Towards socially sustainable urban design: Analysing actor–area relations linking micro-morphology and micro-democracy

Richard M Timmerman, Stephen Marshall, Yuerong Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


The social sustainability of cities is increasingly assisted by smart apps, social media and the awareness of how social interactions relate to urban space. Within cities, communities or neighbourhoods are no longer easily spatially defined. Similarly, how a community might govern itself does not necessarily follow traditional, simple, spatially self-contained loci. The role of housing management companies, managing a portfolio of social and private housing, adds additional complexity to relations between individual properties and their collective governance, at a level below that of the local municipality. meanwhile, the advent of online crowdsourcing and crowdfunding poses new challenges about the influence of outsiders and ‘who gets a vote’—and who uses their vote—when making decisions about a neighbourhood’s future. This poses a number of challenges for planning and local democracy in the smarter city.

This paper reports on new research from the Incubators of Public Spaces project, involving the use of a novel online design and crowdsourcing platform as an experimental tool for public participation, in the case of a london housing estate. In particular, this chapter analyses relationships between different actors and instruments involved in the governance of the different areas or territories of the housing estate.

We report on the challenges of holistically engaging a focused yet diverse pool of users in the regeneration of a series of courtyards associated with social housing blocks. This involves non-trivial decisions about user access rights within the platform, which becomes a challenge of reinventing a micro-scale democracy. by modifying standard approaches to social network analysis, the paper develops and demonstrates visualisation of the socio-spatial relationships, linking actor networks and area structures, applied in a novel way to a site’s micro-morphology. This research, yet in progress, can help inform a new generation of planning procedures for more equitable, inclusive and hence socially sustainable cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-30
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Development and Planning
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • Community cohesion
  • participatory planning
  • development
  • management
  • social network analysis
  • Smart Technologies

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