According to a leading psychology study, loneliness can increase your risk of premature death by 30%, making it as dangerous as obesity and heavy smoking. This is one of many alarming statistics we came across in our research into urban loneliness. We chose this topic for its tangible human element, its cross-disciplinary scope and its relevance to a central question of interest to the Future Spaces Foundation: what influences do physical spaces have on human connections?
We launched the project with a roundtable to examine how loneliness affects people in urban areas and investigate the role of the built environment in both prompting and relieving feelings of isolation. Attendees included designers, policy advisers, academics and community organisers, who together offered a range of professional and personal perspectives.
One of the main lines of enquiry was defining the opposite of loneliness – that is, the status quo we should be striving for. The group settled on ‘togetherness’ as the best description for social connections that offer a sense of purpose and belonging. There was also a significant amount of dialogue around the differences between physical proximity and actual kinship, particularly as they relate to urban living.
After a day of discussion and workshops, the group narrowed down some of the main contributors to loneliness in cities, including poor town planning, inadequate public transportation and a lack of safe community spaces. We used these insights as a starting point for assembling a report that explores the issue in detail, called Kinship in the City.