Urban design and social capital: lessons from a case study in Braunstone, Leicester

A valuable asset in sustainable regeneration is the ‘community’ with their developed networks, bonds and ties or in other words its social capital which is a useful resource. Braunstone in Leicester is typical of many disadvantaged areas in the UK, with persistent socio-economic problems exacerbated by a poor physical setting. With a large regeneration programme funded by the New Deal for Communities coming to a close, we conducted a case study to explore the impact of improved local facilities and the effect of walkability on social capital. The lessons learnt suggests that responding to needs at a finer grain is vital in developing neighbourhoods for social capital such as responding to the needs of different user groups, responding to local patterns of use and needs of micro localities, and improving the perceptions of neighbourhoods. Local facilities and neighbourhood walkablity provides incentives for longer term residency, and facilitates interaction which helps social capital to grow. Accessing services by walking and using public transport proves vital to engage in social activities, while a poor physical environment, lack of accessible services and public transport negatively affects participation in social and leisure activities. Facilities and buildings provide a mediating role in developing social capital in a community, providing opportunity for social interaction which encourages people to reside in an area for longer. Improving connections beyond the neighbourhood is important to help retain people for longer term residency to develop social capital.