Supporting encounters and casual social ties in large apartment complexes and their surroundings: The role of people, planning, design and management

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Copyright: Thompson, Sian
Driven by policy, demographic and market factors, increasing numbers of people are living in apartment buildings. Especially where populations are heterogeneous and highly mobile, this presents major challenges for social connection, and consequently for social cohesion and individual well-being. There is a need to better understand how positive social connection might be facilitated amongst apartment residents, and what role building design and management can play. This thesis presents case study research into social relationships in four large apartment complexes and their surroundings in Sydney, Australia, focusing on ‘casual social ties’ (CSTs). It uses assemblage thinking to consider human and environmental factors involved in CST development, as well as residents’ perceived need for CSTs. It draws on in-depth interviews with 63 residents, seven management staff and six local government officers, as well as 202 resident surveys. Shared spaces’ affordances and standing patterns of behaviour were analysed through photographic/fieldnote documentation and interviews. Across all cases, only a third of survey respondents were satisfied with their local social connection. While interviewees often maintained acknowledgement relationships in circulation spaces, these encounters were unlikely to develop into the slightly deeper ties many desired. Notably, few wanted strong community ties, preferring looser CSTs with the potential for favour exchange, enjoyable interaction and a sense of security and belonging, balanced with respect for privacy. The findings demonstrate that to enable these CSTs, developers, designers, managers and government actors should aim to reduce involuntary residential mobility and barriers to resident-led community-building, welcome children and pets, and carefully design and manage shared spaces. The latter entails providing nearby green spaces, small businesses and low-cost event/activity spaces, as well as flexible, visible, easily-accessible break-out and event space(s) within apartment building(s) or grounds. These should afford meaningful activities and support lingering through appropriate seating, weather protection, privacy and refreshment facilities. Creative management strategies enabling responsible, minimally-restricted use of apartment spaces are also needed. The research improves our understanding of CSTs and their development and points to various opportunities for positive social connection to be supported through both policy and practice.
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Thompson, Sian
Easthope, Hazel
Davison, Gethin
Judd, Bruce
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PhD Doctorate
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