Getting data from the street: 'Vibrancy' project nears finish line

The aim of the project is to measure culture and vibrancy, qualities that are often discussed in the context of urban planning, but due to a lack of concrete data, often get overlooked.

Project aimed at gathering street-level data about Sudbury's downtown is nearing its final phase.

A project that aims to measure downtown Sudbury's vibrancy is nearing completion. The results will be presented to the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation.

Hamilton-based Cobalt Connect completed the 'Expressing Vibrancy' project this weekend, collecting bio-metric data of people's reactions when they interact with downtown elements.

The aim of the project is to measure culture and vibrancy, qualities that are often discussed in the context of urban planning, but due to a lack of concrete data, often get overlooked.

Jeremy Freiburger helped get the Sudbury project started in the summer. He develop it a number of years ago in southern Ontario, after realizing communities didn't really have a way to measure culture and vibrancy in a community.

"They had still talked a lot about what a great neighbourhood should look like and how culture could be a part of that ... but no one said how to measure that," he said.
Downtown elements like patios, planters and streetlights, like these outside of Peddler's Pub, contribute to the vibrancy of a downtown. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Phase one of the project took an inventory of the downtown area, including vacant buildings and public art.

During phase two, residents walked downtown and provided immediate feedback about its sights and surroundings, like planters, benches, or broken windows.

The final phase explores and probes the observations participants made about downtown. The final portion of Sudbury's project was completed this past weekend.

Participants also wore a headband that analyzed their pulse rates and emotions while they watched videos of downtown.

The purpose of the project is to attach measurable data to people's perceptions of the area, said Aaron Hutchison, the project's coordinator.

"We hope to be able to support certain other claims that people have made doing the other parts of the exploration [of Sudbury's downtown]," Hutchison said, "like, 'I really like it when I see a lot of benches on the street.' And we see maybe something correlated with the benches."
Participants in the project wore headbands that helped measure bio metric responses - anxiety, stress, ease, happiness, when walking through downtown neighbourhoods. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC )

A report on the project's findings will be compiled and presented to Sudbury's Business Improvement Association.

Members of the association hopes they'll be able to attach some significance to people's assertions of the downtown "feel," said Maureen Luoma, the executive director of Downtown Sudbury.

"One of the things that we're hoping for in terms of coming out of this, is that kind of information is going to help us make some of those changes," Luoma said, "if the findings show that people would like to see more benches, now we have something quantitative to actually go to the people to work with to make that happen."

Once all the data is collected, a final report will be compiled and presented to the Downtown Sudbury and Development Corporation.

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