What makes you satisfied with your neighbourhood?

Blog post by Zachary Neal

25 Jun 2020, 9:32 a.m.
Zachary Neal



With all of the COVID19-related travel restrictions, you have probably been spending a lot more time in your neighbourhood. You might be spending more time enjoying a local park or thinking about local services like trash collection. And, you may even have noticed some new amenities in your neighbourhood. But, do any of these things actually affect your satisfaction with your neighbourhood?


In this new article, I show that they mostly do not. This is a counter-intuitive finding that bears repeating: The characteristics of your neighbourhood have little to do with your satisfaction with the neighbourhood.


I used a meta-analysis to combine information about the neighbourhood satisfaction of more than 250,000 people in 11 countries from 27 published studies. Each of these studies estimated how much an individual’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood depends on the neighbourhood itself. By combining each study’s estimate using meta-analysis, I computed a more precise estimate of the true impact of neighbourhoods. Surprisingly, all the various characteristics of a neighbourhood – its parks, schools, local services, natural beauty, shopping, etc. – only explain about 16% of a person’s satisfaction with the neighbourhood.


If a person’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood doesn’t depend on the neighbourhood’s characteristics, then what does it depend on? There are two likely possibilities.


One possible explanation is that a person’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood may depend more on the person than on the neighbourhood. For example, agreeable people are likely to be satisfied with their neighbourhood, while others, no matter where they live, will think that the grass is greener elsewhere We also know that some demographic characteristics matter…women tend to be more satisfied with their neighbourhoods than men.


A second possible explanation is that a person’s satisfaction with their neighbourhood depends on their perception of the neighbourhood, not on how the neighbourhood actually is. For example, we might expect residents to be more satisfied with their neighbourhood if its schools are good. But, in practice they will be more satisfied if they think its schools are good, even if the schools actually are mediocre. Perhaps neighbourhood satisfaction, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder?


As long as people are reasonably satisfied with their neighbourhoods, does it really matter why they are satisfied? Yes! Local governments and community groups spend enormous amounts of money and time trying to improve their neighbourhoods, for example by building or cleaning up parks, and expanding municipal services such as recycling or libraries. But, if neighbourhood satisfaction isn’t linked to a neighbourhood’s characteristics, then these efforts may not translate into increased neighbourhood satisfaction. Building neighbourhoods that residents find satisfying might take a more subtle approach that includes these conventional strategies, but also considers who’s living there and how they think about their neighbourhood.


If you’d like to learn more about this and his other work, check out http://www.zacharyneal.com, contact Dr. Neal via email, or follow him on Twitter at @zpneal.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.


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