Comfortably cosmopolitan? How patterns of ‘social cohesion’ vary with crime and fear
Achieving ‘social cohesion’ across race and class divides in South African settlements is a major challenge, given the divided urban geography of apartheid. Cosmo City, a new mixed-use settlement north-west of Johannesburg, was conceived and designed for social inclusion and cohesion, albeit between people of different income levels rather than race groups. A number of the development’s spatial features were also thought likely to reduce crime and fear of crime, either directly or as mediated by stronger social cohesion. A survey was conducted among 400 Cosmo City households to determine the extent of community cohesion, fear of crime, and rates of crime victimisation. Results found a strong sense of localised community pride and belonging within immediate neighbourhoods, and relatively high feelings of safety. However, self-reported crime victimisation rates did not suggest that there had been a crime reduction effect – in fact, they were extremely high. This may be a surprising but not unprecedented outcome of strong social cohesion, which may allow knowledge of crime incidents to spread through community networks as a shared sense of victimisation and thus raise the likelihood of survey reporting above the real rate of crime incidence. Further research should test whether, regardless of any impact on crime itself, greater social cohesion may reduce fear of crime even while raising a perception of crime rates. Policy and design that successfully promote social cohesion but fail to reduce crime may exacerbate a perception of victimisation.