It’s not a lack of time that keeps residents of Metro Vancouver from getting involved in their communities, but a feeling they have little to offer.
That’s what the Vancouver Foundation learned with a closer look at its Connections and Engagement survey of 3,841 residents of Metro Vancouver published in June.
Feeling that they had little to contribute was the major obstacle for 27 per cent of respondents and a minor obstacle for 34 per cent, for a total of 61 per cent.
People aged 25 to 34 and condo and apartment dwellers most frequently reported feeling isolated, pessimistic about their neighbours and that they had little to give.
“How do you design buildings and condos and public space so that it makes it easier for people to connect? We know we’re only going to have more density,” said Catherine Clement, vice president of public engagement and communications for the Vancouver Foundation. “A lot of urban designers have been following our study and talking to us about ideas around that.”
Forty-nine per cent of respondents said a physical or mental health condition made it difficult to get involved, as did people with language barriers. Women, residents of Chinese descent and people with higher levels of education and income also felt they had little to offer.
Not having enough time was the third most frequently cited reason by residents for not participating in the life of their neighbourhood.
The foundation undertook the study after consultations with an array of community leaders and a survey of non-profits last year identified disconnection and disengagement as the most widespread concerns.
“If we were putting bets down, I would have thought for sure that it would be homelessness or child poverty or the cost of housing,” Clement said.
To seek answers for the problem, Simon Fraser University Public Square with the help of the foundation is bringing the discussion to the public with a community summit Sept. 18 to 23.
The summit includes a civic panel at the Orpheum, Sept. 18, a youth conference, Sept. 19, and discussions on the role of business in addressing urban isolation, Sept. 20.
Organizers hope events such as the Rain City Chronicles’ “Extra Ordinary” storytelling and music edition that celebrates local heroes, Sept. 21, will draw more than just the “converted” into the conversation.
“People tend to think, well it’s just about personal friendships,” Clement said. “But we know that we live in an earthquake zone and if there’s ever a disaster, it’s likely your neighbours are going to be there first and not your family or your friends.”
Studies reveal tight-knit communities are safer and better at tackling problems. People who are disconnected tend to be more pessimistic about their neighbours’ capacity to solve local problems and trust their neighbours less.
“What kind of community do we want,” Clement said.
For more information, see vancouverfoundation.ca.