2006 November 09 Thursday
Less Densely Packed People Friendlier Toward Neighbors

High density living is the enemy of friendly communities where people socialize and interact with their neighbors.

A new study led by a University of California, Irvine economist debunks a popular argument against urban sprawl -- that living farther from neighbors decreases social interaction. In fact, the data shows that suburban living is better for one's social life.

Using data from 15,000 Americans living in various places across the country, researchers found that residents of sprawling suburban spaces actually have more friends, more contact with neighbors and greater involvement in community organizations than citydwellers who live in very close proximity to each other.

"Our findings suggest the old proverb may be true: good fences make good neighbors," said Jan Brueckner, professor of economics at UCI and lead author of the paper. "This contradicts one of the common social and economic arguments against urban sprawl."

Among their specific findings were that for every 10-percent decrease in density, the likelihood of residents talking to their neighbors at least once a week jumps by 10 percent. And involvement in hobby-oriented clubs increases even more significantly -- by 15 percent for every 10 percent decline in density. To measure these and other social interactions, researchers used data from the Social Capital Benchmark Survey and controlled for other factors such as income, education and marital status.

People didn't evolve in high population density conditions. They are not adapted to city life. I do not find these results the least bit surprising.

Opponents of urban sprawl -- most famously "Bowling Alone" author Robert Putnam -- have argued that America's spreading development is detrimental to society, causing increased traffic congestion, loss of valuable open space and a decline in social relationships. To combat these perceived problems, some cities like Portland, Ore., have enacted urban growth boundaries to limit sprawl.

This is an argument against immigration-driven increases in population density.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 November 09 09:46 PM  Immigration Societal Decay

John S Bolton said at November 9, 2006 10:55 PM:

The above does make perfect sense: the lower the population density, the higher the social-life value of a random neighbor.
The left tries to present suburban growth as a retreat from society into isolation, when actually most such sprawlers move towards higher community of values, and away from diversity and nihilism of community.
The left and power-seekers in general, need conflict to increase between subpopulations. Would this explain their squeals of displeasure over groups sorting themselves spatially towards more homogenous districts?
I'm not inclined to give them the assumption of good faith, possible idealism, naivete or any excuses whatever, so long as they ask for the power of official aggression to be increased, in the name of compact, diverse, integrated and supposedly socially less-isolated communities.

Fred said at November 10, 2006 11:24 AM:

Critics of suburban sprawl often try to argue that it's the result of collusion between the evil forces of developers, zoning officials, the oil companies, and . . . you name it, paving contractors, tire companies, aluminum siding salesman. All of this disregards the fact that for families of normal income, and probably for people generally, a detached suburban home is overwhelmingly their housing preference. That's why those evil residential developers keep building those faceless, sprawling suburbs. Demand.

I have a book about the evolution and development of the city of Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries. I remember that it makes reference to a survey conducted asking Parisians to select their preferred type of home, disregarding the factor of cost. In other words, if price were no object, would you prefer a townhouse, a penthouse, a flat in a high rise, etc. The overwhelming favorite: a single family detached home. This is the City of Light!

crush41 said at November 10, 2006 12:30 PM:

Too bad the authors didn't control for the racial composition of the various communities. Rural and small towns are homogeneous, and surburbia the same. Areas with more conurbation are more diverse. I suspect space constrictions and demographics play a part in the findings.

crush41 said at November 10, 2006 12:31 PM:

That is, I believe they both play a part.

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