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  • Writer's pictureVanshika Shah

Understanding Community Built-Environments (CBEs)

Updated: Jun 16

What is a CBE? Understanding Community Built-Environments

At the heart of every thriving community lies its shared public spaces - Community Built Environments (CBEs). These are public community spaces designed and managed for and with the community's well-being and prosperity in mind. CBEs are not privately owned but are typically owned and managed by public entities, such as public institutions, municipal departments, community organizations, and non-profit entities. Some examples of such spaces include community parks, recreation areas, community centers, public libraries, outdoor markets, public plazas, community gardens, etc. Spaces like these serve as platforms for social interaction, education, economic development, and cultural expression, contributing to the overall well-being and prosperity of the community.

CBEs are where bonds are strengthened, cultures are celebrated, and communities flourish. They are the stages where the stories of a community are enacted every day, fostering a sense of belonging and collective identity.

Further in this article, we have adopted an informative style of writing - where we present facts alongside each piece of information. We also highlight each section with queries our team continues to contemplate and delve deeper into.

Key Criteria for Identifying CBEs:

Here are five criteria that individuals can use to assess whether a space aligns with the principles of Community Built Environments (CBEs).

1. Ownership & Management
CBEs are owned and managed by public entities. They are communal assets that serve the wider community. When examining the spaces it is crucial to ascertain details regarding its ownership and management, as this information provides insights into its alignment with the principles of community building.
Maintenance of the public space by the government not only enhances community pride but also act as an indicator of higher levels of civic trust among the communities as highlighted in the 2017 study by the Center for Active Design.

In the absence of maintenance and ownership, what are the implications when civic assets such as public spaces suffer from neglect, extending beyond just the physical damage of the space? How might this affect social interactions, safety, and civic pride?

2. Accessibility and Inclusivity:
CBEs are meant to be accessible to a wide range of public users, including individuals with disabilities. Inclusivity ensures that these spaces cater to the diverse needs of the community. The significance of inclusivity and accessibility ensures aspects of safety and well-being to all. Successful CBE's are better adept at unraveling core challenges and bringing transformative changes in how we conceive and construct spaces.
Despite encountering these principles in almost every article, blog, or academic paper, a staggering 80% of disabled/ differently abled people feel vulnerable in public spaces (Marshal’s research). Considering that on an average our cities encompass 40 - 50% of these public spaces, imagine not being able to access half of the city due to a lack of consideration for diverse needs!

What is the real reason behind many of our community spaces not being accessible and accommodative to differently-abled individuals: Is it a case of sheer ignorance on our part as professionals or could it be attributed to not being able to fully comprehend the concepts of accessibility or inclusivity?

3. Community Engagement:
A hallmark of CBEs is community engagement. The design and development of these spaces involve input from community members through various engagement processes. Community support and participation in the decision-making process are fundamental, ensuring alignment with the ever-evolving needs and aspirations of the communities.

However, the implementation of community engagement faces practical challenges. During a conversation with a colleague working with the Indian government, who was tasked with designing a public park, he proposed conducting community engagement with residents near the park which is the sole open space crucial for community activities. Surprisingly,
"Government authorities rejected the idea of community participation, citing time constraints and a perception that people in the area, being from a lower socio-economic background, wouldn't understand."

How can we navigate situations where the government holds a negative view of citizens' capabilities and assumes they lack insight into their own needs? Can empowering citizens bring us closer to achieving effective community engagement?

4. Communal Impact
CBEs are created to impact the community they serve positively. This impact can be social, economic, cultural, or environmental. The well-being and prosperity of the community are central considerations. The true value of a space lies not just in its design but in the meaningful impact that it creates in people’s lives.
Research shows that an effective space can also play an influencing factor in deciding for people on where they would want to live. Brookings found that high-quality amenities such as recreation opportunities and cultural activities are likely to have a greater impact on economic growth than other business-friendly measures like lower taxes and labor costs.
85% of residents identify proximity to parks, playgrounds, open spaces, or recreation centers as an important factor, and 65% of home shoppers said that parks would seriously influence them to move to a community.

Considering their influence and shared significance in our daily lives what are simple to implement, and effective ways to measure the qualitative improvements or impact such spaces have?

5. Funding:
While public funding is often the predominant source, CBEs also rely on a mix of funding sources, including private donations, grants, and volunteer efforts. The combination of these resources helps bring these spaces to life. When we go to a neighborhood park or hang out at a recreation center, we may not think about the economic impact of the public amenity. However, research shows that our public spaces can generate significant economic value.
UN-Habitat study showed that every $1 spent on park maintenance in Philadelphia generated nearly $100 in economic value.

In light of this, one might inquire: How does strategic funding in public spaces extend its influence beyond its immediate scope and contribute to other sectors, such as healthcare, affordable housing and on a larger scale - climate change?

Why CBEs Matter

CBEs play a pivotal role in fostering a sense of community, enhancing quality of life, and driving economic growth. By focusing on inclusivity, community engagement, and communal impact, CBEs contribute to creating prosperous neighborhoods where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

As you think about the CBEs around you, consider their role in your everyday life and community. How do these spaces enhance your daily experience? What makes them special to you and your neighbors?



Harris, Viki. “Creating inclusive and accessible public spaces | Marshalls.” Marshalls, 3 October 2023,

SCRUGGS, GREGORY. “How Much Public Space Does a City Need?” Next City, 7 January 2015,

Ståhle, Alexander. “Developing Public Space and Land Values in Cities and Neighbourhoods.” UN-Habitat, 23 July 2018,

The Urban Land Institute, et al. “Why the Real Estate Industry should invest in Parks and Open Spaces" ULI Americas,


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