Social Capital Assessment

What is social capital?

Social capital may be defined as the web of cooperative relationships between citizens that facilitates resolution of problems within a community (Coleman 1988).  A necessary component of social capital is a strong social network comprised of bonding (between similar people) or bridging (between diverse people) links.  Other components of social capital include high levels of neighborhood trust and norms of reciprocity within a community (Claridge T 2004).

Social capital is typically measured at the individual level using indicators of connectedness or collective efficacy among members of a community.  These individual measures may be aggregated to obtain community level measures of social capital.  Indicators used to measure social capital are listed below (adapted from Social Capital Assesment Tool, Harpham T. et al., 2002)


  • Participation in organizations
  • Institutional linkages
  • Frequency of general collective action
  • Specific collective action
  • Degree of citizenship
  • Links to groups with resources

Sharing and Trust

  • General social support
  • Emotional/ instrumental/ informational support
  • Trust reciprocity and co-operation
  • Social harmony
  • Sense of belonging
  • Perceived fairness
  • Perceived social responsibility

More specific measures of social capital have been developed from empirical studies performed in the United States.  Some examples are listed below (Putnam 2000). The numbers in parenthesis indicates the item’s coefficient of correlation with the final constructed measure across individual states.

Measures of community or organizational life:

  • Percentage of individuals who served on a committee of a local organization in the last year (0.88)
  • Percentage of individuals who served as an officer of some club or organization in the last year (0.83)
  • Civic and social organizations per 1000 population (0.78)
  • Mean number of club meetings attended in the last year (0.78)
  • Mean number of group memberships (0.74)

Measures of engagement in public affairs:

  • Turnout in presidential elections, 1988 and 1992 (0.84)
  • Percentage of individuals who attended public meeting on town or school affairs in last year (0.77)

Measures of community volunteerism:

  •  Number of non-profit organizations per 1000 population (0.82)
  • Mean number of times worked on a community project in last year (0.65)
  • Mean number of times did volunteer work last year (0.66)

Measures of informal sociability:

  • Percentage of individuals who agree that ‘I spend a lot of time visiting friends’ (0.73)
  • Mean number of times entertained at home last year (0.67)

Measures of social trust:

  • Percentage of individuals who agree that ‘most people can be trusted’ (0.92)
  • Percentage of individuals who agree that ‘most people are honest’ (0.84)

Existing Profile Conditions

Some baseline measures of social capital for communities along the Spring Garden street corridor are listed below:

Adapted from PHMC Community Health Data Base (2006 – 2010)

Civic engagement and participation

Nearly 85% of residents living in communities along the Spring Garden street corridor worked on a neighborhood improvement projects in the last year (PHMC Community Health Data Base, 2010).  This percentage is lower than that of surrounding communities, particularly in the center city area and along the Schuylkill River.

Reciprocity and norms of cooperation

The map below shows Philadelphia residents’ willingness to help each other. Almost half of the individuals living in Spring Garden street communities endorse high levels of reciprocity and cooperation.  However, communities near the eastern portion of the sector appear to be more reluctant to work together.

SOURCE: PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010

Civic identity

Resident sense of belonging to a community is positively correlated with neighborhood social capital.  Approximately, 85% of Spring Garden street residents feel they belong to their community.  While a significant proportion of residents endorse feelings of community engagement, this percentage is lower than surrounding communities within the city (PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010).

SOURCE: PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010

SOURCE: PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010

Trust in community

Sense of trust along the Spring Garden street corridor is strong but varies by neighborhood.  Overall, 66% of residents living along the Spring Garden street community endorse trust for their neighbors (PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010).  This percentage decreases for neighborhoods in the eastern portion of the corridor.

SOURCE: PHMC Community Health Data Base 2010


Increased pedestrian traffic will provide an opportunity for community interaction, increasing social networks and social capital within the Spring Garden street community.

  • There is a strong association between green space (i.e. public parks and walkways) and improved social cohesion/capital.  In a study of collective efficacy in Los Angeles County, residents living within a quarter mile of a park demonstrated higher levels of collective efficacy and positive health (Cohen et al 2008).
  • A qualitative study in Australia demonstrated a strong link between neighborhood parks and social networks/capital.  Participants of the study saw the parks as “places to create contact and community” and an important place to establish and maintain networks (Baum and Palmer 2002).

Improvements to the Spring Garden street corridor will bolster the already strong social capital among the communities and decrease crime rates through improved informal social control.  This will benefit residents beyond increased safety, improving physical and mental health.

  • Crime in a neighborhood can increase fear, stress, and poor mental health among residents. In a study in Greenwich London, participants reluctant to go out in their neighborhood during the day due to concerns for safety were 64% more likely to be in the lowest quartile of mental health. (Guite HF 2006)
  • Individuals with a strong fear of crime are twice as likely to show symptoms of depression. Fear of crime is also associated with decreased physical functioning and lower quality of life. (Mai Stafford 2007).
  • Social capital reduces the level of community violence by increasing informal social control. Residents with connections to each other and a sense of belonging to the community are more likely to ‘look out’ for others and ‘police’ their streets.  Empirical studies have demonstrated a negative association between social capital and crime (Buonanno et al 2009; Cassidy et al 2007).
  • In addition, inter-family social capital provides support networks for family members overwhelmed by such stressors as poverty and unemployment. This support can help to reduce drug abuse and domestic violence (World Bank 2011).

Increased social capital is associated with positive physical and mental health.

  • Several studies associate specific characteristics of the built environment with increased stress and poor physical and mental health.  In a study of social capital in Philadelphia, city residents living closer to hazardous waste sites or high traffic areas reported higher levels of perceived stress.  Stress strongly correlated with adverse health among residents but was mitigated by strong neighborhood trust (Yang and Matthews 2010).
  • Several features of social capital have been associated with improved self-reported mental and physical health.  These features include trust of neighbors and involvement in social organizations (Fujiwara and Kawachi 2008; Fujiwara and Kawachi 2007; Bolin et al 2003; Veenestra et al 2005).
  • Some of the more common mental disorders that are improved by individual level social capital include depression and anxiety (De Silva et al 2005).
  • A study of British communities demonstrated improved cardiovascular health for members of households with high levels of social capital (McCullough et al. 2004).