Published on March 15, 2023

We asked, you answered: How do we create a sense of belonging in our public spaces?

From better design to inclusive programming, here are some of the top ways to make public spaces feel more welcoming.

Public spaces are meant to be enjoyed by everyone.


Great spaces enhance livable cities by supporting a sense of connection, individual and social wellbeing, and community expression and diversity.


Unfortunately, not everyone feels like they belong. This could be due factors like accessibility, lack of representation and safety.


“It’s essential to feel welcome in public space,” says Jen Angel, Evergreen CEO. “To feel safe and encouraged to be yourself, express yourself and enjoy yourself. When people feel welcome, public places hold enormous opportunities for improved health, social connection and community resilience.”


To learn more about what makes people feel welcome, Evergreen asked our social media followers to share their ideas. Here’s what we heard about creating a sense of belonging.


Adult and child sit on a park bench


Accessible design


The design of a space can significantly influence an individual’s sense of belonging and connection with the space. In our Instagram poll, 71% of respondents said accessible design was the top method to make public spaces feel welcoming.


These design elements can include well-lit environments, green and natural elements, clear signage, comfortable seating and ensuring the space is accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities.


Here’s what our followers suggest:


  • On LinkedIn, Jay Wall says “Design and amenities that consider all ages, all abilities, all times of day and all seasons! In particular, we need public spaces that are accessible, comfortable, and fun in winter — not just sunny summer days.”
  • On Instagram, @mirmir300 lists “Places to sit, bathrooms, proper garbage disposals, accessibility and an event space that is easily a relaxing public space when no event is taking place.”


group of people dancing in costumes


Inclusive programming


When public spaces provide inclusive programming, it sends a clear message that everyone is welcome.


“Seeing oneself reflected in a public space is a critical condition for feeling a sense of belonging,” Angel says. “The best public spaces offer a variety of things to do — with something for everyone.”


At Evergreen Brick Works, inclusive programming is emphasized through a diverse array of events and activities. The Evergreen Ignite Series featured experiential talks and exploratory conversations that showcase how public spaces can be used to build community and connection to one’s city. The series included facilitated panel conversations, live performances, and walking tours such as The Black Experience, Art and Public Space, with Jacqueline Scott from Black Outdoors.


Similarly, the Cultural Performing Arts Series included events such as Family Pride Night, a celebration of self-expression, theatre and queer culture, and Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, which featured traditional Mexican and Latin American celebrations with live performances.


Here’s what our followers told us:


  • On LinkedIn, Sarah Luca says “One of my favourite outdoor public spaces is Morningside Park, all the way up in Scarborough. Although it can be difficult to get to, it’s an incredible green space that has fire pits (so very cool!) and has great viewing of the salmon during the fall Salmon Run. As the community has a high newcomer population, Morningside Park and interpretive Indigenous programming is a great way to introduce folks to how we engage with outdoor space and cultivate appreciation, which leads to better conservation and understanding.”
  • On Instagram, @hanyun0111 says “More kid related space and facilities, activities. We as a family go where kids go.”


Placemaking collaboration


Empowering communities to actively participate in the design, activation and programming of public spaces is in important strategy to create a sense of ownership and connection to the space. After all, these aren’t just physical spaces, but places where people come together to engage with each other.


“The best public spaces offer the opportunity to directly and meaningfully shape what they are and what they are becoming,” Angel adds. “It’s important to think about who’s making the decisions about what the space looks and feels like, and whether those decisions are really reflective of our diverse community or our collective aspirations.”


Community engagement is a vital part of creating successful public spaces. Partnering with communities on different stages of placemaking ensures that their aspirations, concerns and needs are incorporated into the decision-making process.


Learn more


While many efforts have been made to make public spaces more accessible, people with disabilities still face barriers and limitations in these places. Check out Accessible Public Spaces for All: A Practitioner’s Toolkit to help you champion effective inclusion strategies in your project or community.


For more on community partnership building, the Civic-Indigenous Placekeeping and Partnership Building Toolkit guides users in community engagement, designing, and planning processes on Indigenous and intercultural placekeeping initiatives.