- Social environments encompass connectedness, social cohesion, and an overall sense of community, which are all important aspects of community health. Social environments are linked closely with many other factors (e.g., built environment, accessibility, place-making, cultural conservation).
- Communities that increase the chances for individuals to meet each other through the availability of well-designed gathering spaces have been linked with higher levels of social capital, trust, support, sense of community, and neighbourliness.30
- Safe public spaces are important for healthy social environments. Public spaces that are well-designed and culturally appropriate can decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness in a neighbourhood.2
- Fostering a positive social environment encourages people’s sense of identity, engagement, empowerment, and connection with their community.2 Perceived social wellbeing is a predictor of neighbourhood level social cohesion.
- Social environments should include and support all individuals, including ethnocultural communities and racialized minorities. Racism, stigma, and discrimination are deep rooted (engrained) issues in our social environments. These issues require significant cross-sectoral action and structural change to mitigate their adverse impacts on people.
A healthy social environment promotes a sense of identity, belonging, engagement, empowerment, and connection with one’s neighbourhood or community. Positive feelings of social wellbeing can increase levels of social cohesion and sense of community which in turn affects social capital, trust, and support among neighbours. It is important to consider the social environment of a neighbourhood and how it is connected to the built environment, public spaces, and promoting and preserving cultural heritage in an area.
Example Criteria for Social Environment Design
What opportunities are available for formal and informal social engagement?
Neighbourhood engagement for residents can promote social wellbeing through community programs and events. These events can increase a sense of social capital, social cohesion, and support families and individuals of all ages.16,33 Supportive funding can help to foster community engagement. For example, the Calgary Foundation has Neighbour Grants that support initiatives aimed at building a sense of community, inclusion, and belonging. Strathcona County offers Community Connection and Community Change Grants. This grant empowers Strathcona residents with the freedom, flexibility, and creativity to engage in local community-building initiatives to create positive community change.
What is the perception of resident safety?
Residents need to feel safe in their physical environment in order to engage in their social environment.13
Are there community leagues or community associations?
Community leagues or associations are registered societies that aim to improve their community.67 They play a role in fostering a positive social and cultural environment as well as creating a sense of belonging and inclusion within the community.
What internet access/connectivity is available in the neighbourhood?
Reliable internet connection provides communities with improved social integration and access to local information (e.g., gatherings, events, programs).68,69
When neighbourhoods promote social cohesion and safety, it can lead to sustainable transportation practices and behaviours.1,13 Community associations can help to address environmental issues by advocating and working with residents within the community (e.g., arranging ride-sharing, etc.).
Economic Recovery Considerations
Community associations provide an opportunity to increase housing values within a neighbourhood.70 However, the community associations must be implemented carefully in order to serve the diverse voices of the community and avoid focusing on a small group of individuals. The presence of community associations has been linked with increases in housing market value by offering more programs and amenities.71
Pandemic Recovery Considerations
Community social environments have been heavily impacted by public health measures (e.g., restrictions on gatherings, inability to use community assets such as community leagues or recreation centres). These impacts have increased social isolation and diminished social wellbeing.4 Pandemics – or similar events – can perpetuate age-based and race-based discrimination, with negative implications for people’s safety.5 For example, public health measures to reduce disease transmission can affect perceptions of safety among older people who may be less independent.5 Additionally, stay-at-home orders have brought to light concerns regarding increased domestic violence as a consequence of social isolation.72
Did you know?
A study of more than 43,000 Canadians on crime and safety during the pandemic found that 83% of Canadians reported feeling safe in their neighbourhoods. Among the 83%, 40% reported feeling very safe and 43% feeling somewhat safe.73
Key Social Environment Considerations for:
Consider if there are community associations in your neighbourhood or local community-based programs that promote wellbeing and connectedness. For example, the Southern Alberta Pop Up Parks Association is a not for profit community organization that focuses on place-making by turning vacant and neglected lots across Alberta into engaging outdoor spaces promoting outdoor activities, art, and music.74 Cities such as Edmonton75 and Camrose76 also host Pop-up Park events throughout the summer.
Consider the benefits of community associations, community programs or other forms of social engagement that promote healthy social environments in a neighbourhood to appeal to potential clients.
Consider designing gathering spaces in communities to promote healthy social environments, social cohesion, sense of community, and neighbourliness. Pop-up Parks like those in Edmonton75, Camrose76, and Medicine Hat74 are examples of existing urban and rural spaces, re-imagined for community use and connectedness.
Consider how the land development affects the social environment in a community, recognizing the value of developing communities that provide opportunities for social interaction.
Consider implementation of policies and bylaws that incorporate public and private spaces within communities for multi-use social functions such as community programs, events, and social gatherings. To support digital connection, continue to work with provincial and federal governments and private companies to support a broadband strategy for Alberta. Where possible, consider investing in municipal broadband initiatives to expedite connection for residents. Examples from Parkland County77, Viking78, and the Town of Vermillion79 provide diverse strategies to address a lack of internet infrastructure.