The UBC Housing and Wellbeing Project aims to make a significant leap forward in our understanding of the relationship between housing and wellbeing. The project aims to produce new insights on how different living conditions may influence a range of wellbeing indicators. The School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is seeking a postdoctoral fellow that will play a lead role in the UBC Housing and Wellbeing Project. This position is funded by a New Frontiers Research Grant for “high-risk high-reward” research ideas, and aims to create one of the first experimental datasets on this subject.
The postdoctoral fellow will work closely with University officials and the research team to find feasible approaches for integrating a lottery system in the allocation of university rental contracts to UBC faculty and staff. The aim is to develop an innovative experimental dataset that allows researchers to study the impacts of housing conditions on a variety of wellbeing indicators. The first year of the project will be devoted entirely to the negotiations with the university, research design, and the development of the pre-analysis plan.
This project adopts a Campus as a Living Lab approach. One of the strongest rationales for the innovative experimental design is that it can only be done in a setting such as UBC. Furthermore, UBC has a renewed its commitment to understanding how our built and natural environment can promote wellbeing and Health & Wellbeing is a pillar of the recently approved UBC Green Building Action Plan1. The research questions and approach will be nourished and informed by the practicing professionals at UBC Properties Trust, Campus and Community Planning, Faculty Staff Housing & Relocation Services and the team of hired professionals working on the new Stadium Neighbourhood.
The postdoctoral researcher will join a dynamic and dedicated research community. The research team includes Dr Jordi Honey-Rosés (Planning), Dr Elizabeth Dunn (Psychology), Dr John Helliwell (Economics), Dr Nathan Lauster (Sociology), Dr Inge Roecker (School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture) and Dr Penny Gurstein (Planning). The project has been conceptualized in collaboration with Angelique Pilon, the Director of Urban Innovation Research at the UBC Sustainability Initiative.
The UBC Housing and Wellbeing Project
Architects and planners have long argued that strategic design interventions can build stronger communities2–4. Yet while we can design spaces for social interaction, the evidence-base to support the causal relationship between physical design and social wellbeing is tenuous. Studies that aim to link urban design to wellbeing are confounded by income, education or other factors that may correlate with both housing choice and wellbeing.
In parallel, there has been a surge in research on happiness, life satisfaction, and sense of community6,7. Scholars in public health recognize that research on the relationship between housing and health has huge potential, yet remains understudied8. Social psychologists have shown us that social interactions are a key to wellbeing9. We also know that when we make decisions about where to live, we tend to overestimate the impacts of the physical features of our future home and underestimate the importance of the social context10. For decades, research studying the relationship between housing and wellbeing confronts a fundamental problem of selection bias. People who live in low-rise units might be more socially connected and happier simple because more outgoing people select these living spaces. Cities and developers cannot randomly place some people in one housing type and others in another. But universities can. Our experimental design will generate data that has special properties for causal inference and marks a major break from the past.
We aim to understand how our housing conditions influence our wellbeing. We ask:
- Can we design housing units that improve health, wellbeing, happiness and social connections?
- Does the inclusion of social spaces and social amenities improve the wellbeing of residents?
- How do our housing choices influence our sense of life satisfaction and happiness?
- How does urban density transform our relationship with our neighbours, our family and our community?
- Do residents of town-homes or midrise units have a greater sense of social connection or belonging than residents of the taller high-rise condominiums?
- Can the inclusion of a gender perspective in the design of housing units and buildings improve the wellbeing of women by facilitating a more equitable distribution of care and domestic chores?
- What is the cost associated with incremental (marginal) increases in wellbeing?
- What are the psychological and sociological mechanisms by which design interventions may improve social connections and wellbeing?
We propose an experimental and longitudinal study of new residents who will be offered rental contracts on the UBC campus. The experimental design will pair similar housing applications and then use a lottery to randomly assign households to one of two treatment conditions or a control. One design might compare residents living in buildings designed for social interaction with those living in conventional buildings. Another design might compare residents living in high-rise condominiums with those living in midrise units. This will allow us to produce unbiased estimates of how housing conditions influence wellbeing and life satisfaction indicators. Our research will include an intersectional gender approach and pay special attention to the views of women.
Our collaboration with the University planning team provides us with an exceptional opportunity to advance knowledge about the impacts of urban design on quality of life and wellbeing. We aim to be the first research team to use experimental methods to disentangle the complex relationship between housing condition and wellbeing. We propose a significant break from past work, which relies on observational studies rather than experimental data. We will learn about the cost-effectiveness of our design interventions and learn about the psychological and sociological mechanisms at work. We will produce a landmark dataset that will be shared with researchers around the globe for maximum impact.
The position is available for an initial one-year contract with the possibility of extension for a second year. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience. This position is funded by a New Frontiers Research Grant administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
The successful candidate will have experience with experimental research designs and be effective at communicating the value of experiments to those outside the research community. They should have strong skills of persuasion, and be able to find creative ways to reconcile the research needs of the project within the administrative limitations of the university.
In addition, the strong candidate will:
- Hold a Ph.D. in a relevant field (e.g., psychology, public health, urban planning)
- Have designed and published their own experimental work in the social sciences 11,12
- Be able to communicate effectively with researchers in various disciplines and with non-academic members of the university.
- Has strong time management, organizational, and project management skills, and
- Be excited to work on a "high-risk, high-reward" research program
Salary and Benefits
The fellow will be offered $53,000 CDN/year plus standard benefits at the University of British Columbia. To be hired one must have a valid work permit in Canada. The position will have a remote work arrangement; although a PST time zone is preferred.
Applicants should submit a cover letter, C.V., and two writing samples as one PDF document to Dr. Jordi Honey-Rosés, email@example.com. Save the PDF as “LastName_First Name.pdf” and send with the subject line: Housing and Wellbeing Postdoctoral Application. We will ask for letters for reference only for shortlisted candidates. Candidates will be considered on a rolling basis starting February 1, 2021, and reviewed until the position is filled.
- UBC. Green Building Action Plan. (2018).
- Park, R. & Burgess, E. The City. (University of Chicago Press, 1925).
- Valins, S. & Baum, A. Residential group size, social interaction, and crowding. Environ. Behav. 5, 421–439 (1973).
- Montgomery, C. Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design. (Doubleday Canada, 2013).
- Gifford, R. The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings. Archtectural Sci. Rev. 50, 2–17 (2007).
- Helliwell, J. F. Well-being, Social Capital and Public Policy: What’s New? Econ. J. 116, 34–45 (2006).
- Helliwell, J. F. & Putnam, R. D. The social context of well-being. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 359, 1435–1446 (2004).
- Dunn, J. R., Hayes, M. V, Hulchanski, J. D., Hwang, S. W. & Potvin, L. Housing as a Socio-Economic Determinant of Health. Can. J. Public Heal. 97, 11–15 (2006).
- Diener, E. & Seligman, M. Very Happy People. Psychol. Sci. 13, 81–84 (2002).
- Dunn, E. W., Wilson, T. D. & Gilbert, D. T. Location , Location , Location : The Misprediction of Satisfaction in Housing Lotteries. doi:10.1177/0146167203256867.
- Gerber, A. S. & Green, D. P. Field Experiments: Design, Analysis and Interpretation. (W.W. Norton & Co, 2012).
- Glennerster, R. & Takavarasha, K. Running randomized evaluations: a practical guide. (Princeton University Press, 2013).