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Measuring the impact of spatial network layout on community social cohesion: a cross-sectional study

Crispin H V Cooper1*, David L Fone2 and Alain J F Chiaradia3

Author Affiliations

1 Sustainable Places Research Institute, Cardiff University, 33 Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3BA, UK

2 Institute of Primary Care & Public Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Neuadd Meirionnydd, Heath Park, Cardiff CF14 4YS, UK

3 School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University, Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WA, UK

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2014, 13:11  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-13-11

Published: 11 April 2014



There is now a substantial body of research suggesting that social cohesion, a collective characteristic measured by the levels of trust, reciprocity and formation of strong social bonds within communities, is an important factor in determining health. Of particular interest is the extent to which factors in the built environment facilitate, or impede, the development of social bonds. Severance is a characteristic of physical environments which is hypothesized to inhibit cohesion. In the current study we test a number of characteristics of spatial networks which could be hypothesized to relate either to severance, or directly to community cohesion. Particular focus is given to our most promising variable for further analysis (Convex Hull Maximum Radius 600 m).


In the current study we analysed social cohesion as measured at Enumeration District level, aggregated from a survey of 10,892 individuals aged 18 to 74 years in the Caerphilly Health and Social Needs Cohort Study, 2001. In a data mining process we test 16 network variables on multiple scales. The variable showing the most promise is validated in a test on an independent data set. We then conduct a multivariate regression also including Townsend deprivation scores and urban/rural status as predictor variables for social cohesion.


We find convex hull maximum radius at a 600 m scale to have a small but highly significant correlation with social cohesion on both data sets. Deprivation has a stronger effect. Splitting the analysis by tertile of deprivation, we find that the effect of severance as measured by this variable is strongest in the most deprived areas. A range of spatial scales are tested, with the strongest effects being observed at scales that match typical walking distances.


We conclude that physical connectivity as measured in this paper has a significant effect on social cohesion, and that our measure is unlikely to proxy either deprivation or the urban/rural status of communities. Possible mechanisms for the effect include intrinsic navigability of areas, and the existence of a focal route on which people can meet on foot. Further investigation may lead to much stronger predictive models of social cohesion.

Social cohesion; Severance; Walkability; Spatial network analysis; sDNA