Rethinking Social Impact Assessment through Urban Design: Towards designerly evaluation with a socio-form approach
Abstract: Tools for assessing the social impact of urban designs are being developed internationally and in Swedish municipalities. While methodological development is underway, a theoretical discussion about the implications of urban design on social impact assessment (SIA) and its critical potential is rare, leading to the situation whereby much SIA is instrumental and might act against reinforcing and improved integration of the social dimension into the practice of urban planning and design. There is a need to address the democratic aspect of SIA in terms of equality and involvement of different perspectives on the design of urban space. The aim of this thesis is to advance SIA conceptually and methodologically within the field of urban design and to enhance the understanding of what this advance implies in respect of how different urban planning and design stakeholders define and handle evaluation of the urban space and its social aspect. Research through design of an approach to the design of urban space is used as a method for advancing SIA, where design consists of a series of iterative activities applied on a local urban redevelopment case in Gothenburg, including screening, imaging, presenting and testing. The research also includes studies of literature and documents, participation in knowledge arenas, re-conceptualisation and re-contextualisation, physical modelling, and focus group workshops. The approach, called SOCIO-FORM, focuses on a) the relationship between the social and built form aspects, b) the architectural nature of the process of its construction, and c) the transversal character of this activity. It outlines the meaning of urban design for SIA, suggesting the design of urban space as a shared subject of interest, activity, and production of knowledge. Through reflecting the subject for design (urban space), the process of its design, and the production of knowledge about it (the subject of design) the approach develops the transverses of spatiality, design and knowledge in-the making to advance SIA and its transversality. The thesis inverts the cause-effect hierarchy of assessment and analysis and shows how SIA can be developed by and into designerly practice through a new context of application to serve a diversity of perspectives on urban space, activities and stakeholders that are involved in urban design with a means to think critically about spatiality and its social dimension. The thesis emphasises a critical urban design perspective on the concepts and practices of SIA and the view that the contemporary Swedish planning practice of SIA has of the design of urban space, and draws attention to a designerly mode of evaluation and its role for a more integrated, coherent and democratic urban development. An alternative understanding emerges that expands the space of possibilities attributed to contemporary SIA. It improves SIAs urban-ability – a quality of being able to navigate in and embrace the complexity of discussion about a relationship between the aspects of socio and form. By means of this alternative reading, the thesis formulates theoretical foundations for designerly strategies to develop social sustainability tools, as a complement to the contemporary development in urban planning and design practice of evaluation. In a wider sense, the thesis shows how SIA integrated with urban design might contribute to social sustainability.
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