Public Realm R&D
Projects in this series
Surfacing the work of emerging designers and tests new strategies to bring people together in public space.
Who we are as a society is defined by how we interact in our public spaces. We must reinvigorate our public spaces in ways that bring people together and strengthen the bonds and networks that help our communities heal and thrive.
61% of Americans — approximately 200 million people — report that they are lonely. Social disconnection and isolation are linked to a host of health ailments, ranging from high blood pressure and heart disease to increased anxiety and depression. As isolation grows, social cohesion declines, causing levels of trust to fall and public life to erode. Americans who are more trusting and civically-engaged are more likely to help improve their neighborhood and offer assistance to neighbors in need. Restoring social cohesion is essential to unite, mobilize and rebuild communities in times of crisis.
Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R&D initiatives transform public spaces into social infrastructure. From community parks to public plazas, social infrastructure refers to the places and spaces that foster trust and social cohesion in communities. Working with the communities we serve, and some of the most innovative practitioners in design, we create spaces that unite neighborhoods by bringing joy to those who live and work there, and give people hope for the future. These spaces may provide new places to play, give support to local businesses, encourage the use of sustainable transportation, provide space for meaningful public discourse, or inspire a shared sense of civic purpose. While the possibilities are vast for each place we work, the desired outcome is the same.