In this chapter, the evolution and structuring role of QoL in environmental psychology research is reviewed. How the conception of the concept has changed is highlighted. Initially, QoL was pursued as an environmental quality to be attained at any price (i.e. regardless of the economic and environmental costs), but more recent conceptions emphasize the need for quality from the standpoint of sustainability, just as much economic as social and environmental. Another aspect evolving over time concerns the factors that affect QoL, i.e. the shift from an almost exclusive emphasis on the “objective” socio-economic and environmental conditions to an active and decisive consideration of the subjective, experiential dimension, which inevitably brings us to the study of happiness. However, this displays a bias in operationalization that generates discrepancies, resulting from the methods used to measure happiness. Various instruments are employed, with different focuses and objects of measurement, leading to extremely contradictory and conflicting results. This state of affairs takes on great significance when it comes to making structural and structuring decisions on today’s and future society.
It is necessary to define the conceptualizations and dimensions of specific measures in order to determine the contribution of environmental qualities and certain other key aspects. To date, the factors signaled for consideration by the literature are as follows: facilitation of cohesion, informal social support and empowerment in the face of the tendency towards isolation and learned helplessness; mobility and the unconscious effects of forms of travel (necessary or unnecessary); and, combining both these examples, emerging studies on what has been termed “walkability”. Walkability is linked to environmental conditions. The increase in studies on walkability is the expression of a deficiency in our socio-physical environment. In other words, it is a reflection of social conditions (in addition to the “physical friendliness of the place”) that promote or inhibit the autonomy of individuals in their everyday lives (sufficient proximity to resources and services; travel without the protective shield that the car has become, thus facilitating the possibility of spontaneous interaction), taken together, the result of a social climate that is inseparable from the urban lifestyle.
QoL and sustainability, the contributions of environmental psychology in different historical periods, the conceptualizations of QoL, well-being and happiness developed by specialized literature on this subject, the social dynamics and sustainability of the city, sustainable mobility and certain prospects of increasing QoL without exceeding the limits of sustainability, taking into account the socio-economic and structural trends in our society, and the challenges all these pose for environmental psychology are discussed in this chapter.