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Tracking social cohesion in an evolving neighbourhood

Posted by on December 17th, 2020 · Uncategorized

By Hazel Easthope, Edgar Liu, Sian Thompson & Alessandra Buxton
City Futures Research Centre, UNSW Sydney

Sydney’s inner-south has been growing both in population and in popularity in recent years. As more new residents move to these areas, there is an opportunity for local government to understand how residents interact and what these urban renewal sites need in order to facilitate social cohesion, as well as track how this population growth is being matched with an emerging town centre, new community facilities, street networks and other support services.

Survey Area comprising the Ashmore and Green Square precincts

Urban renewal in key brownfield areas (such as Green Square) and the nearby Ashmore Estate (defined by parts of Erskineville and Alexandria) is a central component of the delivery of compact city policies, which have been promoted by Australian state governments for decades.

Reports recently released by the City Futures Research Centre at UNSW demonstrate some insightful findings vital to informing the continued growth of these communities. The My Place study, based on the results of a large-scale survey sent to all households, was commissioned by the City of Sydney to understand social interaction and social cohesion in these areas. This is the third time the survey has been run in the area, enabling the City to check in with this emerging community since 2014. Tracking social cohesion is a vital sense check for the City of Sydney. It helps inform the sense of community of a neighbourhood, including aspects such as neighbourhood social life, shared emotional connections, and place attachment.

Studies such as this are valuable in understanding how residents experience urban renewal areas as they continue to develop, and how these projects can influence social connectivity and a sense of community.

Most residential properties in both Ashmore Estate and Green Square are relatively new. It is therefore no surprise that the majority of the survey respondents have lived there for 5 years or less, giving them less chance to build a sense of belonging than those who had lived there longer. Despite this, survey participants showed an overwhelming satisfaction with their suburbs. Over 70% of both Green Square and Ashmore residents indicated their desire to stay long term, with 90% of participants in Green Square and 97% in Ashmore agreeing these areas were a good place to live.

To what extent do you agree that this area is a good place to live? (nAshmore = 1179, nGreen Square = 1091)

The research found that residents wish to be involved socially in a variety of ways. The studies indicated that residents of both Ashmore (59%) and Green Square (68%) are eager to build more connections in their local community, with young people and private renters especially likely to desire more local connections.

How would you best describe your level of interaction with other people who live or work in the area? By age. (n = various, 225 – 598)

How would you best describe your level of interaction with other people who live and work in the area? By tenure. (n = various, 497 – 666)

Residents of both Ashmore and Green Square valued local cafés, restaurants and bars in their local area. Most residents already had social interactions in these locations, but the majority of residents, and especially younger residents, indicated a desire for more restaurants, cafés and bars.

Parks were also important locations for social interaction, both intentional and incidental, especially for households with children and for residents over 50. Formal community facilities such as community centres were less frequently used overall, but were important for residents employed part-time and people not in the labour force.

How have you had contact with people in your local area in the last month? (nAshmore = 1192, nGreen Square = 1105)

Residents in both Ashmore and Green Square were concerned about the impacts of ongoing construction and high-density development, demonstrating the difficulties of living in an area undergoing renewal and underlining the importance of delivering density in a way that maximises (rather than reduces) amenity. Traffic, parking and public transport were also areas where residents would like to see improvements.

What do you like the least about living in the area? (nAshmore = 1192, nGreen Square = 1105)

As the survey took place over the period of Covid-19 restrictions in NSW, there was a unique opportunity to understand how social cohesion and social interaction might be affected by the pandemic. Interestingly, there was very little difference in opinion regarding responses received before and after the restrictions were introduced. Residents still overwhelmingly indicated that their areas were a good place to live.

The top five priorities of Green Square residents were:

  1. More cafés, restaurants and bars
  2. Improved traffic management
  3. Landscaping in streets and parks
  4. More evening activities
  5. Better parking

The top five priorities of Ashmore residents were:

  1. Landscaping in streets and parks
  2. Improved traffic management
  3. Better parking
  4. More evening activities
  5. Improved public transport

While these areas will continue to experience change both physically and socially, most residents expressed a desire to make new local connections. Local governments have a unique opportunity to support the creation of a socially cohesive community that is welcoming to new residents in these urban renewal areas. This involves providing opportunities for social interaction by supporting new local businesses, encouraging communication, and introducing new or expanded infrastructure. As renewal projects take multiple years to complete, these opportunities will grow as the community grows.

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