SFU pitches new community engagement initiative 0
Students talk to each other during SFU's launch of a new community engagement program Tuesday. (TYLER ORTON, 24 HOURS)
Calling urban isolation the greatest obstacle facing a healthy society, Simon Fraser University's president helped launch a community engagement program in Vancouver Tuesday aimed at curbing city dwellers' increasing sense of disconnection.
Andrew Petter told about 150 people packed into the Woodward's building atrium the goal of SFU Public Square is to create a safe environment where people can come together and discuss anything from family to politics.
Although the launch was hosted at Woodward's, the public square program isn't confined to a single location. Instead, community engagement summits will take place across SFU's three campuses in Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver.
Partnering with the Vancouver Foundation, the first seminar - Alone Together: Connecting in the Urban Environment - is set for September and will focus on findings from a study the foundation released Monday.
Vancouver Foundation president Faye Wightman told the crowd at Woodward's Vancouverites feel like they're living in silos, separated by language, age, and ethnicity.
Her organization's study revealed 35% of Metro Vancouver residents don't have close friends outside their ethnic community, at the same time 65% believe most people prefer to spend time with those of the same ethnicity.
The report also found a third of respondents has trouble making friends, while 47% don't trust their neighbours.
Wightman told 24 hours she hopes the public square program begins to address those issues, adding the study's most surprising finding was 25- to 35-year-olds feel more disengaged than any other age group.
"They're connected through social media - it doesn't necessarily mean that they're connected for face-to-face (interaction)."
But after the launch, SFU student Vitor Borba, 21, stuck around to eat cake with some fellow students. He pointed out his peers attend different campuses, but they were eager to make the most of the rare opportunity to engage with one another.