Icons of a person walking a dog and a person on a scooter.

Community Connections

Metro Vancouver’s green spaces provide a great venue for building healthy communities. Our greatest obstacle is finding the time to participate.

What we asked

Metro Vancouver is defined by a unique mixture of diverse cultures, urban and suburban communities, natural beauty, public spaces, and transport connections.

We believe the strength of our communities can be improved by understanding the way that social, physical and natural systems interact with each other to support the people who live here. Building community occurs when we take part in something together. We asked people what community activities they participate in, and about the obstacles to getting more involved. We also asked about the shared spaces they prefer, and who has enough room to create their own community-building activities. 

Lastly, we asked if people feel a sense of belonging to their town or city, and if they feel a sense of connection among the people or places in their community. We wanted to know more about how they get around for local errands, and how far it takes them to reach one of Metro Vancouver’s green spaces. 

What we heard

Residents are less involved in community-related activities than five years ago, apart from volunteering.

Across almost every measure in our survey, people in Metro Vancouver are taking part less in community-related activities. However, volunteering has remained relatively stable. In 2017, 45% of Metro Vancouver residents report participating in volunteer work, compared to 48% in 2012. 

Most people take part in at least one activity to make their community a better place to live.

Three-quarters have done one or more activities in the past year to help neighbours or to maintain common spaces to enhance the collective good. The top five neighbourly activities include picking up litter (39%), shovelling snow from a common area (38%), lending or giving an item to a neighbour (33%), feeding a pet, collecting mail or watering plants (23%) and reporting something of concern in the neighbourhood (22%).

The main obstacles people identify to becoming involved in community activities are not enough time, not enough awareness of opportunities or activities, and not enough money.

Other barriers include a feeling of not having much to offer, and feeling unwelcome. In 2012, many residents said they felt they do “not have much to offer”, while in 2017 only 19% identified this as an obstacle. 

Residents of apartments, condos, and suites in houses would benefit from more shared spaces to socialize with neighbours, but most live within a short walk of a green space.

Our survey reveals that 33% of residents in Metro Vancouver do not have a yard or common area where they can easily socialize with neighbours. This figure rises to 44% for people living in a suite-in-house, and 50% for those living in an apartment or condo. The kind of common areas residents would like to enjoy include community garden (28%), green space or pocket park (22%), BBQ area (18%) and games room (14%). The vast majority of Metro Vancouver residents – 84% – report having a green space within 10 minutes walking distance.

We feel a sense of belonging to our towns and cities through both people and places.

Residents of Metro Vancouver feel the strongest sense of belonging among friends (56%), family (56%), nature (30%), work (25%), in their neighbourhood (22%), and among groups, e.g. those that focus on sports or hobbies (16%). 

Our interactions with strangers reveal us to be friendly, but reserved.

People in Metro Vancouver report interacting with each other in public community spaces by smiling (73%) and saying hello (66%). But fewer than half are willing to respond to a question from a stranger (48%), and only 23% will ask a question or initiate a conversation. 

What this means 

We believe that understanding the interactions between people, places, and our social or environmental spaces can help us build more inclusive and cohesive communities.

We’re surprised to hear that people in Metro Vancouver are less likely to be involved in community activities than they were five years ago.

As we seek to understand what inspires people to participate more, we hope to discover more about how the relationship between social and physical factors contributes to participation in our communities.

Community belonging is a key factor explaining differences among Canadian communities in their average levels of life satisfaction. It is also the key reason why lives in large cities are generally less happy than in smaller communities, where tighter connections occur more naturally. To create that sense of belonging in larger cities is possible, but it requires rethinking how spaces are designed, services delivered, and how individuals treat each other.

Dr. John Helliwell, Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia's Vancouver School of Economics and co-editor of the World Happiness Report

Since 2012, the main obstacle people identify to participating has shifted from ‘not having anything to offer’, to ‘not having enough time’.

Has life speeded up in the last five years? Why aren’t we more aware of opportunities to connect? Our survey doesn’t tell us. But with the explosion of connected devices and social media, we’re sure it has never been easier to find out more about activities in your area. We wonder if people know where to look, but are finding other more conventional barriers – like time and money – prevent them from participating. 

It’s no surprise that people feel the highest sense of belonging among friends and family.

But many also get this feeling from spending time in nature and in our neighbourhoods. This is a great place to start thinking about how communities – and the interactions between our physical, social, and environmental spaces – can enhance our sense of belonging.

Metro Vancouver’s green spaces provide a great venue for building healthy communities.

A third of residents in Metro Vancouver do not have a yard or common area where they can socialize with neighbours. Our survey shows what kinds of spaces people would like to share, with community gardens and green spaces at the top of the list. 

Read more about ‘Community Connections’ in Vancouver Foundation’s 2017 Connect & Engage Report.

Download the full report