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6 Ways to Design for Social Connection and Community

How the built environment can help heal and prevent loneliness.


KEY POINTS
Where we live, work, play, and learn impacts our social health and how connected we are as a society.
As cities invest in infrastructure, paying attention to how they impact loneliness and community well-being can benefit everyone.
Design guidelines that can help you advocate for better design wherever you are include accessibility, nature, and a sense of place.

In a time of hyper-connection and communication, recent surveys find that approximately half of U.S. adults are experiencing loneliness and lacking connection. This can increase risks of premature illness and death at levels comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

For this reason, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, recently issued a public advisory calling the American people to this “urgent public health issue.” Murthy lists “design the built environment to promote social connection” as a part of the first pillar of his advisory.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad was the scientific chair of Murthy’s report, "Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation." Nearly two years ago, Holt-Lunstad and I published a piece, "Is Your Environment Making You Lonely?" In it, we explored ways to cultivate connection using the built environment, policies, and programming.

Today's post focuses on one of the central themes we discussed then–shared spaces, or what Ray Oldenburg called third places open to all people to gather, such as cafes, parks, and libraries. I discuss why shared space is so essential and offer six design guidelines to help any built environment feel more conducive to fostering social connection.

Six Design Guidelines for Social Health
When I think of design for connection, I often think of the Italian piazzas I visited with my mother after my first year of architecture school. They are open to all people (accessibility), an inviting hub of activity (activation), with warm natural clay bricks and stones, often ivy tracing the walls (nature), with the choice of whether you want to sit in the center by a fountain (choice) perhaps, or under an umbrella on the edges (human scale); and they have a history and sense of place unique to each one (sense of place), carved into the place itself.

Taken together, those make the six design guidelines for social health, below I discuss these in more detail:

Accessibility
Creating places that are inclusive, safe, and walkable (stroller-able, wheelchair friendly, etc.) for the people who will use it is the essential first ingredient. This includes creating libraries, pocket parks, and gathering spaces that are an easy-to-reach part of the local social fabric.

Nature
We are hardwired to be drawn to and soothed by nature, a phenomenon called biophilia. Nature, specifically urban green space, has been linked to reducing loneliness, increasing sociability, and improving mental health. Infusing nature, greenery, and park space into our neighborhoods are essential to getting people outside their homes, lingering with one another.

Activation
Ideal shared spaces are vibrant and have some type of activation. By placing seating, refreshments, and amenities in the path of natural travel and circulation, we can create liveliness through purposeful collisions.

Choice
We each have different set points for our need for simulation or mental rest, and these needs change throughout our days, and lives and based on our tasks or activities. We can customize our space to our needs by providing options and adaptability.

Human Scale
We evolved in community with others, using our space to keep ourselves and the collective safe, so we are naturally drawn to places that provide a sense of scale or fit with our bodies. This includes a preference for edge conditions, such that we’re drawn to booth seating or leaning against the wooden porch railing. This includes creating nodes or nooks within a larger space, such as a front porch, as a welcome place before entering a home or a small waiting area to ease you into your child’s daycare and allow you to bump into other parents.

Sense of Place
A sense of place helps remind us of who we are and what matters to us and fosters a feeling of belonging. This ties to the idea that a place can create a sense of “ambient belonging” about how the built environment signals to others whether or not they are welcome here. The place is imbued with values, culture, and meaning, and a sense of place recognizes that significance.

Reference: Psychology today
Link:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/designed-for-happiness/202305/6-ways-to-design-for-social-connection-and-community
20 replies
  1. Mobina Mohammadinia
    Mobina Mohammadinia says:

    Hello, in today’s world and the widespread use of technology reduces relationships between people, which creates problems for people such as depression and thousands of other problems that are unpleasant.

    Reply
  2. Hannaneh Ghalandari
    Hannaneh Ghalandari says:

    Professor, in my opinion, the modern way of life has made communication between people less, because they can communicate with the people around them without realizing the effects of these methods, because communicating up close and face-to-face leads to a feeling of more intimacy. It exists.

    Reply
  3. Sara ebadi
    Sara ebadi says:

    Sara ebadi
    Man is a social being, in the end, establishing social relations is considered a natural need for him. Healthy social relationships reduce the possibility of depression and anxiety and can also be a source of motivation, mobility and happiness for a person.

    Reply
  4. هدیه معصومی
    هدیه معصومی says:

    Social connection can affect the human psyche. The more we strengthen our social connection with those whose value is high, the more we reach a higher level in terms of mental and spiritual.

    Reply
  5. Zahra bahram
    Zahra bahram says:

    Dear professor, this article was very useful because in the modern industry and today’s world, the widespread use of computers and phones, as well as the busyness of people in work and studying, has reduced social communication, which in itself leads to depression in people. and in order to prevent this damage, we should spend time with family and friends

    Reply
  6. Zahra bahram
    Zahra bahram says:

    Dear professor, this article was very useful because in the modern industry and today’s world, the widespread use of computers and phones, as well as the busyness of people in work and studying, has reduced social communication, which in itself leads to depression in people. and in order to prevent this damage, we should spend some time to go to nature and walk

    Reply
  7. Anahita Bahreman
    Anahita Bahreman says:

    Humans are social creatures and loneliness is an unpleasant feeling for them
    In order to prevent bad feelings, depression, inability to communicate with others, and other problems caused by being isolated, each person should cultivate effective ways of communicating with the surrounding environment and different people.

    Reply
  8. Armina Armansharif
    Armina Armansharif says:

    Loneliness is considered a great harm to our mental health, so it is good to spend our time exploring and hanging out with others so as not to suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

    Reply
  9. Shirin farrokh
    Shirin farrokh says:

    Social health can also bring social joy and vitality. The United Nations considers social happiness to be one of the important and necessary variables to determine the level of development of societies. In the sense that a society whose people do not feel happy cannot be considered a developed society.

    Reply
  10. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    After reading this article and encountering biophile, the first thing that came to my mind was a flower and plant exhibition in the heart of the city, an exhibition full of colorful flowers and an apartment full of water fountains with stone carvings in some parts and a large terrarium that evokes a part of It is the bottom of the sea, even though these are not in their nature, but even thinking about that scene is full of joy and beautiful feeling for me, next to an artificial atmosphere, pineapple bushes and tropical fruits, these are evoked in my mind every moment and they remind me of joy and moments away From his loneliness and the hustle and bustle of the industrial city

    Reply
  11. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    After reading this article and encountering biophile, the first thing that came to my mind was a flower and plant exhibition in the heart of the city, an exhibition full of colorful flowers and an apartment full of water fountains with stone carvings in some parts and a large terrarium that evokes a part of It is the bottom of the sea, even though these are not in their nature, but even thinking about that scene is full of joy and beautiful feeling for me, next to an artificial atmosphere, pineapple bushes and tropical fruits, these are evoked in my mind every moment and they remind me of joy and moments away From his loneliness and the hustle and bustle of the industrial city.

    Reply
  12. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    After reading this article and encountering biophile, the first thing that came to my mind was a flower and plant exhibition in the heart of the city, an exhibition full of colorful flowers and an apartment full of water fountains with stone carvings in some parts and a large terrarium that evokes a part of It is the bottom of the sea, even though these are not in their nature, but even thinking about that scene is full of joy and beautiful feeling for me, next to an artificial atmosphere, pineapple bushes and tropical fruits, these are evoked in my mind every moment and they remind me of joy and moments away From his loneliness and the hustle and bustle of the industrial city.

    Reply
  13. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    After reading this article and encountering biophile, the first thing that came to my mind was a flower and plant exhibition in the heart of the city, an exhibition full of colorful flowers and an apartment full of water fountains with stone carvings in some parts and a large terrarium that evokes a part of It is the bottom of the sea, even though these are not in their nature, but even thinking about that scene is full of joy and beautiful feeling for me, next to an artificial atmosphere, pineapple bushes and tropical fruits, these are evoked in my mind every moment and they remind me of joy and moments away From his loneliness and the hustle and bustle of the industrial city

    Reply
  14. Darya Ghaderi
    Darya Ghaderi says:

    My take on this article is that we humans are social and we grow with people, but sometimes we need solitude in order to achieve inner growth. We can do this solitude in nature full of peace.

    Reply
  15. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    The urban space should have communication features, so its content should be considered so that citizens have more relationships with each other, which creates common values ​​among people.

    Reply
  16. nasrin shojaee
    nasrin shojaee says:

    Environmental factors such as light, fresh air flow and natural scenery, etc., can be directly related to the treatment of mental problems due to the effect it has on human behavior

    Reply
  17. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    Greetings dear professor
    In my opinion, the state of social health is better in environments where natural materials are used, such as wood, natural plants, and fountains.
    Environments that have a family atmosphere are also very good for social health.
    Such as attending tours, carnivals, and popular activities creates a better feeling

    Reply
  18. Khadijeh sedaghat
    Khadijeh sedaghat says:

    Following your impressive words, dear professor, in my opinion, in order for the teenager not to feel alone, we should encourage him to exercise daily, avoid toxic people, and stay in touch with his old friends.
    Good luck

    Reply
  19. mahnaz nouruzi
    mahnaz nouruzi says:

    Dear Professor, in this article, he tried to express the urban architectures that make people communicate more with each other. If we look at our own traditional architectures in Iran, we see this issue, for example, narrow and covered alleys. Stairs to rest tired passersby and..
    But someone who has serious communication problems can benefit from expert counselors in order to improve communication

    Reply

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