Human evolutionary aspects and urban dwelling features

Katrin Schäfer, Klaus Atzwanger, Bernard Wallner, Karl Grammer

Planning and architecture of modern housing projects should take into account the fact that human well-being depends very much on needs derived from the natural history of human evolutionary aspects, which include territoriality, security, and a balance between privacy and communal activity. Although model housing projects should consider space, all to often the need for privacy and the importance of the residential environment has been neglected. Putative consequences are a loss of social coherence, resulting in anonymity, vandalism and an increase in crime rates. On a game theoretical basis, we predict that a tendency for cooperation grows with the increasing probability of future meetings among inhabitants. The higher the probability to re-meet co-residents, the more interactions are to be expected. Frequent meetings lead to reciprocal recognition and enable the inhabitants to control their environment by identifying straners. This mechanism results in the identification with a common territory. Friendly interactions between residents are a motor for and an indicator of satisfactory living conditions. For this study, six different Viennese residential apartment blocks were selected and their quality measured using a checklist. The behavior of the residents was recorded using ethological standard methods (N = 1653), their subjective evaluation was assessed by on-site interviews (N = 300), and the frequency of physical incivilities was counted. The results support the hypotheses. The classification of urban environments relating to the presence of the above-listed features indicates that high habitat quality covaries with differences in preference for the site, extent of friendly interactions and familiarity with other residents, and occurrences of incivilities. One may conclude that the importance of the quality of the habitat environment cannot be overestimated, as its socially integrative potential is a means to counteract anonymity and crime incidence in cities.

Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Collegium Antropologicum
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Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
1060 Biology
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