Pavement-to-plaza wellbeing assessment

Major public study of plazas in partnership with the City of Vancouver.

This project has been awarded the Canadian Institute of Planners 2020 Healthy Communities Planning Award for Planning Excellence.

Visitors enjoying the shade at Vancouver’s Jim Deva Plaza. Photo credit: Alison Boulier.
Can transforming underused roads into places for people improve resident wellbeing? 

During fall 2018, the City of Vancouver hired Happy Cities to assess its Pavement-to-Plaza program and find out. In September 2018, we surveyed over 700 Vancouverites at three places where road space had been replaced by plazas, as well as at three control sites. Participants answered our short, academically-validated subjective wellbeing assessment about the influences of the interventions on social connection, trust, care for place and sense of belonging. 

14th-Main Plaza, Bute-Robson Plaza, and Jim Deva Plaza were measured against three control sites, each close in proximity and similar in built environment to one of the three plazas. Our wellbeing assessments found that the plazas serve as welcoming and inclusive public spaces within their communities, as well as play an important role in supporting social interaction. For example, our survey results showed that 5% of women at the control sites reported feeling unsafe, compared to only 1.5% of women at the plaza sites. Similarly, when asked their level of agreement with the statement “this is the kind of place I would choose to meet friends,” nearly 90% of participants at the plazas agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, compared with 60% of participants at the pavement sites. Notably, respondents at the plaza sites were also 30% more likely to agree that “this place reflects my community” compared to those at the control site.

The findings build on the positive results found at several Vancouver sites where people-friendly interventions had been implemented, including Jim Deva Plaza, during our 2016 Happy Streets Living Lab. The results of these wellbeing assessments reveal that the City of Vancouver’s Pavement-to-Plaza program, developed with direction from VIVA Vancouver, is supporting local residents with gains in social interaction, trust, inclusion, place attachment and more. Public plazas can act like neighbourhood living rooms: To learn more about how they foster social interaction, inclusion and trust, read the report linked below.

This project has been awarded the Canadian Institute of Planners 2020 Healthy Communities Planning Award for Planning Excellence.

The jury agreed that this project is an excellent planning study that incorporates good methodology to look at people’s sense of wellbeing in the public realm, including safety. The expanded approach to evaluation criteria and ease of use made it a meaningful improvement in the way planners can assess public realm interventions. The project had a strong basis in research and scientific approaches to evaluation and attracted international media attention for its focus on the importance of public space as a tool for helping people connect, combat social isolation, and build community.

– Canadian institute of planners award jury

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