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Title:Building a community of our own: How can the built environment help? Neighborhood communal space and community participation in Chinese urban communities
Author(s):Zhu, Yushu
Director of Research:Dearborn, Lynne M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Dearborn, Lynne M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Stallmeyer, John C.; Krassa, Michael A.; Greenlee, Andrew
Department / Program:Architecture
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Community participation
communal space
civic space
residential space
Abstract:Against the backdrop of rampant urbanization and globalization, urban scholars have been seeking sustainable ways of building integrated communities in the city. Urban planners and architects have dedicated extensive scholarly endeavors to examining the relationships among neighborhood built environment, local social relations, and community identity. This dissertation contributes to this scholarship by synthesizing interrelated, yet segmented, theoretical approaches to gain a holistic understating of the relationship between the neighborhood built environment, especially neighborhood communal space (e.g., open spaces, clubhouse), and community participation – defined as a local population’s voluntary participation in community political and social affairs in both formal and informal ways. In this dissertation I ask the overarching questions: to what extent and how can neighborhood communal space contribute to community participation? Previous literature has suggested two mechanisms whereby communal space influences participation. The first is the social capital mechanism indicating an intervening effect of neighborly social relations between communal space and participation. The second is the intra-physic mechanism advocating place attachment as a mediator. This study aims to untangle the roles of these two working mechanisms in the milieu of neighborhood communal space. I situate this study in the context of commodity housing estates in Guangzhou, China. This research employs quantitative methods, drawing on a city-wide survey, and a case study using qualitative methods. The city-wide survey was collected in 2012 using a random sampling strategy. In total, information from 1,089 households in 39 neighborhoods was collected. A case study using qualitative techniques, including observation and in-depth interviews, was conducted in Kin-Lai Garden, a commodity housing estate located in the inner suburbs of Guangzhou. Using the individual- and neighborhood-level survey data, I adopted a four-step approach to disentangle the social-capital mechanism and the intra-physic mechanism. I first performed a multilevel regression to ascertain the association between neighborhood communal space and a local population’s community participation. Then I employed multivariate regression models to examine the relationship between individuals’ uses and appraisals of communal space, and participatory behaviors. I performed a path analysis in the third step to further investigate the extent to which local social capital and neighborhood attachment mediate the effects of communal space. Lastly, the physical attributes of neighborhood communal space are scrutinized to identify important factors that contribute to people’s use of communal space. Following the systematic quantitative analyses, I employed the data collected from field observation and interview in Kin-Lai Garden to explore how the two mechanisms influence community participation. Specifically, systematic observations illustrate the local population’ uses of and activities in communal spaces; interview materials reveal the content and meanings of neighborhood-based social capital and place attachment for local residents, and demonstrate the operation of the social capital mechanism and the intra-physic mechanism underlying community participation. The main argument stemming from this research is that neighborhood communal spaces, as an essential part of the neighborhood built environment, have an important role to play in shaping a local population’s participatory behaviors in the context of newly-built Chinese urban communities. Communal space does not directly affect community participation. Rather, it serves as a common ground for nurturing neighborhood attachment and place-based social capital. The latter two apparatuses produce “push” and “pull” effects respectively on individuals’ participatory behaviors. I argue that the importance of neighborhood communal space not only lies in its social function as a locale for interpersonal interactions and its psychological function as a source of place sentiment, but more importantly, it has civic virtue in the sense that it facilitates community participation through the social-capital mechanism and the intra-physic mechanism. Results of this study highlight the importance of the neighborhood built environment in the process of community formation. Meanwhile, this study bridges multiple parallel theories pertaining to the scholarship of community building and organizing practices, such as the discourse of “social contact design,” social capital theory and community psychology theory. This study illustrates that a synthesis of these theoretical frameworks is required to fully understand local civic participation in relation to the physical and social environment of a community. The conclusion of this dissertation discusses implications and potential directions for future studies on the topic of communal space and civic participation in the context of residential environment in emerging democracies.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Yushu Zhu
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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