Does “Main Street” Promote Sense of Community? A Comparison of San Francisco Neighborhoods

Rocco Pendola & Sheldon Gen

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Pendola, R. & Gen, S. (1). Does “Main Street” Promote Sense of Community? A Comparison of San Francisco Neighborhoods. Environment and Behavior, 40(4), 545–574.

Main Street , Neighborhood , San Francisco , Sense Of Community , Urban Design , Urban Form , Urban Planning

Creating “community” has long been a goal of urban planners. Although such rhetoric abounds in planning circles, what it all means is unclear. In this article, the authors review the community psychology and urban plan- ning literature, defining sense of community within the context of how the built environment might facilitate or impede it. They then present their research, which tests the effects of “main street” on sense of community in four San Francisco neighborhoods. Results indicate that respondents in neighborhoods exhibiting characteristics of a main street town (Bernal Heights and West Portal) have significantly higher sense of community than do respondents from a high-density neighborhood (Nob Hill) and from a more suburban-style city neighborhood (Sunset).

Main finding
The main street offers pedestrian comfort in an environment with buildings less than three stories in height and serves as a commercial corridor in a small town or neighborhood. The built environment of Main street neighborhoods with existence of single-family homes and calmer traffic facilitate higher sense of community than in more dense urban neighborhoods. Sense of community has four dimensions: membership, influence, needs reinforcement and shared emotional connection, that are observed as frequent and meaningful social contact among neighbors. This study on four different neighborhoods in San Francisco partly rejects the hypothesis often used by urban planners that higher sense of community is confined to walkable mixed-use neighborhoods (known as new urbanism), partly because auto use is found high in the main streets neighborhoods.

Description of method used in the article
Four neighborhoods have been selected based on census tract. The method used is a survey with 11 questions with a likert scale.

Of practical use

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