• June 27, 2024

Access to and having a sense of belonging in a community can enrich all kinds of spaces, and that’s particularly true of school life.

Education is a social activity, and while schools are a source of it, community connections and involvement are also integral to truly successful schools: From early childhood to post-secondary education, schools’ social ties to their locations affect everything from access to learning opportunities and boosting student retention to promoting optimism among teachers and improving attendance rates.

But proximity doesn’t always create connectivity; schools benefit from active involvement with communities, but they have been historically designed as spaces segregated or entirely isolated from their communities.

How can design repair these divides, and seek out ways to socially open schools back up to their surroundings?

Public space is key: Reconnecting schools and communities

Just as cities benefit from public spaces, schools can benefit from the principles of public space inside and out. But however it’s formed, greenspace where possible is essential. Nature’s ubiquity allows for more intimate and inclusive spaces with potential for activities like outdoor classrooms, places for meditation, study and reading.

“Knowledge sharing between students and communities is an asset. It keeps both parties engaged and motivated, increasing their sense of belonging and purpose,” says landscape architect Marie-Eve Parent, Associate and Practice leader in Landscape Architecture.

Parent envisions schoolyards transformed into public squares themselves, where their activities are linked to the communities around them.

Students’ physical, social, and emotional development would see improvement along with their attention spans and reduced stress, while the environment can thrive off features like water management methods and native plant life.

“Shared space allows for students’ development of practical and social skills that will be useful to them in the future. As they interact with people of different backgrounds, it can foster a culture of inclusion and respect. The same applies to the broader community, who are invited to play an active role in students’ lives by attending school events, volunteering, or supporting school initiatives,” she says.

Public space in action

Pointing to four new secondary schools designed by our team in consortium with Leclerc architectes and Prisme, “each has its own landscape,” explains Marie-Eve.

“They generously open onto nature and communal areas; the exterior landscaping has been designed to create continuity between interior spaces and urban fabric around it. These kinds of public spaces allow students, faculty, and the greater community to gather and interact.”

Mirabel Secondary School, for example, is juxtaposed with a new aquatic centre, library, self-help centre, seniors’ centre, and arena. Surrounded by welcoming gardens with interconnected promenades, the school contributes to the enhancement of a community hub that bringing together diverse generations. As for the other schools in Chambly, Laval and LaSalle, they are framed by vast esplanades where students can gather during school hours and a wider public outside of them.

These community-embedded designs can not only apply to future primary and secondary schools, but universities and youth centres as well, from the sustainable and pedestrian public space embedded within the University of Montreal Sciences Complex to the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY) youth centre in Calgary.

Future challenges

Implementing these school-community connections has the potential to enrich architecture and change schools for the better. As students enjoy more space that inspires learning, communities can benefit from more social activity.

The dynamic between safety and openness will always remain a question when it comes to the edges of our educational space. But as we reconceive these spatial relationships through design, we can improve upon the past. Schools are a foundational part of our society, and we can make them the youth-friendly,  open, advantageous places they deserve to be.


Learn more about how we’re creating learning spaces for the future, where people and community-centered architecture, landscape and design reinforce the value of education and connection.