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Connection with neighbourhood determines livability

17 October 2023
Major cities in the Netherlands in particular have significant differences between 'good' and 'bad' neighbourhoods, according to the annual neighbourhood survey conducted by the Department of Sociology of VU Amsterdam on behalf of Nextdoor - an online platform that connects neighbours. Over 18,000 Nextdoor users were surveyed about the liveability of their neighbourhood. In addition, more in-depth qualitative research was conducted in two contrasting Amsterdam neighbourhoods (Osdorp-Oost and Oostelijke Eilanden/Kadijken).

Urban versus rural

The research shows that the urban-rural divide is often exaggerated. Admittedly, the average neighbourhood opinion is slightly lower in highly urban areas (7.4) than among respondents from rural areas (7.7). But the gap is a lot bigger within urban (7.9 vs 6.7) and rural areas (8.2 vs 7.1) than between big cities and rural areas. Whether a neighbourhood is rated good or bad is mainly determined by the average income of the neighbourhood (i.e.: whether a neighbourhood is poor or rich), rather than the rurality or urbanity of the neighbourhood. Respondents from rich rural neighbourhoods are satisfied (8.2), but residents of rich urban neighbourhoods are also remarkably content (7.9).

Quality of neighbourhood contact, social trust, crime and insecurity

Three facets of social cohesion in particular matter for a pleasant living environment: good contact with neighbours, strong social trust, and the absence of crime and feelings of insecurity. The quality of neighbourhood contact is more important than its frequency. The frequency of contact with neighbours no longer matters at all when the other factors are taken into account. Meeting neighbours more often or offering neighbourly help does not in itself have a positive impact on neighbourhood ratings if not accompanied by an increase in mutual social trust. That the level of crime matters is confirmed by these figures, among others: respondents who 'rarely or never' suffer from it (53.4%) give their neighbourhood an average of 8.0. Those who experience only 'a little' nuisance (33%) give their neighbourhood a 7.3, and those with 'severe nuisance' (7.4%) barely an adequate (5.6). About half of the fact that richer neighbourhoods tend to be rated better than poorer ones can be explained by differences in social cohesion.

Qualitative analysis of two Amsterdam neighbourhoods

Two contrasting neighbourhoods in Amsterdam were investigated using a qualitative approach, namely a neighbourhood with a high and a low score: De Oostelijke Eilanden/Kadijken in Centrum-Oost and Osdorp-Oost in Nieuw-West. For both neighbourhoods, we took social cohesion as central. De Oostelijke Eilanden/Kadijken are characterised by a predominantly white population. Contact between neighbours is mostly easy. Inequality is relatively limited, but there are distinctions between residents of social rented and owner-occupied houses. Differences in money ownership can be somewhat bridged by shared social values that together ensure neighbourhood responsibility. Here, we see an overlap of these social values. Osdorp-Oost, on the other hand, is characterised by more fragmentation of neighbourhood residents. These fragmentations are bubbles separated from each other where there is little mutual contact and run along language differences and ethnic lines. Neighbourhood activities are fragmented and cut across differences between generations (young and old). Meeting places are limited and there are few activities for young people. Insecurity and nuisance dominate there due to squatting, (drug) crime and loitering youth, among other things. Professionals try to turn social distrust into trust among residents.

About the research:
The research report can be downloaded here. It was commissioned by Nextdoor and the research was conducted under the supervision of Peer Smets and Jasper Muis from the Department of Sociology of VU Amsterdam. The survey period ran from 1 May to 3 July 2023. The online questionnaire was prepared and administered through Qualtrics and distributed to Nextdoor users during the above period. Different aspects of social cohesion were surveyed: contact with neighbourhood peers, offering neighbourhood help, organisation of activities and initiatives in the neighbourhood, perceived crime and insecurity, and social trust.

About Nextdoor:
Nextdoor is an online neighbourhood network that allows people to establish and maintain contact with their neighbours. Neighbours around the world use Nextdoor daily to receive information, offer and get help, and connect with all things local - neighbours, local businesses and government organisations. Currently, people from 310,000 neighbourhoods in 11 countries use Nextdoor. In the Netherlands, almost 1 in 5 households use the neighbourhood app. Nextdoor is a private company based in San Francisco.