Encourage a Sense of Belonging

In his book, Jan Gehl also mentions a Danish cooperative project in Tinggarden, consisting of 80 rental units built in 1978. Here planning was a joint venture of future residents and the architects and illustrates a clear attitude towards a desired social structure.

The physical structure of the building complex reflects and supports the desired social structure. There is a hierarchy of communal spaces: the family has a living room; residences are organized around an outdoor square and an indoor communal house; finally the whole complex is built around a public main street in which a large communal centre is also located. Visually, the social structure is expressed by placing the residences around group squares or streets. Functionally, the social structure is supported by establishing communal spaces at various levels in the hierarchy structure.

The hierarchical division – dwelling, dwelling group, housing complex, city – is motivated by the wish to strengthen the community and the democratic process in the housing development.

In describing Tinggarden, Gehl alludes to another possible source of life between buildings - not activity and casual contact – but the grouping of dwellings to correspond to possible social groupings.

The 1970’s was the decade of the ‘Human Ape’, perhaps at the infancy of evolutionary psychology, and social scientists were starting to relate human behaviour to animal behaviour. Charles Mercer in ‘Life in Cities’ speculated about man as a territorial being, as a being that needs territory like he needs water, in order to be able to live a satisfactory life; that man is not basically criminal – preferring social cohesiveness to anarchy, social harmony to tension. Providing surveillance over defensible spaces allows man to be in his natural state, surveying and defending his domain.

I think there is a simpler alternative to the model of man as a ‘territorial animal’, and that is of him as a social being.

Newman observed that landings shared by only two families were well maintained, whereas corridors shared by 20 families, and lobbies, elevators, and stairs shared by 150 families were disasters - they evoked no feelings of identity or control. Such anonymous public spaces made it impossible for residents to develop an accord on what was acceptable behavior in these areas, impossible for them to feel or exert proprietary feelings, impossible to tell resident from intruder. Newman concluded that residents maintained, controlled, and identified with those areas that were clearly demarcated as their own

But then another explanation is that where households were arranged in small groups, they cooperated better in looking after the space they shared. . People interact more easily in small groups rather than big. The importance of size in group behaviour is a very much investigated topic in social psychology.

Conversation groups

How many people can hold a casual conversation? Observation has shown that casual conversation groups are limited to 4 persons. Conversation groups never contain more than one speaker at a time. When there is more, no one can keep track of the conversations and the group breaks up or one speaker tries to rule.
There are obvious physical limitations. Speech becomes less clear when the distance between speaker and hearer increases. A nose-to- nose distance of 1.7m was found to be the upper limit for comfortable conversation; this would yield a maximum conversation group size of five individuals with a shoulder-to- shoulder spacing of 0.5m between adjacent individuals standing around the circumference of a circle. Studies suggest that, as the circle of people taking part in a conversation expands, the distances between speaker and listeners across the circle rapidly become too large for conversations to be heard. Robin Dunbar studied conversational cliques that varied in size from 2-10 individuals. They found that the average number of people directly involved in a conversation (as speaker or attentive listener) is about 3.4 (one speaker plus 2.4 listeners) and that groups tended to partition into new conversational cliques at multiples of about four individuals.
When larger numbers of people want to talk together, a more formal format has to be adopted, where someone like a chairman can control the interaction. Cite
Dunbar, R. I. M. (1993). Coevolution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 16 (4): 681-735.

Sympathy groups

‘List the names of everyone whose death tomorrow they would find devastating’. This question has been put to respondents around the world and across cultures, but the results have been impressively consistent. The average number is 11 to 12
Why not larger? It has been postulated that caring about people takes effort. At some point between 10 and 15 appears to be a threshold beyond which is emotional overload. Cite Malcolm Gladwell ‘Tipping Point’

Group Theory

A social group is a collection of two or more people who interact frequently with one another, share a sense of belonging, and have a feeling of interdependence.
In a group of two there is only one relationship. In a group 4, there are 10 separate relationships – your relationship with 4 others plus the other 6 two way relationships.
In a group of 20, there are 190 relationships. There is a logarithmic relationship between group size and the number of one-to-one relationships between the members of the group. This has been used to explain why there seems to be an upper limit to the size of social groups across time and environment. In his book “Grooming, Gossip and Language”, Robin Dunbar discusses the upper limit of group sizes in Neolithic villages in Mesopotamia, the Hutterites - a fundamentalist group who live and farm communally in South Dakota and Manitoba, even academic communities appear to abide by this rule. It was found that research specialities in the sciences tend to consist of up to 200 individuals! In addition, it turns out that most organised (i.e. professional) armies have a basic unit of about 150 men.
Thus, neighbours who know and interact each other can be described as a social group. However, a group of neighbours who live on the same street, who happen to be in the same place at the same time but share little else would be described as an aggregate, a mere collection of people.

The neighbourhood in the sense that Perry introduced, with a population of 3000 to 10,000 people is to large to be a social group. The sense of neighbourhood that is talked about is more a sense of identification with the distinguishing features of a place and not based on the sense of belonging to a social group.


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