Urban happiness: context-sensitive study of the social sustainability of urban settings

Marketta Kyttä, Anna Broberg, Mohammad Haybatollahi, Kaisa Schmidt-Thomé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Previous studies have reported multifaceted, controversial social outcomes of
densely built urban settings. Social sustainability of urban environments have rarely
been studied in a context-sensitive manner, identifying the specific ways urban structural
characteristics contribute to the behavioural, experiential and well-being outcomes. In this
study, an online public participation geographic information system (PPGIS) methodology
allowed the place-based study of urban and suburban contexts in the metropolitan region
of Helsinki, Finland. Respondents (N = 3119) located their meaningful places and reported
the experiential and well-being outcomes. GIS-based measures of urban structures were
calculated within a 500m buffer around their homes. Structural equation modeling was
used to assess the contextual variation and the mediational role accessibility and perceived
environmental quality play in linking urban structural characteristics with well-being
outcomes. Our findings indicated that although increasing urban density was associated
with shorter distances to everyday services in both urban and suburban settings, the
experiential and well-being outcomes varied. In the urban context, easy access to services contributed to higher perceived environmental quality and positive well-being outcomes, whereas in the suburban setting, the closeness of services decreased the experiential and well-being outcomes. Perceived environmental quality was strongly associated with wellbeing in both contexts. We concluded that densely built urban neighborhoods can also support social sustainability, but the processes vary between suburban and urban settings. A challenge remains for urban planners on how to improve accessibility and related positive experiential outcomes in suburban contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning & Design
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)34-57
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Bibliographical note

Kyttä, M., Broberg, A., Haybatollahi, M., & Schmidt-Thomé, K. (2016). Urban happiness: context-sensitive study of the social sustainability of urban settings. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 43(1), 34-57.

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology

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