Reshaping Communities: Discontent with community design drives a push for more inclusive architecture

by Angus Reid | April 10, 2022 9:00 pm

Accessibility, aesthetics, and sustainability equally important to Canadians in new building construction


April 11, 2022 – Canada’s population dynamics have been changing in recent years, as the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn many Canadians away from urban centres[1] and closer to smaller cities and rural spaces. This realignment, for many, has been an opportunity to assess what matters to them in a built environment, and whose voices are being heard in development decisions as the future unfolds.

For their part, Canadians see many areas with room for improvement.

Indeed, a new study from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute – in partnership with Rise For Architecture[2] – finds Canadians asking for more from their decision-makers and those involved in development in ensuring that public spaces are indeed for everyone.

Canadians are near-unanimous that accessibility (96%), aesthetic beauty (92%), and sustainability (90%) should be prioritized in new buildings in their community. Further, three-quarters say that the culture and heritage of the community should be a key consideration.

While Canadians agree on their priorities to a large degree, they are less united in the idea that developments are currently well planned and executed. Half say that development in their community is poorly planned (51%) and just 47 per cent admire the architecture where they live. Also notable are the voices of visible minorities and Indigenous, who are far less likely than Caucasian Canadians to say that they see themselves and their culture in the community.

Canadians are much more likely to say that development in their community reflects what developers want (51%) rather than what the people living in the space would like to see (10%). Further, those who have taken part in planning consultations are the minority and are more likely to say that they feel their voice was ignored rather than heard when they did take part. Those with lower levels of household income are less likely to have taken part in these types of discussions.

More Key Findings:

 

About ARI

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

About Rise for Architecture

Rise for Architecture is a national, volunteer-led committee of architects, educators, advocates and organizations that regulate the architectural profession in Canada. Since 2016, they have been hosting conversations to learn what Canadians want and need in their communities. Their findings will be shared with a series of actions and objectives to improve the processes and policies that shape how Canada’s communities are built. The end goal? To empower the building sectors, educators, and governments to create inclusive, sustainable and inspiring communities for all Canadians.

 

INDEX

 Part One: Canadian Communities: Priorities and appraisals

 Part Two: Development and decision-making

Part Three: Engagement and improvement in development 

 

Part One: Canadian Communities: Priorities and appraisals

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many elements of society beyond health. One of the most prominent impacts has been a significant reorganization for office workers, as many started working from home – first temporarily and for many, more permanent[3]ly.

The office tower-home office re-balance made waves in the real estate market, as home workers moved to more affordable locales. Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census[4] showed a reversal in the long-standing population decline in the Maritimes, as many from other provinces such as Ontario[5] moved their home office east. In 2021, for the first time on record, rural populations outgrew urban ones[6].

City planners and builders are facing new opportunities in many communities, buoyed by new arrivals and new demand for services. In order to understand what Canadians are seeing in their communities and expecting in the years ahead, the Angus Reid Institute and Rise for Architecture spoke to nearly 2,000 people across the country about this issue.

Safety and affordability are key

Many of the most key expectations from communities are foundational. Two-thirds (68%) say safety is a top factor in what makes a good community, while cleanliness (43%) is another high-ranking priority for two-in-five. With work opportunities becoming increasingly remote, fewer Canadians rank employment opportunities (31%) and transportation infrastructure (33%) as being key factors in what makes a good community. Notably, as housing prices soar into the stratosphere in many communities – including those not traditionally affected[7] by real-estate booms, half of Canadians (49%) say affordability is a top-three asset for a good place to live.

Residents see room for improvement on a number of fronts

With their priorities in mind, Canadians were asked how they would grade the community where they live on five key factors: the practicality of spaces, a sense of community, environmental protection, economic opportunities, and including diverse voices in planning. For all items canvassed few Canadians offer an ‘A’ grade and in no area do a majority offer a ‘B’ or higher. Canadians offer the least amount of praise for their community’s inclusiveness when it comes to planning:

This appraisal varies across the country. Quebecers offer their communities high grades on practicality, belonging, and environmental protection – each measure gets an ‘A’ or ‘B’ from at least half of Quebec residents. Praise isn’t as high across the rest of the country, but at least two in-five in all other regions offer high grades for their communities on useful spaces and sense of community belonging.

Residents in Ontario are most critical of their community’s ability to use space practically and to operate with sound environmental protection:

There is also a variance in report cards across Canada’s major urban centres. Suburban Torontonians offer their communities higher grades on all five measures than their urban core counterparts. A majority of Montrealers award ‘A’s and ‘B’s to their communities on a sense of belonging, the only urban centre where that’s the case.

Meanwhile, rural Canadians express higher satisfaction when it comes to their communities’ sense of belonging (60% ‘A’ or ‘B’) and stewardship of the environment (51%) than urban ones (46%, 41% respectively). Canadians outside of urban centres are, however, much less satisfied with the economic opportunities where they live:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

 New buildings should prioritize accessibility, sustainability and aesthetics

Canadians are keen on making their communities accessible, as past studies done by ARI in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation have shown. In a recent study[8], nine-in-ten (92%) said taxpayer funded projects should be held to the highest accessibility standards, while three-in-five (62%) said public spaces should be as universally accessible for everyone whenever it is possible.

Related: Canadians emphatic that post-pandemic recovery should be inclusive of those living with disabilities[9]

Those findings are reflected in these more recent data, as well. Canadians are near unanimous in their belief that new buildings should be accessible to people with disabilities (96%), as well that new buildings are beautiful (92%), energy efficient (90%) and family-friendly (89%). Fewer Canadians believe representing the culture and heritage of people in their community is important, but this measure too is still widely supported (73%):

Three-quarters say culture and heritage are important aspects of development

Overall, while three-quarters of Canadians say culture and heritage is an important aspect to consider when a new building is built in their community, men and women have different opinions on how important it is. Men, and those younger than 35 in particular, are less likely than women to believe it is important, but still a majority across all demographics say local culture is a key consideration:

Nonetheless, this is an aspect of community development that a firm majority of Canadians feel is important – at least two-thirds across each ethnicity grouping say this:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

 

Part Two: Development and decision-making

Development is an often contentious issue in communities, as priorities of developers butt against those of residents. There are numerous factors to consider, including economic opportunities, transportation, environmental impacts, and the needs and desires of nearby residents. Projects can take years to go from planned to collecting citizens’ feedback to under construction to built.

Half say development in their community is poorly planned

For many Canadians, it appears that first step in the process is often inadequately performed. Half (51%) say development in their community is poorly planned. Two-in-five lean the other way and feel that these decisions are made in a satisfactory fashion.

Other aspects of this discussion fall out from planning. Canadians are generally positive about moving around in their communities – three-quarters say this aspect of life is easy – but the population is divided close to evenly about the ultimate aesthetic appeal of the buildings they see and the spaces they occupy:

Do Canada’s communities reflect those who live there?

Three-in-five Canadians look around at where they live and feel that they see themselves and their culture in what surrounds them. This is not the case for everyone, however. For Caucasian Canadians, twice as many feel represented in their community as don’t. While a majority of visible minorities say they see their culture in their community, two-in-five disagree. Indigenous respondents are more divided, with as many saying they feel represented as saying they do not:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Younger Canadians, too, are less likely to feel they see themselves in their community. Whether this is from elevated expectations[10], or the fact that they tend to be more consistently mobile[11], two-in-five (41%) 18- to 24-year-olds say they don’t feel their culture is represented in their community. This is nearly twice the number of those over the age of 65 who say the same:

Fewer than half admire their community’s architecture

Architecture is a more contentious issue for Canadians, who are split as to whether or not they admire the buildings in their community or not. Canadian architecture does have its critics[12], but Quebec residents stand out amongst the rest of the country in terms of aesthetic appreciation:

However, Ottawa and Montreal stand apart for the higher grades each city gets from their residents. Ottawa residents have the federal buildings which provide a unique look. For Montreal, there is a legacy of design excellence codified with a bureau de design and the 2030 Agenda for Quality and Exemplarity in Design and Architecture[13], which sets a high bar for projects in the city.

Western Canadians in the urban centres of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton offer more criticism than praise:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Gauging the pace of development

Aesthetics are one consideration, but pace is another. Canada’s population is growing at the fastest pace of any ‘group of seven’ nation[14] and the build of new houses is not keeping pace. This is one of the reasons why housing prices have continued to climb this century[15].

Long-time residents are impacted by changes to their community, whether by the obstructed views or increased traffic[16] that further development brings, while others benefit from the new growth and opportunity that community enhancements can deliver.

Canadians are more likely to believe development is happening too quickly in their communities than the opposite. One-quarter (25%) say development is happening too fast where they live, compared to the one-in-five (18%) who say it is instead happening too slowly. However, the largest group, 27 per cent, are satisfied with the pace of local development.

Younger Canadians are much more likely to be impacted by the housing crunch, and many see development happening at pace too slow for their liking. Women are more likely than men to say their communities are growing too quickly, including a plurality of women over the age of 34:

Urban Canadians are more likely to feel development is happening too quickly, while rural residents are more likely to feel development is too slow. Metro Vancouver is growing faster than Montreal or Toronto, with its population increasing[17] by 7.3 per cent from 2016 to 2021.  With that in mind, Vancouverites are the most likely of any urban Canadian to say development is happening too quickly, at two-in-five. In Ontario, one-third in Ottawa and both Toronto’s core and suburbs also believe is happening too quickly:

Half are dissatisfied with development decision-making in their community

Canadians are more negative than positive when considering how development decisions get made in their communities. Half (48%) report being dissatisfied with development decision-making, while two-in-five say they are satisfied. Satisfaction is highest among men aged 55 and older, the only demographic group where the satisfied outweigh the dissatisfied:

Dissatisfaction is more prevalent than satisfaction for most of Canada’s major cities. The exceptions are Edmonton – where there are equal numbers offering thumbs up and down – Montreal and the Toronto suburbs, where, notably, there is greater satisfaction than the core neighbourhoods of Toronto:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

 

Part Three: Engagement and improvement in development

Majority say communities’ needs are not being met by recent development

There is an inherent balance between what the people living in Canadian communities want and what developers want to build. Troublingly, for most residents the scales are heavily tilted towards the latter. Three-in-five (57%) say they feel like local development reflects what developers want, while one-in-ten feel like it reflects what citizens want. There are one-in-five (19%) who believe the two interests are represented equally.

The prevailing sentiment that developers are the primary driver of what ultimately materializes in Canadian communities is strongest in Vancouver, where seven-in-ten say development reflects developers’ desires rather than community will. That is the opinion of at least half of all residents in Canada’s other major cities, but Montrealers are the least likely to agree. There, instead, one-quarter (24%) feel the needs of the community are balanced with developers’, the most of any major urban centre:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Many have taken part; few feel they have made an impact

Citizens are often given the opportunity to give feedback to developers’ projects in their city before construction starts through public forums and other avenues. A slight majority (54%) of Canadians say they have never done so. Rural Canadians are more likely than urban ones to have offered input, while in major urban centres, only in Edmonton do a majority say they’ve weighed in on projects in their community:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Income a factor in who takes part

There is evidently a correlation between income and offering feedback about projects in one’s community. Three-in-five (60%) in households earning less than $25,000 annually say they have never done so, while at least half of those earning above $150,000 annually say they’ve offered their thoughts on local developments. This suggests a significant opportunity to improve outreach among particular communities in the country:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Younger Canadians, too, are less likely to have offered input. Meanwhile, approximately half of older women and men have taken part in consultation of some form:

Visible minorities are much less likely to have given feedback on developments in their communities. As noted earlier in the report, they are also much less likely to feel like their culture and heritage is reflected when they hold up the mirror to where they live:

*Smaller sample size, interpret with caution

Offering feedback is one matter, but whether it was heard or applied is another.

For those who have weighed in on projects in their community, a majority feel like they weren’t listened to. A further two-in-five (38%) felt like their voice was heard, but it didn’t make a difference to the final project. Few (7%) felt like they were both heard, and it made a difference.

Apathy leads significant number to defer participation

For the majority of Canadians who have not offered feedback about developments in their community, many feel like it wouldn’t make a difference even if they had (37%). The largest group, two-in-five (42%), say that they haven’t been able to find information about projects and have thus, not taken part in offering their opinions. Not having the time to participate is a problem for one-in-five (23%), in addition to 14 per cent who say that consultations are held at inconvenient times:

Improved accountability for quality of community design

A central guiding hand to be responsible for architecture policy is desired by many Canadians. As outlined above, while half of Canadians do admire their local architecture, there are many who do not. A chief architect would offer a clear mandate and encourage better design decisions at all levels of government.

Canadians are amenable to the idea of a chief architect, especially the closer to their jurisdiction one would be appointed. Seven-in-ten support a chief architect for their local community, while less feel is necessary for their province (56%) or federally (44%). Still, support outweighs opposition at all three levels.

This concept is supported strongly in most regions of the country, particularly at the community level:

Across all of Canada’s major urban centres a solid majority support the idea of the role a chief architect could play in having a clear mandate for better design decisions.

Support is highest at four-in-five in Ottawa and Edmonton, but at least seven-in-ten in each city included say they are on board with this concept:

*smaller sample size, interpret with caution

 

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here[18].

For detailed results by urban centres, click here.[19]

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here. [20]

To read the questionnaire in English and French, click here.[21]

MEDIA CONTACT:

Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693 shachi.kurl@angusreid.org[22] @shachikurl

Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821 dave.korzinski@angusreid.org[23]

Image Credit – Flickr

Endnotes:
  1. away from urban centres: https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/so-long-toronto-covid-19-pandemic-hastens-canadas-urban-exodus-2
  2. Rise For Architecture: https://riseforarchitecture.com/
  3. permanent: https://betterdwelling.com/almost-a-quarter-of-canadians-now-permanently-work-from-home-up-over-300/
  4. Statistics Canada’s 2021 Census: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-2021-census-canada-population-highlights/
  5. as many from other provinces such as Ontario: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-2021-census-canada-population-highlights/
  6. rural populations outgrew urban ones: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-toronto-montreal-populations-decline-as-urban-exodus-accelerates/
  7. not traditionally affected: https://financialpost.com/real-estate/red-hot-and-rural-canadian-towns-grapple-with-big-city-like-real-estate-boom
  8. a recent study: https://angusreid.org/election-issues-disability/
  9. Canadians emphatic that post-pandemic recovery should be inclusive of those living with disabilities: https://angusreid.org/election-issues-disability/
  10. elevated expectations: https://angusreid.org/diversity-racism-canada/
  11. mobile: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-losing-young-adults-census-data-analysis-1.5444969
  12. does have its critics: https://thewalrus.ca/why-is-canadian-architecture-so-bad/
  13. 2030 Agenda for Quality and Exemplarity in Design and Architecture: https://nuvomagazine.com/daily-edit/montreals-2030-design-initiative
  14. at the fastest pace of any ‘group of seven’ nation: https://financialpost.com/real-estate/angry-neighbors-block-housing-that-canadas-cities-badly-need
  15. continued to climb this century: https://www.narcity.com/canadas-house-prices-skyrocketed-since-2000-this-video-shows-the-tragic-reality
  16. obstructed views or increased traffic: https://financialpost.com/real-estate/angry-neighbors-block-housing-that-canadas-cities-badly-need
  17. its population increasing: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/cv.action?pid=9810000501
  18. click here: https://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/2022.02.17_Rise_Architecture_tables.pdf
  19. click here.: https://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/2022.02.17_Rise_Cities_PR_Tables.pdf
  20. click here. : https://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/2022.03.29.Rise_.Arch_.Final_.pdf
  21.  click here.: https://angusreid.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/2021.04.04_Rise_Architecture_Questionnaire.pdf
  22. shachi.kurl@angusreid.org: mailto:shachi.kurl@angusreid.org
  23. dave.korzinski@angusreid.org: mailto:dave.korzinski@angusreid.org

Source URL: https://angusreid.org/reshaping-communities-rise-for-architecture/