Scholars in the planning, policy and development realms have honed some great definitions and theories of socially sustainable development.
Stephen McKenzie has done extensive work coalescing the various fragments of social sustainability theories written in Australia into a cohesive definition, published in 2004 for the Hawke Institute:
“Social sustainability is: a life-enhancing condition within communities, and a process within communities that can achieve that condition. Sustainable communities foster commitment to place, promote vitality, build resilience to stress, act as stewards, and forge connections beyond the community.” For McKenzie, social sustainability is an attribute as well as a process.
More recently, Andrea Colantonio and Tim Dixon wrote Urban Regeneration & Social Sustainability: Best Practices from European Cities. Colantonio and Dixon craft a definition of social sustainability that is more reactive than proactive, providing a framework by which to evaluate at the urban scale: “Social Sustainability concerns how individuals, communities and societies live with each other and set out to achieve the objectives of development models that they have chosen for themselves.” Once again, we see the inclusion of agency: occupants must have control of place for social sustainability to take place.
Colantonio and Dixon expand the theory of sustainability to encompass two categories: traditional and emerging themes. (Colantonio 2011) The traditional themes are: Basic needs, education, employment, equity, human rights, poverty, social justice. The emerging themes are: Demographic change, social mixing, social cohesion, identity, sense of place and culture, empowerment (participation), health and safety, social capital, well-being, happiness and quality of life.
These categories create a bridge to socially sustainable architecture because, other than the simple act of shelter, architecture has greater potential in addressing the emerging themes than the traditional themes,