In recent years considerable attention has been brought to the concept of social isolation and loneliness in communities around the world. Increasingly, research is indicating that closer consideration needs to be given to the ways in which we can foster social connections that contribute to positive impacts on our mental, but also our physical well-being. This is especially the case when looking at the aging population.
The University of California found that 13% of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis, and this is not unique to the US. Age UK reports that 1 in every 10 people over the age of 65 feel they always, or often, experience loneliness. These statistics have led experts in a variety of fields to focus their attention on the many ways we can prepare ourselves to sustain and build positive social relationships now and in the future.
One field that has begun taking a closer look at the ways in which we can foster social connectedness is that of architecture and urban design. A report by the Grattan Institute notes, “Cities can help social connection, or hinder it. They can be so poorly organized that they are hard to get around – a problem not just for getting to work, but also for seeing friends and family and participating in social activities.”
Expanding on the Placemaking Approach, architects and urban planners have begun to design buildings and communities that promote people’s health, happiness, and well-being. A recent article by the Project for Public Spaces, emphasized the importance of focusing on community designs that stimulate shared benefits stating, “Beyond innovative technological and design solutions, we need to drive change and innovation through dynamic human environments that produce not only environmental benefits, but proven social and economic returns as well.”
Building on this idea, Matthias Hollwich, co-founder of the New York architecture firm, HWKN, recently published the book, New Aging: Live smarter now to live better forever. Focusing on 9 main categories for action, Hollwich highlights various commitments we can make now that will allow us to live healthier and more meaningful lives as we age— one of those commitments is to “be social”.
As Hollwich emphasizes, ‘being social means creating opportunities to connect. He points out that while technology has brought us together in many ways, there are still many physical barriers that hinder our ability to engage with each other in our everyday lives. New Aging suggests that by actively creating our own opportunities to connect through activities such as, inviting your neighbours to an open house or dedicating time each day to phone a friend, we can create habits that help us maintain strong bonds as we grow older— bonds which will play a significant role in improving our health and well-being in the future.
By intentionally refining the way we interact with each other and by focusing on reshaping cities in a way that helps to encourage social connection and cohesion, we can begin to ensure that we are building communities that contribute to preventing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The Project for Public Spaces will be hosting Placemaking Week in Vancouver, BC in September. To learn more visit: http://www.pps.org/blog/join-us-in-vancouver-for-placemaking-week/