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Leading UX in Bangladesh

Urban Community Strategies: Enhancing Neighborhood Connectivity and Sustainability for Resilient Cities

Fatma Zaman Meem, Wahid bin Ahsan 

Department of Human-Centered Design
Userhub

Abstract

This study investigates the mechanisms of neighborhood relations and the challenges affecting neighborhood connectivity in urban communities. It examines factors contributing to declining neighborhood connections, such as lack of sincerity, absence of belonging, busy lifestyles, design issues, and the pervasive impact of mobile phones. The role of architects and urban planners in promoting connectivity through policies and design strategies is analyzed, alongside government initiatives like town meetings and community engagement. Emphasizing the importance of community leaders, neighborhood clubs, regular gatherings, and accessible spaces, the study also explores the potential of social media and technology in fostering community connections. Finally, it highlights the significance of architectural practices, such as diverse housing options, well-designed public spaces, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and sustainable design, in creating vibrant and connected neighborhoods.

Keywords: urban neighborhood connectivity, community engagement, social cohesion, urban planning, sustainable design, architectural strategies, public spaces, technology in communities, inclusive urban design.

Introduction

Maintaining community connection, interaction, and neighborhood sustainability has become increasingly complex in today’s rapidly expanding urban environments. As cities grow and population density rises, the concept of close-knit neighborhoods is gradually fading. High-rise buildings and boundary walls replace open public spaces that once facilitated social interaction and community engagement (Soaita, 2018). Disinvestment, poverty, crime, and housing issues exacerbate these challenges, causing a decline in neighborhood connectivity and sustainability (Mortgage & Corporation, 2001).

Neighborhood dynamics have significantly transformed due to urbanization, population growth, and societal changes. These changes have reduced community connection, interaction, and sustainability, presenting challenges that must be addressed to foster vibrant and resilient communities. This study explores the decline in neighborhood connectivity, interaction, and sustainability, examining the underlying causes and effects. Through comprehensive research, analysis, and consultation with neighbors, experts, and community members, the study aims to identify the root causes and present actionable recommendations.

Background

Factors Contributing to Decline

Urban neighborhoods are increasingly affected by factors such as building site violations, excessive reliance on technology, and a diminishing sense of belonging. The absence of community spaces and opportunities for physical activity has led to sedentary lifestyles and increased health problems, particularly among children. Research highlights the importance of outdoor play spaces in promoting physical, social, and emotional well-being (Foth, 2006; Mortgage & Corporation, 2001; Randall & Baetz, 2001).

High-rise buildings and boundary walls create physical and psychological barriers that hinder social interactions and weaken the sense of community. The vertical nature of high-rise buildings often restricts opportunities for spontaneous encounters and meaningful connections among residents (Vojnovic et al., 2014). Similarly, boundary walls obstruct communication and diminish the overall sense of openness and inclusivity within neighborhoods (York Cornwell & Behler, 2015).

Importance of Community Spaces

The absence of community spaces and dedicated playgrounds exacerbates the decline in neighborhood connectivity. Community spaces are essential for fostering social interaction, well-being, and a sense of belonging. Without these spaces, residents have limited opportunities to engage in shared activities and build relationships, leading to increased social isolation and decreased community cohesion. Accessible playgrounds promote children’s physical activity, social development, and overall well-being, making their scarcity particularly concerning (Stangl & Guinn, 2011; York Cornwell & Behler, 2015).

Strategies for Improvement

Researchers and practitioners have explored various strategies for sustainable neighborhood design and community engagement. Incorporating green spaces, such as rooftop gardens and community gardens, in high-density urban environments provides opportunities for social interaction and contributes to environmental sustainability by mitigating the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, and promoting biodiversity (Hameed, 2021).

Community engagement and participatory processes in neighborhood development are vital for fostering a sense of ownership, empowerment, and social cohesion. Involving residents in decision-making and design processes ensures that neighborhood initiatives are responsive to the unique characteristics and aspirations of the community (Kleinhans et al., 2015; O’Hara, 1999).

Implementing effective solutions to enhance neighborhood connectivity and sustainability requires collaboration among architects, urban planners, local governments, community leaders, and residents. Successful case studies, such as urban renewal projects focusing on creating community hubs, pedestrian-friendly streets, and shared spaces, demonstrate the positive impact of collective efforts in revitalizing neighborhoods (Randall & Baetz, 2001; Stangl & Guinn, 2011).

By highlighting the importance of community spaces, integrating sustainable design practices, and fostering a sense of belonging, this study aims to contribute to the revitalization of neighborhoods, the strengthening of community bonds, and the promotion of a sustainable and thriving environment for all residents. Through comprehensive research and practical recommendations, the study seeks to address the root causes of declining neighborhood connectivity and provide actionable solutions for creating vibrant, connected, and resilient urban communities.

Methodology

This study employed a qualitative research design to provide comprehensive insights into the factors contributing to declining neighborhood connectivity and sustainability. The primary objective was to deeply explore issues related to neighborhood belongingness and the apparent lack of community connection in an urban neighborhood in Dhaka.

Research Design

The qualitative research design was chosen to gain an in-depth understanding of the complex social dynamics affecting neighborhood connectivity. This approach allowed for the exploration of personal experiences, perceptions, and insights from a diverse group of participants, providing a rich, nuanced view of the issues at hand. The central research question guiding this study was:

What are the underlying factors contributing to the decline in community connection, interaction, and sustainability in contemporary urban neighborhoods, and how can urban planning strategies and community engagement initiatives be utilized to address these challenges effectively?

Participants

This study involved 15 participants from diverse backgrounds, categorized into five groups to capture a wide range of perspectives:

  • Five residents from the neighborhood
  • Two experts in community urban planning
  • Three architects
  • Five experts in urban and neighborhood planning associated with local municipal authorities

Each group brought unique perspectives and expertise, enabling a comprehensive examination of the current situation and the identification of strategies to address the challenges affecting neighborhood connectivity and community spaces.

Data Collection

Data were collected through semi-structured interviews designed to elicit in-depth insights from participants. The interview questions were tailored to each participant group and included demographic inquiries such as age, location, gender, and occupation. The questionnaires comprised 7-10 questions specific to the characteristics and expertise of each group. On average, the interviews lasted between 10 to 15 minutes, allowing for detailed discussions and insights.

Data Analysis

Following the interviews, all data were transcribed verbatim to ensure accuracy. The software ATLAS.ti was used to organize and manage the transcripts. Each transcript was thoroughly reviewed, and a comprehensive coding process was performed to extract meaningful findings related to the research objectives. By decoding and categorizing the data into different themes, we were able to examine and analyze each code in-depth, ultimately contributing to the generation of key insights and findings for our study.

Ethical Considerations

The research was conducted in strict accordance with the ethical guidelines outlined by the American Psychological Association (2017). The privacy and confidentiality of all participants were paramount. Informed consent was obtained from each participant, and they were informed of their right to withdraw from the study at any stage without facing any repercussions. Throughout the research, great care was taken to protect the anonymity of participants and to ensure that their personal information remained confidential. The name of the neighborhood has been omitted to preserve participant anonymity and privacy.

Findings

The study explores the relationship and interconnectivity within local communities by engaging in conversations with community members, town planners, and architects across different sectors. The research findings highlight the challenges, constraints, and requirements faced by these communities, as well as propose potential future initiatives aimed at enhancing the well-being of the community.

Causes of Declining Neighborhood Connection & Connectivity

Several factors contribute to the decline in neighborhood interaction and connectivity:

  • Lack of Sincerity: Individuals are gradually becoming less dedicated to fostering a sense of sincerity and community within their neighborhoods. Modern lifestyles have engrossed people in their work, leaving them with scarce time and energy to invest in building relationships with others.
  • Absence of Belonging: The prevalent renting system often leads to frequent relocations, resulting in a lack of attachment to the community. This transient nature discourages active participation in neighborhood activities and initiatives.
  • Busy Lifestyles: The demanding nature of work and family obligations leaves individuals with little time to connect with their neighbors.
  • Design Implementation on Boundary Walls: High boundary walls restrict visibility and inhibit meaningful interaction, further isolating individuals and preventing the formation of strong social bonds within the community.
  • Design Implementation on Building Structure: Higher building densities and limited open spaces reduce opportunities for spontaneous interactions and community engagement.
  • Impact of Mobile Phones: The increasing reliance on mobile phones has led to a noticeable reduction in face-to-face connections, diminishing the sense of community within neighborhoods.
  • Architect and Urban Planners’ Policies: Architects propose several key policies to develop residential neighborhoods, including diverse housing options, well-designed public spaces, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, sustainable practices, mixed-use development, and community engagement.

Government Policies on Community

Regular town meetings gather community leaders to discuss future initiatives and plans related to town planning. These meetings enable community leaders to express their thoughts, concerns, and innovative ideas, fostering a collaborative environment aimed at effective governance and sustainable growth.

Challenges Faced by Architects and Government

Architects and government encounter various challenges when cultivating a strong sense of neighborhood despite their efforts and policies. These challenges include a lack of enthusiasm among community leaders, scarcity of competent leaders, disregard for building codes, lack of sensitivity towards government policies, disinterest of clients in implementing design approaches for connectivity, lengthy approval processes, and reluctance to work collaboratively among stakeholders.

Initiatives for Neighborhood Well-being

Effective community leaders, neighborhood clubs, neighborhood councils, regular gatherings, and accessible spaces are crucial for building thriving and connected neighborhoods. These initiatives foster community engagement, collaboration, and a sense of belonging, ultimately enhancing the overall well-being and quality of life within the community.

Social Media’s Advantages for Enhancing Community Connection

Social media is an indispensable tool for building and strengthening community connections. It offers a valuable avenue for fostering communication and interaction within a neighborhood. By creating online groups or forums, residents can easily engage in conversations, share their concerns, and seek support from one another. Social media platforms provide an inclusive and accessible medium for residents of all ages and backgrounds to connect and contribute, ultimately strengthening the bonds within the neighborhood.

Discussion

The findings of this study highlight several critical factors contributing to the decline in neighborhood connectivity and sustainability in urban environments. These factors include a lack of sincerity and belonging, busy lifestyles, design issues with boundary walls and building structures, and the pervasive impact of mobile phones. This aligns with existing literature, such as the work by Vojnovic et al. (2014), who noted the physical and psychological barriers created by high-rise buildings, and York Cornwell & Behler (2015), who emphasized the restrictive impact of boundary walls on social interaction.

Urban Design and Planning

One of the significant insights from this study is the role of urban design and planning in fostering or hindering community connectivity. Participants highlighted the need for more inclusive and well-designed public spaces, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and sustainable practices. This finding is consistent with Hameed (2021), who underscored the benefits of green spaces in high-density urban environments, and O’Hara (1999), who emphasized the importance of community engagement and participatory processes in neighborhood development. Urban planning strategies that integrate green spaces and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure are essential for enhancing neighborhood connectivity and promoting sustainability (Randall & Baetz, 2001).

Government Policies and Community Initiatives

The study also revealed that government policies and community initiatives play a crucial role in enhancing neighborhood connectivity. Regular town meetings, community leaders, and neighborhood clubs were identified as effective strategies for fostering a sense of belonging and engagement. However, challenges such as lack of enthusiasm among community leaders and lengthy approval processes were noted. These findings suggest that while structural and policy changes are essential, the success of these initiatives largely depends on the active involvement and cooperation of community members and leaders. This is supported by Daley et al. (2013),who highlighted the importance of community-wide sustainability initiatives and the need for a more integrative role for local government.

Technology and Social Media

Moreover, the impact of technology and social media on neighborhood connectivity cannot be overlooked. While mobile phones were seen as reducing face-to-face interactions, social media platforms offer opportunities for building and strengthening community connections. Creating online groups or forums can facilitate communication and interaction, providing an inclusive and accessible medium for residents to connect and contribute. Kleinhans et al. (2015) emphasized the potential of social media and mobile technologies in fostering engagement and self-organization in participatory urban planning.

Recommendations

To create vibrant, connected, and thriving neighborhoods, the following recommendations are proposed:

  • Fostering Sincerity and Belonging: Promote sincerity and a sense of belonging within the community by encouraging residents to prioritize community well-being and fostering a culture of mutual support.
  • Leveraging Technology and Social Media: Utilize technology and social media platforms to enhance neighborhood connectivity and engagement.
  • Architectural Practices for Connectivity: Implement pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, well-planned street layouts, and inclusive community spaces to foster social interaction and a sense of community.
  • Rethinking Boundary Walls: Consider alternative designs for boundary walls that foster visual and physical connections between neighbors.
  • Sustainable and Inclusive Building Practices: Prioritize sustainable and inclusive building practices that contribute to a healthier living environment and promote community engagement.
  • Collaboration Among Stakeholders: Establish platforms for regular communication and collaboration among architects, government officials, community leaders, and residents.

Conclusion

Enhancing neighborhood connectivity in urban environments is a multifaceted challenge that requires a holistic approach. By integrating thoughtful urban design, inclusive policies, community engagement, and leveraging technology, it is possible to create neighborhoods where residents feel connected, supported, and engaged. This study contributes to the growing body of knowledge on urban community connectivity and provides a foundation for future research and practice.

Limitations and Future Research

This study has several limitations, including its focus on a single urban neighborhood in Dhaka and its reliance on qualitative methods. These factors may limit the generalizability of the findings. Future research should include multiple neighborhoods across different cities and employ mixed-method approaches to enhance the robustness and comprehensiveness of the findings.

Future research opportunities include assessing the long-term impact of community empowerment initiatives, exploring strategies to bridge the digital divide, promoting cultural sensitivity and diversity in community engagement, and analyzing the effects of improved neighborhood connectivity on mental health and well-being. Comparative studies between neighborhoods with and without connectivity initiatives, examining sustainable architectural practices, interdisciplinary collaborations, and the role of community leaders in fostering engagement could also provide valuable insights.

Acknowledgments

The authors express their gratitude to Userhub for their support and resources, which made this study possible. We also extend our appreciation to Ms. Samira Ahsan, Ms. Sania Iqbal, and Ms. Lamia Wali for their collaboration and assistance. Special thanks to Dr. Nandini Awal for her encouragement and valuable information.

We are deeply grateful to the participants from the research location for their instant support and participation, enriching our understanding and making our research more meaningful. Additionally, we extend our heartfelt thanks to all the participants of the study for their valuable time and insights, without which this research would not have been possible.

Declaration of Interest

The authors of this article confirm that there are no conflicts of interest involved in this study.


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