Join us on November 9th at 9:30 AM PST to hear from two UK innovators in this field and contribute your own insights about the connection between housing and wellbeing.
As Canadian cities densify, multi-unit housing is becoming a dominant form for many – if not most – households. These housing types, however, sometimes offer lower levels of connection between neighbours and a reduced feeling of community. This is not a minor issue: our connections with neighbours – and with our immediate neighbourhood – impact our health in significant and measurable ways.
But multi-unit housing is not inherently isolating: thoughtful design and programming can help to build community, neighbourly connections and resilience. Great examples exist but they are too often the exception, not the rule.
In a time of polycrisis (affordability, housing, climate change, growing inequity, loneliness etc) we need to pull together across sectors to mainstream socially connected, resilient, and inclusive multi-unit housing.
Join hosts Michelle Hoar (Project Director, Hey Neighbour Collective), Madeleine Hebert (Senior Housing Specialist, Happy Cities), and the Canadian Housing & Renewal Association as they chat with Natasha Reid (Design Consultant, MATTER . SPACE . SOUL), Paul Quinn (Director of Regeneration, Clarion Housing Group) along with special guests William Azaroff (CEO, Brightside Community Homes and Board Chair, BCNPHA), Emily McDonald (Planner, City of North Vancouver), and Leigh Bursey (Board member and Chair of Advocacy Committee, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association).
Thursday, November 9th from 9:30 AM – 11:15 AM PST
Natasha Reid, Design Consultant
Natasha Reid is founder of MATTER . SPACE . SOUL, a specialist design consultancy shaping places for health, wellbeing and social sustainability. She focuses on the social, psychological and emotional impacts of places and often speaks at conferences on forward-thinking approaches to pressing urban issues. She is also a “Healthy Places and Inclusive Design” expert for a London council, former Fellow with the Center for Conscious Design and an Associate with the Quality of Life Foundation.
Natasha will be explaining the Place Quality Model that she created based on cross-disciplinary research, and then implemented as a Public Practice fellow alongside planners in Brent, one of the Greater London boroughs. Enacted into Brent’s residential development requirements in the summer of 2023, it aims to embed health, social impact, inclusivity and equity into multi-unit housing development.
Paul Quinn, Director of Regeneration, Clarion Housing Group
Paul has worked in social housing for almost 40 years. The majority of this time has been spent working on regeneration projects, beginning in the former mining villages of North Wales before moving to the English Midlands, where he led regeneration schemes in the Black County and East Midlands. At Clarion Housing Group – the UK’s largest non-market housing developer and operator – he oversees a £2.5billion programme of regeneration ($4.16billion CDN), delivering some of UK’s most complex and ambitious residential-led projects. He has a particular interest in intergenerational housing and urban design.
Paul will be discussing Clarion’s Age-Friendly and Play Strategies, as well as his involvement in an international campaign around smart, multi-generational neighbourhoods and housing currently in front of the International Organization for Standardization.
We will have a few Canadian rental and affordable housing experts joining us for the question and answer period of the webinar.
- William Azaroff: CEO, Brightside Community Homes and Board Chair, BC Non-Profit Housing Association
- Leigh Bursey: Board member and Chair of Advocacy Committee, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association; former city councillor (Ontario) and a front-line housing worker (Newfoundland) with lived experience of homelessness.
- Emily McDonald: Planner with City of North Vancouver, working on updating the city’s zoning bylaw.
Researchers have been learning about the health and wellbeing impacts of loneliness, social isolation and declining feelings of community belonging for many years now. The evidence is conclusive: social connectedness and a sense of community belonging are integral elements of personal and collective physical and mental health across all demographics. People with weak social connections have a 50% greater risk of death than those with stronger connections; an effect on mortality as strong as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Locally, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health have collaborated on My Health My Community surveys of tens of thousands of British Columbians. Learn more about their findings and recommendations for how positive changes in our built environment can contribute towards mitigating worrisome trends.
Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) formed in 2019 in response to the type of research mentioned above, with a focus on ways of building social connectedness between neighbours within multi-unit housing. In late 2020 HNC submitted a discussion paper to the Metro 2050 Regional Growth Strategy consultations: “Developing Truly Complete Communities: Social equity, social connectedness, and multi-unit housing in an age of public health and climate crises.”
One of the recommendations within the report that had strong interest from those consulted was that Metro Vancouver member municipalities should develop design guidelines and incentives for multi-unit housing that fosters neighbourly social connections. In collaboration with long-time partner Happy Cities, HNC hosted cross-sectoral workshops in September 2021 and June 2022 to further this idea.
“The desire for socially connected, cohesive communities is included in all the broad community plans. But that vision gets filtered out as you build something because it’s not mandated in actual development processes.”— A September 2021 workshop participant (architect)
These efforts yielded fruit. Metro 2050 was approved in February 2023 with a specific requirement for its 21 member municipalities to show how their “local actions and policies” will contribute to “increased social connectedness in multi-unit housing.”
There are many ways to support social connectedness in multi-unit housing. But one of the most powerful is to design housing from the outset to intentionally foster connection. A strong physical foundation supports both organic and programmatic forms of neighbourly interactions, connections and systems of mutual support.
Over the next year, Hey Neighbour Collective, Happy Cities and SFU are collaborating on a project entitled Building Social Connections: Housing design policies to support wellbeing for all, which will support six Metro Vancouver jurisdictions to co-create new guidelines and incentives informed by research and best practices from near and far.
This project received funding from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the views expressed are those of the author and CMHC accepts no responsibility for them.
We are thankful to the SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue for supporting HNC project director Michelle Hoar to travel to the UK to meet with innovators working at the intersection of housing and social health.
About Hey Neighbour Collective
Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) brings together landlords and housing operators, non-profits, researchers, local and regional governments, housing associations and health authorities. Together with residents of multi-unit housing, these HNC partners take action to alleviate loneliness and social isolation through building social connectedness, resilience, and capacity for neighbourly support and mutual aid.
HNC is housed at the SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue. Key academic research partners include SFU Urban Studies, Gerontology and Health Sciences. Happy Cities is also a key research and engagement partner and Vancouver Coastal Health is one of a number of ‘learning network’ partners.
About Happy Cities
Happy Cities is an urban planning, design, and research firm that uses an evidence-based approach to create happier, healthier, more inclusive communities. We harness the science of wellbeing to advise housing providers, municipalities, developers, and organizations around the world on how to design buildings and urban spaces that support people’s social and physical wellbeing.