Undertakes new survey about increased community engagement
Natalie Hamilton

With one in four Vancouver residents reporting they feel isolated from their neighbours, posAbilities and Copula House are taking a closer look at community engagement.

The two organizations are undertaking a new survey and seeking respondents to determine Vancouver residents’ desires for increased community engagement through affordable cohousing development. Cohousing is a model that involves reducing private space in order to create more common space for connection and engagement, such as full kitchens, recreation rooms and shared office space.

Gord Tulloch, posAbilities’ director of innovation, tells posAbilities Today the survey is an energizing initiative.

“The exciting part of this exploration is that it asks the question if mainstream developers undertook much of this work and simply incorporated cohousing into the design of highrises, would there be a market for it?

“Would it be possible to create micro-communities within highrises and might this change the complexion of these places? Further, might it lead to developers paying more attention to the way their buildings convene inhabitants rather than separate them?

“It would be great if the survey was a confirmation that people prized an opportunity to live in real communities rather than simply living in stacked boxes, that they wanted to live in configurations where they could live in caring and co-operative relationships with their neighbours.”

Gord points to the Vancouver Foundation study, which found one in four people in the city experience a sense of loneliness and over half of the people participating in the survey found housing in Vancouver to be unaffordable.

The 2012 study goes on to reveal that most Vancouverites have not participated in neighborhood or community activities in the past year and that more than one-third of residents find the city a hard place to make friends. Civic engagement is at an all-time low.

“When we look at the way our modern developments are engineered, it’s no surprise,” Gord explains. “Using space efficiently means that there is little space for engaging others, for connecting. If you are living in a highrise, the likelihood of feeling isolated only increases. Lobbies, hallways and elevators are places of minimal interaction, spaces where we have brief and awkward conversations but never connect.”

Creating a cohousing community is a long and complicated process because it requires a variety of legal structures and partnerships, relationships with an architect and developer and financing, Gord notes.

“The best possible outcome would be that a mainstream developer takes such results seriously and is willing to innovate to answer the demand. When the free market economy is levered to create connections and engagement rather than perpetuating spaces that separate us, we have a real chance of addressing problems of social isolation and loneliness.”

The survey was conducted with support from the B-Clinic at the Sauder School of Business. Students who offered assistance to develop the survey and generate the report include Noelle Harvey, Jack Hedley, Aarti Rupani and Anne Simpson-Porcois.

The survey is online here and will be live through August 1, 2013. For more information, please contact posAbilities.

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