This review and briefing look at the global evidence base for improving poeple’s wellbeing through changes to the community infrastructure. This covers:
Public places and ‘bumping’ places designed for people to meet, including streets, squares, parks, play areas, village halls and community centres.
Places where people meet informally or are used as meeting places, such as cafes, pubs, libraries, schools and churches.
Services that can facilitate access to places to meet, including urban design, landscape architecture and public art, transport, public health organisations, subsidised housing sites, and bus routes.
The focus of our review has been on interventions operating at the neighbourhood level rather than city or national level. Virtual spaces, such as social media, are beyond the scope of this review, although these are important and there is a growing evidence base.
What are the key findings?
What type of interventions were reviewed?
Community hubs – community centres or community anchor organisations focused on health and wellbeing that can be either locality-based or work as a network. Community hubs, such as healthy living centres, typically provide multiple activities and services that address health or the wider determinants of health, most of which are open to the wider community.
Events – temporary events that take place at a community level, such as festivals, markets, art events, street parties, concerts. Events can range from a one-off activity to a regular, sometimes weekly, occurrence.
Neighbourhood design – the scale, form or function of buildings and open space.
Green and blue space – any natural green space: parks, woodland, gardens; or blue space: rivers, canals, or the coast.
Place-making – the role of arts, culture and heritage in helping to shape the places where we live.
Alternative use of space – temporary changes to the way that people interact with a space, such as closure of streets for children to play; a ‘civic game’ that involved collecting items from different places; public art installations; a ‘pop-up park’.
Urban regeneration – the process of improving derelict or dilapidated districts of a city, typically through redevelopment.
Community development – a long-term value-based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality and inclusion.
CloseWhat are the key findings?
Why should you care?
This briefing is based on a systematic review of the evidence of projects, programmes and other interventions that aim to boost social relations or community wellbeing by making changes to community places and spaces.
There is promising evidence (based on a larger number of poor quality evidence) that a range of approaches to community infrastructure can be used to boost social relations and wellbeing in a community, giving people involved a range of options. As the evidence currently stands, we cannot say which approach is most effective, as studies have not compared one approach to another. So we cannot make strong recommendations for a specific approach.
The review also found promising evidence about ways of doing things that are more likely to lead to success, and ways of doing things that are probably not helpful. These facilitators and barriers to success were common themes across all the interventions.
It is important to note that the search found few high quality studies, and the majority of the evidence of impact is categorised as ‘promising’.
While there is especially keen interest among practitioners and policymakers to find out what works when it comes to the impact of place-making; urban regeneration; and improving social relations and reducing inequality through strengthening community infrastructure – the evidence that exists is of poor quality. See the box on page two for more on this.
People in my community need to have a sense that they actually matter