ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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When the street space changes – measuring the power of small business actors to capture and transform the mobility value of a street space

Claudine Jane Moutou, Stephen P Greaves

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 9 - Law Building, Room 102
Date: 2012-07-11 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2011-12-19


As the imperative to make movement around a city more environmentally sustainable heightens so too does the necessity to change the transport infrastructure of streets within the city. The social sciences has a strong tradition for studying the social impacts of structural changes to mobility access, particularly in regards to social and economic opportunity and well-being. These have helped highlight the complexities of measuring a common experience within a heterogeneous city. An unresolved challenge in such studies is the treatment of power of the “affected”. In framing the transformed structural space as acting to limit or provide opportunities, there is a danger of negating the power of the individuals to self-determine how they will adapt and create new meaning and value from the transformed street space.

To make sense of this methodological challenge, this paper focuses on a specific space within a city – the street space outside a cluster of shop-based businesses. The transformation of these street spaces is strategically important to encourage changes in travel behaviour. Providing less car parking and increasing the appeal of walking, cycling and public transport access can encourage new travel mode choices. Analysing these structural changes and changes in traffic movements is however problematic if it focuses on the impacts on the surrounding social and economic fabric but avoids an analysis of individuals’ ability to create and capture value from the street space. It is argued that viewing shop-based businesses around a transformed street space as simply passive recipients of changes in customer travel, property values or street aesthetics is unrealistic. Shop-based businesses survive not just by being accessible to customers, but also by attracting customer traffic. New methods are therefore needed to measure and analyse the dynamic process that takes place when economic actors, however small, self-determine how their business will extract value from the transformed street.

To illustrate the methodological challenge the paper reports on a mixed methods study that sought to assess the power of small business actors to capture and transform the mobility value from a street space. The survey presented businesses with hypothetical changes to their street space and measured the tendency of respondents to choose actions for different self-set business goals. The paper discusses how capturing data that measures an individual’s power to act in both psychological and sociological terms can potentially increase the analytical flexibility of studying the process of transformation of city streets.