New Assembly Report Shares Big Findings About Small Design Changes

Last summer, the Center for Active Design (CfAD) launched Assembly, an exciting initiative to understand how place-based design impacts civic life. This pioneering effort embraces community design as an essential tool for shaping civic engagement outcomes—including civic trust, participation in public life, stewardship, and informed local voting.

As part of this initiative, CfAD is thrilled to release original research findings from the Assembly Civic Engagement Survey (ACES). This is the first study to examine specific community design features that influence civic life, using large-sample survey methods and visual experiments.

Research highlights

CfAD’s publication of ACES findings is organized across three main topics: park design and maintenance; neighborhood order and disorder; and welcoming civic spaces and buildings. Highlights include:

  • People living near popular parks report greater community connection and greater satisfaction with local government. They are 14% more likely to report satisfaction with police and 13% more likely to report satisfaction with the mayor.
  • Litter is associated with depleted civic trust. People who report litter to be “very common” in their neighborhood exhibit reduced civic trust across a number of measures, including 10% lower community pride and 10% lower likelihood of believing that community members care about one another.
  • ACES demonstrates that relatively modest design improvements can make a difference in civic perceptionsPhoto experiments found that incorporating seating, greenery, lighting, and positive messaging can make civic spaces feel more welcoming and inclusive. Read full editorial here. 

Download the Assembly Civic Engagement Survey

Featured article by Curbed:
Shaping space for civic life: Can better design help engage citizens? 

“Can better spaces create better citizens? It seems like a tenuous connection at first, but when Joanna Frank, executive director of the Center for Active Design, examines the relationship, there’s a definite cause and effect. Safer, healthier, and more accessible neighborhoods breed better attitudes. Positive attitudes foster participation, and empower the public to take part in the electoral process to shape their neighborhood.”

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Center for Active Design
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New York, NY 10003