Socially Sustainable Communities
Updated: May 25, 2020
It’s About More than Friends and Families
Articles in the popular press have suggested that there’s an epidemic of loneliness, that Americans have fewer and fewer meaningful connections to other people. Studies show that unrelieved loneliness has physiological effects leading to higher rates of morbidity and mortality, especially in older adults, and may be fueling the opioid crisis and upticks in suicide rates. Yet loneliness is an imperfect indicator that something is socially awry in America. It’s not so much whether Americans have social lives or not, but rather what form that social life takes.
The design of our cities and towns can produce social deprivations that don’t trigger feelings of loneliness, yet are grave. America is experiencing increasing social fragmentation, a form of social deprivation. People can be cozy with friends, sustained by family, and flush with Facebook friends in a society of declining civic values and increasing social inequities. There is no one explanation for this, but the legacies of sprawl development are contributing factors: the deconstruction of public spaces, the geographic segregation of Americans by class and race, and the elevation of private experience over public.
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