Can green space help us calm down and feel less stressed? Will living in a walkable neighbourhood make us feel more satisfied with our quality of life? Do social amenities like services, parks, and community gathering places contribute to making us happier city-dwellers? 

Questions on whether and how the built environment impacts well-being are gaining traction among health researchers and decision-makers. Despite a growing interest, there is little robust public health evidence to support the theory that built environments can have an effect on our well-being.

That’s why INTERACT’s research is analyzing how changing built environments are linked to changing health outcomes, including well-being.

For us, well-being – or how people experience and evaluate their lives – is a key health outcome. To carefully study the role of urban design on well-being, we track built environment changes and use both longitudinal survey and EMA data collection tools to measure evolution in well-being among population-based cohorts in four Canadian cities. 

A primer to well-being

From mental wellness to an economic indicator, the term well-being is used in all kinds of ways. What do we really mean when we talk about well-being? Is it about being in a good mood? Or feeling happy with where we are in life?  Is it even broader, connecting to how we feel about our future, and whether we feel like we can take on whatever comes next? Well-being includes many dimensions; there is no one way to conceptualize it. That also means there are different ways of measuring it. 

As our team works to uncover the evidence linking built environment interventions and their impact on our health, we prepared a primer that summarizes key concepts and measures relating to well-being.

Measuring Well-being

To understand how built environment changes influence subjective well-being and who they benefit, we are using longitudinal surveys, EMA data collection, and qualitative interviews in four Canadian cities. We capture subjective well-being using measures of Personal Well-being Index, Subjective Happiness Scale, and Short Mood Scale: 


  • Personal Well-being Index was developed by the International Wellbeing Group to measure the subjective dimensions of “quality of life”, along seven life domains: standard of living; personal health; achievement in life; personal relationships; personal safety; community-connectedness; and future security. 
  • Subjective Happiness Scale aims to capture whether people consider themselves to be happy, accounting for cultural or social measures of happiness. 
  • Short Mood Scale measures affective states along dimensions of valence, energetic arousal, and calmness. Research teams have used this scale to measure current affective states in real time, through EMA surveys administered via smartphone

How are you?

Mood check-ins via smartphone app

We’re asking hundreds of participants to answer quick surveys on how they are feeling throughout the day and who they were with. We’re still collecting data and exploring the rich data set from 2018, but here’s a peek into how people reported feeling, based on who they were with, in the Fall and Winter of 2018 in Montreal.

We’re collecting data on this question right now, and eager to start analyzing differences between now and then. As we spend more time alone in 2020, how are we finding ways to stay calm?

How does the built environment affect our well-being?

New greenways, bike networks, and place-making (particularly places with greenness) all have positive effects on physical activity, which in turn improves mood and overall happiness. 

What does that tell us about the potential effects of urban design changes made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Related publications 

Join the research!

We are currently recruiting thousands of participants in Montreal, Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver to join our research into how cities can boost our well-being. Sign up and share how you feel in the city!