Date of Award

Fall 2011

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kevin Gardner


The concepts of sustainability and sustainable development are frequently described as having three main components, sometimes referred to as the three pillars or the triple bottom line: environmental, economic, and social. Because the origins of sustainability come from a desire to right environmental wrongs much consideration has been given to the environmental issues, especially how they interface with economic ones. Frequently mentioned but rarely examined, the social aspects of sustainability have been considered the weakest and least described pillar. This work explores the utility of social capital, the value of one's networks and connections, as a measure of sustainability. As an individual and group based concept, social capital is often thought of in the context of communities. Communities have both physical and social infrastructures and how we develop and use the land we live on has many implications for society. The idea that we would have more interactions with neighbors and fellow citizens if we lived in neighborhoods that promoted walking and were built on the human scale seems logical but there has been little evidence to suggest that a relationship between social capital and the built environment exists (Litman, 2010; Leyden, 2003; Kathlene & Wallick, 1999). Through a case study approach this dissertation examines the relationship between social aspects of sustainability (specifically social capital) and the built environment. Residents living in neighborhoods of varying built form and thus varying levels of walkability in three communities in New Hampshire were surveyed about their levels of social capital and travel behaviors. Survey respondents were asked how many locations they could walk to within their neighborhood or community and these responses were used to develop a walkability index. Responses to questions about trust and community involvement were compiled into two indices that served as the key measures of social capital. Comparisons between the more walkable and less walkable neighborhoods show that levels of social capital are higher in more walkable neighborhoods, even after controlling for key demographic variables. The findings suggest that social capital and walkability may be potent measures of community sustainability and that communities might benefit from shaping the built environment in ways that promote destination walking.