These planning theories have been helpful in drawing attention to the discrepancy between social and environmental sustainability, but they are at a scale that makes them difficult to apply to architecture. But while concerns of environmental sustainability move rather effortlessly between scales, social sustainability is currently anchored in the largest scale, the development of cities and neighborhoods.
A new definition of social sustainability in architecture is essential to the broader conversation about sustainability in architecture. Without understanding and prioritizing social sustainability, buildings, no matter how environmentally sustainable, are not truly sustainable.
So, without further ado, my definition of socially sustainable architecture:
Architecture enhances social sustainability by providing built opportunities for balance and connectivity. Socially sustainable architecture fosters 1) balance between the individual and the collective and between the present and the future; and 2) connections between individuals within the building and between occupants and the surrounding community.
While it’s common for definitions of social sustainability to include safety and equity, this definition does not because they are seen as traditional values. Architecture has solutions for both such as defensible space and universal design. While both safety and equity are crucial components of social sustainability, generally, and can certainly be enhanced through architecture, they are more traditional themes, as delineated by Colantonio, than these emerging themes, that can not just protect the status quo, but enhance social sustainability.