Social Isolation and its Relationship to the Urban Environment

Born and raised in Vancouver, Emma Harries is concluding her studies at McGill University in International Development, Psychology, and Communications. In the future, she hopes to work to increase accessibility to mental health services internationally and locally through culture-based approaches.

In her essay, Social Isolation and its Relationship to the Urban Environment, Emma Harries argues that the social isolation experienced by vulnerable individuals in cities can be overcome through human-centered, inclusive urban planning. As she points out, the rapid urbanization we’re seeing around the world creates many development opportunities, but is also linked to poverty, environmental degradation and other social challenges.

Emma explains how urbanization impacts mental health, and how despite the presence of vast numbers of people in cities, urban dwellers can find it challenging to build relationships and feel a part of a community. Urban planning heavily focused around cars and transportation rather than public spaces where people are likely to congregate is partly to blame.

Emma highlights how individuals with disabilities and seniors are particularly affected by urbanization. As an example, she looks at Russia and how inaccessible its cities are for disabled persons. She further points out how laws intended to protect and support them are not properly enforced.

Emma concludes by advocating for the replication of urban development policies and programs that have successfully increased social connectedness. For example, she supports the expansion of urban green spaces, such as parks and pedestrian zones, which generally encourage people to congregate. Emma also highlights the examples of Stockholm, Berlin, and Vancouver, which have gone to great lengths to remodel public spaces and infrastructure to improve accessibility and build inclusive communities.


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