What are we talking about when we talk about severance?

Post by Dr Sadie Boniface

On our travels to potential case study sites we have seen the different ways in which busy roads have the potential to sever communities and neighbourhoods.

We have talked a lot amongst ourselves about which types of barriers cause severance (roads, railways, rivers/bodies of water), and also the characteristics of infrastructure that are relevant for severance (see Jenny’s previous blog post). While we discussed at length what these barriers might look like, I’ve been thinking that we haven’t talked about what this might mean for the resultant severance.

This is important for Street Mobility because it will affect the kinds of questions we ask participants when we are trying to measure severance. Participants might not describe their community as being ‘cut off’ as a result of infrastructure, but it might be ‘split in two’ by a busy road . The effects of severance will also not be felt in the same way if there is a different community on the other side of the barrier.

I can think of three kinds of severance that we might see in our case studies.

The first of these is that we might see a community bisected by infrastructure. An existing community could be split by the widening of a road, a new road building built, or other transport changes resulting in more and/or faster traffic. Residents might avoid crossing the busy road, meaning that they do not walk around their neighbourhood as much or see as many people in their community. This could be made worse if most of the shops or facilities are concentrated on the other side of the road. Travelling by bus could also be a problem, as the bus stop is likely to be the opposite side of the road for either the journey there or back.

How a community could be bisected by infrastructure
How a community could be bisected by infrastructure

The second type of severance we may come across is a barrier bordering two distinct communities on either side, inhibiting interaction between people from the two communities. As in the previous example, residents might not be willing to cross the road to access goods, services and people. The barrier could actually emphasise differences between the communities, meaning people are even less inclined to cross the busy road. This also describes what might happen in the first example long-term.

How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities
How severance may define the boundaries of two adjacent communities

The third and final type of severance is a community that is isolated by a combination of infrastructure barriers. A less extreme example would be to imagine a community that can only be accessed by a single route or entrance. The barriers could be different types of infrastructure (as in the picture below), or all the same. In this example, the community itself is not split or divided, it is separated from the wider area, which may hinder access to facilities such as schools, hospitals, or places of work.

How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated
How severance might lead to a community becoming isolated

While I think the first example is unequivocal, there are definitely good arguments for not calling the other two community severance. We’d like to know your views – which of these would you call community severance, and why?


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