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The Importance of Social Connectedness in Building Age-Friendly Communities – 2012

Overview

As the population base grows older and the demand foraging in place increases, more cities will seek for ways to create age-friendly communities that strengthen the social fabric. Knowing what younger and older people want in an “elder-friendly” community becomes critical in knowing what city planners and leaders can do to create one. This research article from the Journal of Aging Research examines what people want and what cities need to provide in order to strengthen social connectedness.

Key Points

Based on previous age-friendly community studies, researchers worked with a city committee and the University of Washington Human Subjects Division to ask three questions for participants in a suburban center in Western Washington. Using the World Café Forum as a research method, researchers interviewed 23 participants between 40-80 years of age by asking three key questions important to city planners. These questions were: (1) What does it mean to you to be socially connected? (2) How can our city help with life transitions that would keep you in this community? (3) What do I have to offer my community?

Other research highlights include:

  1. Findings were grouped into three categories. The first was “social reciprocity.” Participants suggested shared opportunities to create ways of volunteering and interacting through targeted partnerships between formal and informal institutions. Churches, by way of example, could foster volunteer groups for working at local schools. This idea of “reciprocity” can and should happen along multiple lines – government and non-government, business and non-profit, etc.
  2. The second category of findings was “meaningful interactions.” Participants wanted their volunteerism to have meaning (rather than as busy work or as a means to “kill time”). Participants found it crucial that there be a sense of mutual giving and mutual receiving of volunteer opportunities and services.
  3. The final category was “structural needs/barriers.”In this category, hindrances to fostering age-friendly communities were discussed. Two predominant barriers to age-friendly social connections were a lack of connectivity between volunteer opportunity and the individual, and a lack of transportation options as one grows older. The former is key if cities are to connect societal needs with people; the latter if the city is to help the people get to the needs.

How to Use

Though the study is limited in scope, it builds upon and validates previous research. Researchers are asking the right questions to which city planners and leaders need answers. This research report can be used by local officials and planners as a template to conduct research in their own area in order to determine what may be hindering age-friendliness in city/community interaction.

View full report: The Importance of Social Connectedness in Building Age-Friendly Communities (2012) (PDF – 487 KB)