Circle of Life Dance at the United Nations in Geneva, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0)image from US Mission Geneva’s photostream

While there’s plenty of talk about needing environmental and economic sustainability in design, the third sphere in the trio — social sustainability — often gets scant attention in mainstream discussions. Ensuring social sustainability for a design project means including safety concerns, community involvement and corporate responsibility as key components. It takes into account the needs of temporary users, such as builders, as well as future users like the public and employees. A recently published report by the U.K.-based Young Foundation took a look at the successes and failures of neighborhood developments around the world through the lens of social sustainability. The report creates a framework for policymakers involved in the planning and design of communities and cities. The Young Foundation report argues that social sustainability should be seen as:

“A process for creating sustainable, successful places that promote wellbeing, by understanding what people need from the places they live and work. Social sustainability combines design of the physical realm with design of the social world – infrastructure to support social and cultural life, social amenities, systems for citizen engagement and space for people and places to evolve.”

The Young Foundation finds that communities which do not work socially “at best fail to flourish, or at worst, spiral into decline.” You can see the full report here.

The following video helps to explain the concept of social sustainability. It notes the importance of including all stakeholders in the early development of a project. It also gives the three critical steps which should be taken into consideration: approach, assessment and desired results. And, it explains that socially sustainable thinking must be applied to each of these steps to achieve a socially sustainable outcome.