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Urban Studies Research
Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 507503, 11 pages
Research Article

Streets Apart: Does Social Capital Vary with Neighbourhood Design?

1Centre for the Built Environment and Health, School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, Perth, WA 6009, Australia
2McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing, Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia
3Institute of Health and Rehabilitation Research, University of Notre Dame Australia, Fremantle, Perth, WA 6959, Australia

Received 7 February 2012; Revised 20 May 2012; Accepted 30 May 2012

Academic Editor: Annette Hastings

Copyright © 2012 Lisa Wood et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


While neighbourhood differences in social capital have been mapped, few empirical studies have considered the nexus between specific physical characteristics of communities and social capital. In this study we hypothesised that social capital would be positively associated with a more walkable street network design, but inversely associated with negative experiences and perceptions of neighbourhood environments. Data was gathered through a random cross-sectional telephone survey of adults ( 𝑛 = 3 3 9 ) from three suburbs with differing street network design. Although there was some relationship between street network layout and social capital, this was not always as hypothesised by previous studies. Perceived incivilities, lower levels of trust and support were among factors that may have countered some of the positive influences of a walkable street network design on social capital. Overall, our findings suggest that the built environment may influence neighbourhood social capital at both a real and perceived level. While the actual presence and type of facilities, neighbourhood design and walkability may impact on social capital formation and maintenance, so too can perceptions of the physical and social environment. Understanding the complex intertwining of physical neighbourhood features, perceptions and social dynamics is relevant to growing public policy interest in strengthening social capital for enhanced community wellbeing.