Social isolation. No matter how hard we try, we can not run from it. In fact, rather than things getting better, the evidence seems to just that actually things are getting worse. In urban centres especially we are more isolated than ever before, and our mental health, happiness and productivity are paying the price for it.
The facts don’t lie - recent studies in the UK suggest that up to 45% of British adults experience social isolation in some form or another, ranging from mild to severe. New studies also suggest that what was once an isolated phenomenon amongst older age groups, is now something that people of all ages report experiencing.
Increasing rates of social isolation can have a significant and detrimental impact on those who experience and those around them. Studies (Holt-Lunstad, 2010, 2015) show that loneliness can increase your risk of death by 26%, have an impact on your health similar to obesity, increase your risk of stroke and heart disease, and make you more vulnerable to depression.
Social isolation therefore is an issue worth addressing and tackling head on.
Why the rise
The reasons behind increases in people reporting feeling lonely and isolated are many. For thousands of years humans lived in close-knit communities, sharing living quarters and the division of labour. There was no space for social isolation to exist.
The advent of the agricultural age and then the industrial revolution changed dramatically how we lived. People began to live in single family dwellings, and there developed a very clear separation between the different places where we work, live and play.
Our communities changed - and residential areas became places just to live in, and commercial areas became places just to work in - and we lost along the way crucial casual interactions and the building of relationships that come when people are spending their days living and working in the same spaces.
In more recent years, people are marrying and starting families later - so the number of single people living alone is on the increase. People living alone are more likely to report feelings of loneliness than those living with a partner, spouse or roommate.
Recent developments in how we work are also considered a contributing factor behind increasing social isolation rates. The rise of remote working both in the years before COVID-19 and during, meant many people lost the office as a place to interact with others and develop relationships. If you live alone, and work at home- there is a chance large parts of your day are being spent without any social interaction. It also means people need to make a conscious decision to socialise, one that involves leaving their home, making plans and actively travelling somewhere to meet others.
At the same time as we all became busier at work, and our work-life balance deteriorated before our very eyes, many of us simply lost the time to be able to create opportunities to interact with others. We weren't prioritizing our social lives because we were so busy trying to hold onto our jobs, work way too many hours a week and pay our rent, all at the same time. Juggling act doesn't quite cover it.
So now that we know a problem exists, the question we have to ask ourselves is how do we solve it. As a society how do we make sure that every member of our community is not only connected with others, but capable of living their best life.
So how do we do that? First of all the solution is not easy - the best ones rarely are. Mainly because the solution involves a radical and significant shift in not only how we live, but how we plan and redevelop our cities and urban centres. And that takes more than the decision of an individual to live better, it takes input and action from both the public and private sector as well.
It will involve input and a commitment from all stakeholders - residents, communities, local governments, national governments, urban planners, architects, and those who are responsible for keeping our cities working. There will be differences in opinions and there will be many obstacles - financial, practical and many yet to be discovered. But the cause is bigger than all of this because the future and health of our society ultimately rests on it.
One very practical option involves addressing how we live, work and play. And this is where co-living comes in. There are several definitions of what co-living is, but let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that co-living is ultimately a way of living which prioritizes community and connection. It aims to be more than just a place to call home, but to provide opportunities for residents to interact as and how they wish within shared and community spaces.
So how does this help us address and attack social isolation?
Prioritizing living with community at the centre, or at least as an option, will have a very real and positive impact on social isolation and loneliness rates.
And here is why.
It signals a possible return to a time when community was at the centre of our lives. And that is important for so many reasons. When your community is just downstairs it makes engaging with it so much easier, no matter how distracted you may be with work or other things.
An active community, defined by social events and opportunities to build relationships with others is essential to helping urban residents rebuild their social interactions within a safe environment.
When we place community spaces at the core of our living complexes we also achieve something so much bigger - we let the world know that as a society we are reprioritizing community and that means something super important. Because it means we are not simply addressing social isolation, we are also placing a spotlight on how we live in the now, and how we want to live in the future.
We are making the decision to put relationships at the core of how we live, work and play. And that’s how we will make social isolation and loneliness a thing of the past.
At Vonder the essence of co-living for us is connection. Helping people build and foster relationships is at the heart of everything we do. Community always comes first.