaces affect the construction of capital and urban social cohesion between different socioeconomic groups, in a highly segregated metropolis such as Greater Santiago. Regarding the territorial factors, the interest is to deepen on the distribution and accessibility of theses spaces and the mobility conditions of the inhabitants to access them, as well as their historical and symbolic aspects. While, from the spatial perspective, the interest is to analyze location and configurational factors on the urban grid; permeability and transparency of their edges; their relationship with the street network and movement patterns; and visual integration and fields.

In terms of preliminary advances on the subject, the analysis of “Structural barriers to walkability and accessibility at neighborhood scale” has been analyzed on three housing estates. The effect of the physical and social barriers have been identified and their effect on the walkable neighborhood area has been measured. The results show a considerable reduction in the area of the walkable neighborhood with significant differences between the integration of the pedestrian and vehicular network; considerable reduction in the coverage of goods and services, among which are green areas; and possible relationships of bigger walkable areas with longer distances of walking and the prevalence of walking in the modal share. These study address very relevant aspects to be analyzed deeper and in detail in further thesis work. The spatial and territorial factors mentioned above will be addressed, especially in relation to walking as a way that, in itself, favors social interaction and therefore cohesion, at least on a neighborhood scale, as documented in the specialized literature.