The next challenge for community planners is the creation of “third spaces” that allow for a greater variety of informal social connectivity. This article by Suzanne Lennard, published by International Making Cities Livable, focuses on the extent to which existing planning leads to isolationism and social dysfunction. As community planners continue to wrestle with the challenge of connectivity, opportunities for social interaction become paramount in fostering communities where people are physically and socially healthy.
The article proposes that planners “must rebuild the compact, mixed use built urban fabric characteristic of traditional towns” (page 7). In particular, they should design the “availability of community squares that support positive face-to-face social interaction between young and old” (page 8).
Other article highlights include:
- Population density alone is not a good measure of community interaction. One can live close to others and still be isolated. This is particularly true of the elderly (page 2-3). The key, states Lennard, is the creation of “mixed use” third spaces that create nodes of informal social connections, which strengthen community ties and foster physically healthier communities.
- The shape and style of housing is a continuing challenge. Though the author suggests that suburban housing and high-rise housing alike are physically and socially unhealthy for city design, there is no suggestion of what to replace them with. Rather, the author suggests that land use should be the next focal point in planning efforts. Land use includes the creation of plazas, community squares, and points of informal connection that informally bring together various facets of the community (farmers markets, shops, etc.).
- The case that isolation impacts all aspects of social and physical health is indisputable. Lennard takes great pains to demonstrate how current planning often inadvertently leads to isolationism and social dysfunction across all social and economic strata. In doing so, she makes the case that the health gap between two identical neighborhoods is the social fabric and interconnectivity of those neighborhoods rather than the density or services (schools, housing, etc.) in those neighborhoods.
How to Use
Environment shapes health. As community planners consider how to foster livable communities, they should also incorporate informal social interaction into planning efforts. Community centers, public squares, access (transit, walkability), and opportunities for a variety of shops and businesses to surround them are a major part of what makes communities physically and socially desirable.
View full report: Planning for Healthy Living: the Next Challenge – 2012 (PDF – 4.6 MB)