Assessing local social sustainability: Lessons learned from testing the Place Standard Tool in Kristiansand, Norway

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Submission Summary
Social sustainability has been increasingly discussed in scholarly research. Several attempts have been made to conceptualize and measure social sustainability in urban contexts. However, although researchers seem to be more and more interested in social sustainability, the concept has not been extensively applied in urban governance and planning practice. Practitioners and decision makers often lack concrete knowledge and the tools needed to assess social sustainability and develop their local communities accordingly. Moreover, there is often a lack of processes and frameworks involving residents in efforts to shape socially sustainable communities. In this paper, we present results and experiences from testing the application of local social sustainability in practice. Municipal coordinators, urban planners, and researchers have collaborated and used the Place Standard Tool to assess local social sustainability based on residents’ insights. The aim was to obtain necessary knowledge on residents’ perceptions of their local physical and social environment but also to mobilize residents to participate in shaping their local community based on social sustainability goals. The case area was the district of Tinnheia in Kristiansand, Norway, a district that has been under ongoing local development processes. Thus, the application of the Place Standard Tool in this district aimed at testing a real case example of how the assessment of social sustainability can contribute to planning and shaping new urban development. Using the Place Standard Tool, we assessed local social sustainability in two ways representing a mixed-methods approach: (1) as a survey tool and (2) as a dialogue and co-creation tool. First, based on the Place Standard Tool, we conducted a survey with adult residents (N=358) of the district collecting quantitative evaluations on fourteen main physical and social characteristics of the area and qualitative input on places to be improved. Second, we used the questions of the Place Standard Tool on the fourteen key characteristics to guide qualitative discussions during walking tours and focus groups with selected residents. Invited residents for dialogue and co-creation were groups who might have not been sufficiently represented in participatory processes. Groups comprised ethnic minorities, older adults, young adults, and families with children. Testing the use of the Place Standard Tool for measuring local social sustainability and integrating it into urban planning processes have provided several lessons for urban governance and planning practice. First, the tool can offer a structured, user-friendly framework for assessing residents’ subjective evaluations of local social sustainability and can be applied without requiring the assistance of an expert or scholarly researcher. Second, performing such evaluations in a systematic way can be a useful addition that has been often missing from urban planning practice. Third, using the tool for both survey and dialogue can offer complementary benefits: a combination of quantitative and qualitative data and a combination of large-scale assessment, in-depth qualitative understanding, and co-creation process. Survey data from the Place Standard Tool can reveal strengths and weaknesses of places, while using the Place Standard Tool for dialogue can offer a more nuanced understanding but also mobilize residents to co-create solutions for local development. Fourth, residents’ evaluations on key place characteristics are more meaningful if used comparatively across places, neighborhoods, or districts. Fifth, attention should be paid to the representativeness and the particularities of groups involved in the survey and qualitative discussions. Finally, it should be noted that the use of the Place Standard Tool cannot on its own provide a holistic assessment of local social sustainability. Residents’ insights from using the tool should be complemented with an assessment of a variety of objectively measured indicators related to social sustainability.
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1: Inclusiveness and empowerment. Al-Majlis: planning with and for communities
Postdoctoral Researcher
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Project manager
Kristiansand Municipality
Research Professor
Oslo Metropolitan University

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