CITING data that reveals people's friendships and neighbourhood connections have diminished over the past two decades, a new report released by the Grattan Institute explores how the way we build and organise our cities can help or hinder social connection.
Launching Grattan's report, 'Social Cities', Cities Program Director Jane-Frances Kelly emphasised that relationships are critical to wellbeing and that a lack of face-to-face contact can put our health at risk.
According to the report, a quarter of Australian households now consist of people living by themselves – the fastest growing household type – and Ms Kelly said "this makes connecting with others outside the home all the more important."
Grattan's report examines how improving the design of our cities and the way they function – from transport networks, to the availability of parks and sporting grounds, to the architecture of public spaces and buildings – makes it easier for people to connect with each other.
The report, which aims to draw together a wide range of current knowledge, shows how even small changes, such as installing a few benches at the edge of a public area or converting an unused lot into a 'pocket park', can make urban spaces more welcoming.
It argues that when building and organising cities, greater weight should be given to social connection, adding that "the demographic changes underway in Australian society make the task all the more urgent and more challenging."
With Australian cities expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future, Ms Kelly said cities will need to meet our social as well as our material needs in order to improve quality of life.