How Developers Can Help Reduce Loneliness in Cities


Honking car horns, blaring sirens and crowded sidewalks teeming with pedestrians at every turn, that’s the typical scene in many major cities around the world. However, despite the endless noise of city life, there’s a deafening silence that’s rampant in these bustling metropolises: loneliness.

With millions of people living in urban areas and digital connections at an all-time high, there are still countless individuals suffering from seclusion and isolation despite city buzz.

In the United Kingdom, loneliness affects approximately 9 million people. Unsurprisingly, the aging population where women outlive men plays a huge role. Currently around 18 percent of the population are over 65, up from 16 percent 20 years ago. Of these, there are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK. Forecasts suggest the number of people over 65 will be around 18.5 million in 2040. This means the number of chronically lonely people by 2040 could rise to 1.7 million.

But age is not the only cause of loneliness. Life transitions, such as moving home, changing jobs, children moving on and bereavement, can act as triggers for chronic loneliness. For example, over half of parents (52 percent) have had a problem with loneliness.

While loneliness can have a tremendous emotional influence on individuals, it can also lead to genuine physical impacts. One study finds that mortality increases by 26 percent for those suffering from loneliness and by 35 percent for those living alone; and Smith and Holt-Lundstad suggest loneliness is as damaging to the health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. That’s a major cause for concern.

It’s not only individuals that will benefit from the new loneliness strategy; communities will prosper through increased social interaction and support.

And the problem of loneliness is likely to be even more prevalent in cities. As famed sociologist and philosopher Georg Simmel stated: “Nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan crowd.” It could be argued that when you live in a big city, you are less likely to have a close-knit community where neighbors know each other. The anonymity of a city can result in a lack of trust, making it harder to connect. A 2013 survey by ComRes found that 52 percent of Londoners feel lonely.

The combination of an aging population and more single person households means that the loneliness problem in our cities isn’t going away.

To combat loneliness, cities, community leaders and real estate developers will need to work together to implement initiatives and projects to help foster a sense of community. Creating “social infrastructure” where people can come together and share in engaging environments can prevent social withdrawal.

“Loneliness prevention is already an established element in elderly-care design, but it’s great to see that we are now acknowledging that loneliness is far more widespread than this – loneliness occurs throughout all age groups and demographics,” says Rosie Ashton, senior architect at CBRE UK Development. “In fact, people who rent are generally lonelier than those who own their home, highlighting the importance of encouraging community building in new developments in transient cities such as London.”

We look at several ways real estate developers can help support those suffering from loneliness.

Design Co-Living Developments

With the rise of the sharing economy, moving into co-living developments is a practical and wise option for many city dwellers. Whether millennials or boomers, co-living can be a great opportunity for those seeking flexible, cost-effective living with a built-in community.

“We see the rise of co-living across the country (United States) as a positive sign for the multifamily market overall,” Jeanette Rice, head of multifamily research at CBRE told Blueprint. “The growing co-living trend is increasing opportunities and choices in a number of beneficial ways, not only for renters, but also for property owners, and that’s a big win-win as we see it at CBRE.”

For young adults, co-living can put them in environments with like-minded people, in turn, reducing chances for social isolation to seep in.

Plus, the option of renting indefinitely is ideal for the aging population, which could benefit from all the perks that co-living arrangements bring. From the sense of community to the shared facilities and amenities, co-living could offer communal living arrangements and social activations for this demographic that retirement and nursing homes don’t typically provide.

Improve Walkability

It’s no secret that walking has great health benefits. From reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke to diminishing stress and anxiety, walking can undoubtedly improve the quality of life. In fact, walking clubs are one of the social prescriptions that general practitioners in the UK will be able to prescribe by 2023 thanks to Prime Minister Theresa May’s new loneliness strategy developed to tackle social isolation.

“However, it is not only individuals that will benefit from the new loneliness strategy; communities will prosper through increased social interaction and support, says Ashton. “CBRE encourages designing for greater community interaction – both the existing and new communities – to encourage social engagement and to maximize the full potential of the community. We look forward to seeing this strategy in place, and the benefit that it will bring to London and the rest of the UK.”

Pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods play a significant role in cultivating community bonds and relationships. Living in areas that get people out of their cars and into the streets can help manage loneliness. In fact, Harvard Health, reports that going outside during the day can fight depression and cancer and increase happiness. Thanks to Vitamin D during the daylight, taking a stroll may be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to warding off lonely vibes. Plus, it helps when residential properties are within walking distance from restaurants, retailers and workspaces.

Loneliness prevention is already an established element in elderly-care design, but it’s great to see that we are now acknowledging that loneliness is far more widespread than this – loneliness occurs throughout all age groups and demographics.

Build Green Spaces

Greenery is basically synonymous with peace, calmness and serenity. That’s why it’s no surprise that urban green spaces like parks and community gardens are crucial to city dwellers’ mental well-being. Accessibility to community green spaces promotes social interaction and connection while easing anxiety. For those battling social isolation, having engaging activities in those green spaces could serve as a supportive environment that can help them overcome their struggles. Additionally, incorporating greenery into building designs and workspaces can also have major benefits for its inhabitants.

For example, greened indoor spaces can boost morale, productivity and reduce stress. In fact, a recent report by the University of Twente, VU Amsterdam and CBRE found that implementing greenery into the workplace design has substantial benefits. The study of 124 employees at CBRE’s Amsterdam office found that adding plants to the office floor energized 76 percent of the workers surveyed. Seventy-eight percent of employees reported a boost in happiness, while feelings of healthiness improved in 65 percent.

Thanks to emerging communal designs and green gathering spaces, cities can create happy, thriving spaces that promote mental health wellness. With mindful design, developers have the power to help reduce the number of people suffering in solitude and silence.


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