An overhead view of city streets and homes.

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Cities’ Design Tweaks Can Boost Their Quality of Life

June 25, 2018

City design can have a big influence on how residents feel about where they live. The Center for Active Design—a nonprofit that promotes design solutions to improve public health—and the Knight Foundation teamed to release a new set of recommendations for urban planners to enhance city design, called the Assembly Civic Design Guidelines.

The CfAD believes that cities can do more to make residents want to use public spaces more, which could lead to more interaction among people from different social and economic backgrounds.

“Our research efforts generated a very exciting finding: that relatively minor design changes can lead to a measurable shift in civic perceptions,” Joanna Frank, president and CEO of the CfAD, told “We also found that people have surprisingly similar responses to design changes, regardless of age, demographics, or socioeconomic status.”

The following are among some of the ideas listed in the report on what cities can do to improve the quality of life and help strengthen the bonds between their residents:

  • Build a comprehensive pedestrian network that allows residents to walk anywhere in the community. Residents in walkable neighborhoods tend to report a greater sense of community and stronger social network, according to the report.
  • Provide sidewalk amenities. For example, add benches, trees, and lighting to entice more pedestrians to use them.
  • Add a network of safe, continuous bicycle lanes. Social ties tend to be weaker in cities where public transit is difficult to access or where people tend to have to rely on a car, according to the report.
  • Zone for diverse mix of land uses across neighborhoods. People who tend to live within walking distance of parks and retail are more likely to interact with neighbors, according to the report.
  • Clean up and use vacant lots. Use these vacant areas for a community garden or public art.
  • Design for children. Improved children’s amenities can boost civic trust among all residents, even those without kids, according to the report. As such, cities have found a benefit from playgrounds, sports fields, and other amenities that cater to children.
  • Invest in public seating. Seating in plazas can draw more people to a place. The report also notes that public seating has a positive impact on the liveliness of commercial streets.