Title: Sense of community in mixed-income, master planned communities: a case study of cadence in Richmond, BC

Author/s: Zolzaya Tuguldur

Creation Date: 2021

Overview/ Abstract:

I conducted a case study of a mixed-income development, Cadence, located in Oval Village, a master planned community, in Richmond, B.C. I sought to understand how such neighborhoods help people improve their lives, whether it is improvement in their social life, socioeconomic status or their overall health. Is it a matter of increasing access to high quality resources, like public or private amenities and services or educational opportunities, or is it necessary to interact with neighbors to obtain the full benefit of such resources? More specifically, my research question asks: How does mixed-income, master planned community influence sense of community among the affordable housing tenants of Cadence?

Keywords: mixed-income housing; master planned community; affordable housing, social interaction; sense of community; social mix

Geographic Focus: Richmond, British Columbia 


Mixed-income, master planned neighbourhoods have become the new planning phenomenon across our region as well as internationally. By welcoming low-income residents into newly built middle-income neighbourhoods, planners and policymakers are often attempting to build an inclusive community. Although mixed-income communities support socioeconomic heterogeneity and prevent the forming of “poor” neighbourhoods and the associated stigma around living in such neighbourhoods, many criticize mixed-income neighbourhoods for having “homogenising and segregating effects rather than supporting social diversity and cohesion” (Bosman, 2003, p.135).

Moreover, planners often prescribe “social mix” to cure the ills of society associated with living in poor neighbourhoods through neighbourhood effects. The idea is that the higher income residents may potentially influence the behaviours and aspirations of the lower income people towards upward social mobility and provide access to information and opportunity not available in low-income people’s own networks (Chaskin & Joseph, 2010; Bucerius et al, 2017)). This assumes that residents from different socioeconomic backgrounds engage in social interaction that is supposed to help low-income people expand their social network and improve their life circumstances.

Despite these claims and the underlying assumptions of social mixing, the empirical evidence for mixed-income developments indicates that limited social interaction occurs among residents from different socioeconomic backgrounds. My research was aimed at understanding sense of community among residents of a master planned community in Richmond’s Oval Village. In particular, I investigated how affordable housing tenants of a mixed-income, mixed use development Cadence perceive the quality of their social interaction with others and their feeling of sense of community.

Conceptual Framework

I developed a Conceptual Framework diagram (Figure 1) to conceptualize my research:

1.     At the link between “Social Interaction” and “Sense of Community,” I conceptualized that positive social interaction promotes feelings of belonging and vice-versa. The purpose of the research was to understand sense of community from a social interaction component using Kim and Kaplan’s hypothesized subcomponents of social interaction that include concepts such as casual social encounters (weak ties), social support (strong ties), neighbouring and community participation.

2.     Secondly, I postulated that physical design features of “Master Planned Community” can promote “Social Interaction” and “Sense of Community” among residents.

3.     Lastly, I theorized that positive “Social Interaction” amongst people from different income groups can yield positive “Neighbourhood Effects”, whereas negative relations could result in negative outcomes. I also theorized that positive “Neighbourhood Effects” can be achieved through access to quality services and amenities available in a “Master Planned Community”.

Figure 1: Conceptual Framework



A mixed-income, mixed use development called Cadence was chosen as the case study for this research. Cadence was completed in early 2017 by Cressey Development Group and is comprised of 245 condominium units in three residential blocks that include market housing units as well as 15 affordable housing units targeted for low-income women and children who have fled domestic violence. All affordable housing units are clustered in one block that also houses a daycare facility (noted as “5” on Figure 2).

All three blocks of the development are adjoined by a podium roof garden located on the fifth storey that houses the “club house” (noted as “Amenity Pavillion” on Figure 2) which includes a sports court, sauna, yoga studio and a study room. The ground floor of the development offers a variety of commercial amenities, including a drugstore, bank, dentist office, a number of eateries as well as a fitness centre. A walk-in clinic, physiotherapist, grocery store and many more services are also available in the Oval Village.


Figure 2. Cadence

Source: City of Richmond, Development Permit Application, 2013.

A mixed-method approach consisting of an online survey and semi-structured phone interviews was chosen as the research design with the affordable housing tenants of Cadence to capture their experience living in a mixed-income development. Ten affordable housing tenants completed the survey and 7 of them participated in the follow-up interview. Key informant interviews were conducted with the housing operator as well as the City of Richmond staff members to supplement the findings from the tenant survey and interviews.


Master Planned Community Design

My study findings revealed that women appreciate the complete and compact community features of the neighbourhood. Frequent reference was given to the convenience of being in the centre of everything, whether this was the parks, shops or amenities as the women’s favourite aspect of living in Cadence. Cadence is the only development in Richmond where the affordable housing tenants get priority placement in the on-site daycare. Cadence women appreciate the access to the daycare and considered it to be an important feature. Sixty percent of the participants use the facility on weekly basis at a minimum and 20 percent of the respondents use the daycare daily (Table 2). The priority access to the childcare provides opportunities for the women to attend school, maintain a stable job and attend life skill building workshops that are important for them to improve their lives.

Master planned communities often get criticized for catering to the growing “lifestyle consumerism” of the middle-class (Rosenbaum et al., 2012, p.128), where local services and institutions can mostly represent the sociocultural interests of residents with higher levels of financial and cultural capital (Zukin, 2010). Previous studies have found that neighbourhood shops and amenities had no value for the low-income households, ultimately pushing them to commute to the other parts of the city for more affordable and suitable options for their needs (Zukin, 2010, p.771). Based on my research findings, this did not appear to be the case for Cadence. Despite having a significant portion of services in the neighbourhood targeted towards middle-class people of Asian descent, all survey respondents, none of whom identify as Asian, and all of whom are of very modest means, felt that they can access necessary services within their immediate neighbourhood (Table 3).

Cadence women are able to meet their day-to-day needs within the neighbourhood by walking. Neighbourhood walkability was considered an important feature by the respondents (Table 2). Survey findings revealed that 80 percent of the respondents considered access to public transportation important (Table 2) although only one-third indicated that they rely on public transportation to get around (Table 3). None of the women who participated in the phone interviews relied heavily on public transportation to get around and most of them owned a car or had one at their disposal.

All women felt that their safety was a very important feature (Table 2). Health outcomes of moving to better neighbourhoods for adults are reported to be most striking based on self-reported health status. The existing research findings reported improved health and higher levels of “calmness and peacefulness” among adults due to reduction in anxiety from moving to safer neighbourhoods (Katz et al., 2003, p.183-196). Residing in a safe neighbourhood, these women may potentially benefit from positive health outcomes which could positively influence their children’s development in the long run.

As a master planned community, Cadence was successful in delivering New Urbanism design features such as walkability, transit-orientation, and mixed use that are aimed at “putting people closer together and getting them out on the streets and mingling in shopping areas close to their place of residence” to promote a sense of attachment to the neighbourhood. However, the extent to which these features promote street-level social interaction among residents is questionable. None of my interview participants said that they interact with others in the neighbourhood around Cadence.

Social Interaction & Social Mix

Over two-thirds of the respondents felt that they have friends in their neighbourhood that they can rely on for help. On the other hand, 30 percent of the respondents said that they consider none of their neighbours as friends and feel that they don’t have anyone in the building they could talk to if they had a personal crisis (Table 5). Forty percent of the respondents expressed no desire to know more people in their building (Table 8). Cadence women had a preference to maintain their privacy and felt short on time needed to know more people in the neighbourhood (Table 8). As my research was conducted during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than half of the survey participants felt that social distancing was more important as the reason for not engaging with others in the neighbourhood (Table 8).

When we talk about social interaction, we also have to touch on the negative ones. I found that Cadence women were often annoyed by activities such as noise, improper garbage disposal, dirty common areas, drug use and questionable visitors to the building. In some cases, stepping over personal boundaries to disclose personal information also caused annoyance for the other person and led to conflict with others, similar to the findings in earlier studies done by Zaff and Devlin (1998).

A sense of mutual aid was apparent among Cadence women. All women expressed that they are ready to help others in the building with what they can. According to Skjæveland et al, when there is a sense of mutual aid, or a belief that help is potentially available when needed, neighbours regard each other positively even when there is little social interaction (1996, p.417-418). Women feel that they share similar stories and are able to relate to each other which ultimately enables them to depend on one another for support.

Researchers have determined that participation in community activities provides opportunities for social interaction among residents and through such interaction, a sense of belonging to the community is fostered (Prezza et al., 2001, Albanesi, 2007). Although only 30% of the respondents participate in the programs organized in-house on a regular basis (Table 10), 90% of women felt that these programs provide opportunities for social interaction (Table 11). Most of them attend kids’ and family activities so that their children can participate in the program and the women can spend time with others. These findings illustrate a critical point that participation in community activities enhances a sense of community among residents and that engagement in community life and events is the building block of “community”.

Most of the women I interviewed had very little interaction with the market housing residents due to various reasons such as the condo owners being predominantly of Asian heritage or that they are physically separated from the market housing residents and that prevents them from engaging in social interactions with them on a regular basis.

In Cadence, the shared roof-top garden which is supposed to promote opportunities for interaction among people from different groups, never served as a place for the people from the two types of residences to socialize or “integrate.” On the other hand, parking spaces were found to provide more opportunities for people to interact with each other due to repetitive encounters. This is also supplemented by presence of children, who act as social bridge for the parents. This is similar to findings from earlier studies (Arthurson, 2010; Atkinson & Kintrea, 2000; Jupp et al., 1999) that highlighted that children acted as “catalysts” for mixing of residents across different income groups because children had “no notion of tenure difference” (Morris et al., 2012, p.9).

The extent to which Cadence women experienced positive neighbourhood effects through social interaction with the market housing residents is unknown; the results of this research were inconclusive in this respect. These brief encounters with the homeowners help Cadence women feel welcomed and accepted in their community and created a stronger sense of community. However, these encounters are not at a level where the low-income residents are able to “access formal and informal networks …that link [them] to job opportunities” or any other opportunities that help them improve their lives. This is similar to findings of earlier studies on mixed-income housing (Ruming et al., 2004, Jupp et al., 1999; Bucerius et al., 2017). Furthermore, none of the women expressed desire for more interactions with the market housing residents and they felt that the market housing residents want to have nothing to do with them, knowing their housing situation.  Despite the limited social interaction with the market housing residents, women in Cadence view them as nice and polite people, who are there if they needed help.

My research findings illustrate that Cadence women engage in casual and positive encounters with each other, and many have formed friendships, despite the presence of some activities that create annoyance among tenants. Participation in the on-site events and activities helps women to get to know one another better and the willingness to help one another was apparent among tenants. Overall, these social encounters with the other women in Cadence and their engagement with the community have allowed the women to feel a sense of community and belonging to Cadence.

Considerations for Urban Planners

The current spatial configuration of Cadence poses a barrier for the affordable housing dwellers to build relationships with the market housing residents. Community building efforts or interventions need to be in place in order for any mixed-income developments, especially those with separate doors, to succeed in delivering a socially inclusive and cohesive community that fosters a sense of community. Alternatively, distributing affordable housing units throughout the development will limit people’s ability to discriminate against their neighbours based on where they live. Without the “us and them” perception, residents may be more inclined to engage in meaningful interactions with others in the neighbourhood.

From a socioeconomic perspective, the income discrepancy among residents is quite significant in the case of Cadence. The majority of women in the affordable housing units are on welfare whereas the market housing residents either own or rent at market rate in the very same building. Earlier studies have shown that low-income households and higher income households have different social circles that tend not to overlap. As part of this, low-income households are likely to have denser neighbourhood-level social ties whereas higher-income residents tend to have social ties spread outside their immediate neighbourhood. Introducing gradual income-mix in master planned communities may help the residents establish social ties with others in the community. Decreasing the income discrepancy among residents through more graduated income-mix than is the case in Cadence may help residents to establish ties that may not happen otherwise.

Additionally, meaningful social interactions among residents from different tenures take time to forge. With Cadence having limited tenure length, residents from both sides do not have the opportunity to build and nurture that relationship. If the intention of building mixed income communities is to increase social capital and help the low income households move up the social ladder, then longer term tenancy is needed. After all, the current average wait time is five to seven years for subsidized housing to become available within BC Housing’s portfolio (AHS Update, 2019, p.5) and longer term tenancy would allow affordable housing tenants to transition to subsidized housing within their immediate neighbourhood.

In terms of amenities, in spite of the emphasis on shared amenities to bring people together, my research findings show that the common areas of the building, including the lobby, elevator, and parking spaces provide most opportunities for informal social interactions. Had the residential strata council not blocked access to the club house for the affordable housing tenants, there might have been more opportunities to build relationships there through repetitive encounters. This highlights the need for the municipalities to provide oversight on how these mixed-income, master planned communities are actually working on the ground. Municipalities should also invest in educating the broader community on affordable housing and work with developers and strata corporations to ensure that the common spaces in developments are open and accessible to everyone in the building in practice, not just on paper.

Having on-site childcare was quite beneficial for Cadence women who either worked or studied. The majority of my research participants were on welfare but two women who did work and went to school, used the daycare regularly and appreciated having it on-site. I know one Cadence woman completed her Early Childhood Educator practicum at Willow and continued to work there as an Educator until moving out of Cadence. Establishment of a childcare facility within the development was probably the most beneficial move for low-income, female-headed households.


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