- Urban Design, Public Spaces, and Social Cohesion: Evidence from a Virtual Reality Experiment
Public spaces can be an instrument toincrease social cohesion, yet they are often underutilized.This paper presents findings from a randomized virtualreality experiment with more than 2,000 participants inKarachi, Pakistan. The paper investigates the relationshipbetween urban design, willingness to use public spaces, andsocial cohesion. The findings show that exposure to atwo-and-a-half-minute-long virtual reality experiencefeaturing various urban design and social diversity elementshas a statistically significant impact. In particular,improvements in the design of a public park through thevirtual reality experience increased the park‘sperceived attractiveness and participants‘ willingnessto use it. Exposure to diverse social groups in the virtualreality experience, by itself, had mixed impacts on socialcohesion indicators such as trust and perception of andwillingness to interact with outgroups. The impacts variedby ethnic affiliation, income, sex, and education level.This may be partly explained by the segregated nature ofKarachi and the high prevalence of mistrust of outgroups.The paper illustrates how modern technology can be used asan effective, low-cost tool for diagnosing social phenomena,soliciting feedback about urban interventions for inclusivedesign, and promoting social contact.