The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark reminder of the importance of community and why we must nurture it. As planners and designers we devote plenty of attention to making our cities more environmentally sustainable, but surprisingly less time understanding what makes a socially sustainable city – that is, one that connects us with other people. After all, cities are a human invention designed for us to co-locate and co-exist.
As social beings, relationships are important to our health and wellbeing. A lack of social connection with other people can lead to psychological conditions that both in the short and long-term, are detrimental to good mental health. The concern is that there is increasing evidence social isolation is on the increase in Australian cities. Social planning research reveals that our friendships and social networks in the places where we live and work have steadily declined since the early 1990s.
What does this mean for a city’s places and spaces and the way we plan, build and organise them to either help or hinder how we connect socially? Poor planning, and especially a lack of social planning, can intensify isolation, with long-term detriment to people’s quality of life and their physical and mental health.
The consistent (and unsurprising) finding from the research confirms that people attract people. Urban planning and design are not the answer to every challenge nor is there a community crisis – COVID-19 aside – because relative to many countries, the indicators of social connectivity in urban Australia remain positive. But if as projected, our cities and towns are to accommodate more people and if we are to sustain their liveability, they must meet our psychological as well as our economic needs.
DESIGN Canberra is once again excited to partner with the City Renewal Authority for the 2020 festival.