As many people discovered first-hand over the past 17 months of varying degrees of social distancing, isolation can seriously impact mental and physical well-being. Although urban planning and architecture have increasingly focused on environmentally-friendly design and accessibility, less attention has been given to building living environments that support human connection.
But as more research demonstrates the significant effect social isolation and loneliness play in overall health, more designers and architects are studying the factors that influence creating inviting social spaces where people will naturally gather.
Older adults who are planning to age in place can benefit significantly from living in communities where there are multiple transportation options when driving is no longer possible. The built environment and mobility have been associated with quality of life, particularly among older adults who live alone and no longer work.
By re-thinking traditional housing models to create more socially connected neighborhoods, urban communities can help combat loneliness – which has become an “epidemic” in many cities. More than half of the world’s population currently live in urban areas and by 2050, it is expected that this proportion will grow by two-thirds.
According to the Loneliness Lab, urban loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking. It places a strain on individual mental health and the economy and society at large. By looking at what makes our cities such lonely places, stakeholders can better plan and design social connectivity into work, living and recreational spaces. For example, community gardens can help bring people of all ages together in a shared endeavor, creating a more close-knit community. Green spaces, safe play areas for children, pet parks, or reading/conversation nooks in communal areas help encourage community residents to interact naturally without feeling forced.
Read more about the relationship between living environments and social isolation and loneliness by following this link to the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.