A few years ago, right before our first baby was born, my husband and I moved to a residential area closer to campus. It was a tough decision because we both felt so integrated into the community we’d lived in for over five years. Our apartment was just beyond the downtown core, just blocks away from the ocean. The area had coffee shops and grocery stores and banks at arms length. We barely used our car. I became involved with the local residents association, and we had formed daily routines that started and ended in one pleasant setting (a previous post of mine explains a bit more about the area, physically).
Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? You must be wondering why we decided to re-locate after weighing such strong pros against the cons. Moving to a bigger place closer to my work made sense with our baby on the way. But I knew I’d regret moving in ways that had nothing to do with square footage or convenience. Why? Neighbourhood satisfaction. You know it when you’ve got it. You know it when you don’t.
I find it interesting that I don’t feel more satisfied in our new neighbourhood. It has many of the same amenities: grocery stores, drug stores, coffee shops, and restaurants are close by. City transit is easy to use and we remain mere minutes from the beach. In many ways, our new address is better suited to my goals, to how I work, and to my family’s leisure time. The setting matches what I expect in an urban residential environment. What’s the matter?
The matter is congruence—the notion that there is an optimal person-environment fit. Studies have identified congruence or ‘fit’ variables thought to influence residential satisfaction and psychological well-being. Attributes like neighbourhood aesthetics, resource amenities, feelings of safety, and social interaction are some examples of things that impact satisfaction with where one lives (e.g., Kahana et al., 2003; Phillips et al., 2010; Oswald et al., 2005; Moser, 2009). Although much of the work put forward has concerned elderly populations, it makes sense that residential satisfaction should occur at any age when there is strong congruence between a person and a physical living arrangement. However, based on my reflections on our current home, the ways in which residential satisfaction and congruence are related are… complicated.
Clearly, a strong person-environment fit exists between my lifestyle, my motivations, and my residential setting. My new neighbourhood has similar amenities to the last, and I feel equally safe and socially engaged. On paper, I should feel just as satisfied. As usual, I am drawn to the idea that sense of place has something to do with this dissociation. I’ve blogged about sense of place before. The construct is a combination of place attachment, place identity, and place dependence. How these emotional, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions interact is not overwhelmingly clear in the literature. But my anecdote points to the slight strength place attachment may have over the others. Clearly, where I live now allows me to experience place identity as well as place dependence. The missing link is emotional.
There are other predictors of sense of place that may help to explain situations like mine. For instance, I would quickly point out that I do not have the same level of permanence, or sense of community in the new neighbourhood. My dissertation will address other options (e.g., spatial navigation, place legibility, and so on). As always, through observation and experience, we can understand how intricate environmental psychology can be. I invite you to think about your own levels of residential satisfaction, environmental congruence, and sense of place. Don’t blame me if you decide to move!
Kahana, E., Lovegreen, L., Kahana, B., & Kahana, M. (2003). Person, environment, and person-environment fit as influences on residential satisfaction of elders. Environment and Behavior, 35, 434-453.
Moser, G. (2009). Quality of life and sustainability: Toward person–environment congruity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 29, 351-357.
Oswald, F., Hieber, A., Wahl, H., & Mollenkopf, H. (2005). Ageing and person-environment fit in different urban neighbourhoods. European Journal of Ageing, 2, 88-97.
Phillips, D. R., Cheng, K. H. C., Yeh, A. G. O., & Siu, O. (2010). Person–Environment (P–E) Fit Models and Psychological Well-Being Among Older Persons in Hong Kong. Environment and Behavior, 42, 221-242.