Theses Master's

Public Space: The Critical Connection in a Sometimes Lonely City

Ji, Candice Siyun

Loneliness is a critical yet often overlooked social issue with significant mental and physical health implications. The increasing prevalence of loneliness in recent decades, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, underscores the significance of public space as a critical platform for social connection. While extant research on loneliness and interventions to address the crisis laid the groundwork for understanding the state of the issue, gaps in current knowledge persist. In particular, there is a lack of consistent methods for measuring loneliness on a large scale, empirical evidence to support the link between loneliness and specific features of the built environment, and proof of efficacy of existing interventions at a local level.

This study examines the extent to which public space features relate to visitors' social connections and loneliness levels. Four pedestrian plazas and four community gardens in New York City are selected as case studies, focusing on neighborhoods with relatively greater racial diversity and lower median household income. Data are gathered from multiple sources, including observational data on the public life and documentation of physical features of all eight sites, a field survey that engaged over 180 visitor respondents, and interviews with 15 public space managers and designers.

By investigating a diverse set of public spaces in New York City, this study provides evidence linking governance and public space design to the quality of social interactions and levels of loneliness among visitors. Seven key findings related to public space governance structure, programming, stewardship, openness, physical features, locality, and seasonality are outlined in the study. Insights gained from this study provide considerations for different stakeholders, including public space planners and designers, researchers, and city governments. By understanding and optimizing the influence of public spaces, conducting further research into effective strategies, and forming a coalition of efforts to address loneliness, cities can design for connection and pave the way toward better physical, psychological, and social outcomes for all.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Meisterlin, Leah M.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
August 16, 2023