Designing for difference: Vancouver public plazas analysis

An assessment of experiences in public space.

Public space isn’t always truly public: the way we look, sound and move affects our experiences in city space. Here in Vancouver, residents continue to face barriers to access, comfort and safety in public space based on their identities, from race, gender and sexual orientation to age, income and ability. When residents experience overlapping identities, these barriers can be even more challenging. 

We envision a future where Vancouver’s public spaces play a role in allowing differences to thrive. In this vision, these places are more than safe, inclusive and resilient — they support Vancouver’s most marginalized residents to live healthier, happier, more connected lives. 

The Happy Cities team worked with VIVA Vancouver to evaluate proposed and existing public space projects with a focus on equity and inclusion. Focusing on 18th-Cambie, 5th-Ontario and the public space underneath the south side of Cambie Bridge, our team engaged and listened to community leaders and lived experience experts to learn how Vancouverites’ diverse identities and experiences contribute to their access of the three sites, examining how design, activities, and perspectives impact Vancouver residents’ abilities to participate fully in public life.

Project Goals:

• Engage directly with groups historically and presently underrepresented in city building processes, as well as those not utilizing the three sites of study

• Include broader, more diverse voices in the preliminary scoping for engagement, design and programming of future public space projects at these sites

• Identify potential stewards for future public spaces at the three sites

• Attract a more diverse group of users to participate in dialogue about public space and public life

• Develop generalizable lessons for future public space projects

Through stakeholder engagement, focus groups, and a public workshop, The Happy Cities team will identify engagement, design and programming needs and opportunities for a future public space project at each site.

This project is part of VIVA Vancouver’s program goal to build community through social inclusion and builds upon previous VIVA Vancouver work in this area. Learn more.

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