Data nerds, rejoice – the first results from Cobalt Connects’ innovative vibrancy study are in, giving you an in depth look at the elements that make up a livable, inviting social space.

“What we’re doing here is trying not to look at culture in a bubble,” said Jeremy Freiburger, chief connector and cultural strategist with Cobalt Connects. “Culture is this weird animal that needs to be looked at from a variety of perspectives.”

The arts organization started the project by studying eight Hamilton neighbourhoods — in Waterdown, Downtown Dundas and Westdale, as well as on Concession Street, Barton Street, James Street, Locke Street and Ottawa Street. A team walked through each neighbourhood and counted “cultural assets” like graffiti, trees, neighbourhood-specific architecture and signs in languages other than English.

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Jeremy Freiburger is the chief connector and cultural strategist at Cobalt Connects. (Supplied)

Then 250 volunteers from varying age ranges and backgrounds strolled through those neighbourhoods while filling out a survey, reporting on what they saw and felt, and how it relates to vibrancy. “That way we can get a real sense of what they’re connecting with,” Freiburger said.

Those results are now up on the project’s website. By clicking on the map, you’re taken to your neighbourhood of choice and all the data collected for that specific space.

What works in Dundas might not work downtown

The results are pretty interesting – take downtown Dundas, for example. Downtown Dundas has long been seen as a picturesque, classy sort of downtown – but according to the data, it’s lacking several elements that were measured in other places. Downtown Dundas scored low on ethnic centres, languages spoken, festivals and events and neighbourhood signage.

The neighbourhood did, however, score high on green space, air quality, commercial information, garbage/recycling and accessibility.

“Dundas is a great downtown. We’re not saying Dundas needs 10 more cultural institutions or another neighbourhood needs 10 more trees,” Freiburger said. “Not all neighbourhoods need to be the same.”

“But this is fun because people can find the place that matches them and their interests.”

Some other interesting tidbits from the data:

  • Teenagers hated cigarette smoke in every neighbourhood they visited. “They noted it more than any other demographic,” Freiburger said.
  • Ninety-seven per cent of people say air quality is their most important “natural asset” in Hamilton.

This is just the first phase of data to be released by Cobalt Connects as part of the project. Freiburger and his crew spent days at McMaster University’s Live Lab to test physiological responses to the data.

Fun with electrodes

The Live Lab is a one of a kind facility that can be used to test how people react to visual and auditory information. Volunteers in the study were hooked up to devices that measure brainwaves, heart rate, sweat levels and breathing patterns while viewing video, pictures and listening to sounds from the eight Hamilton neighbourhoods in the study. Their biological responses then got catalogued to truly define how people react to something that is supposedly “vibrant.”

Those results should be out for the public to see in September, Freiburger says. The results may also turn into a crowdfunding campaign in the near future to help fix some of the issues noticed in the project’s results. “There are so many small things that we as citizens or BIAs can be doing to fix,” Freiburger said. He mentioned Environment Hamilton’s Bicycling Air Monitoring program, small artistic performances in parks and hanging baskets and planters for BIAs.

“Do we need to worry about the municipality hanging planters? Probably not,” he said.

There is one very heartening thing about all this data – every neighbourhood that study participants visited had some positive aspects, no matter what.

“We didn’t know if there’d be places that would just do poorly on everything – but regardless of incomes or demographics, there was no place that everyone just said ‘this is all bad.’”