Visitors enjoying the shade at Vancouver’s Jim Deva Plaza. (Credit: Alison Boulier)

Can transforming underused roads into places for people improve resident wellbeing? 

During fall 2018, the City of Vancouver hired Happy City 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 In September 2018, we surveyed over 700 Vancouverites at three places where road space had been replaced by plazas, as well as at three control sites.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 Happy City’s 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 our report ‘Well-being Assessment: Pavement-to-Plaza Program.’