Good urban design = More human connections

I’ve been writing and reading a lot lately about urban design issues — especially streets.

Thanks to a Twitter post, I found Is Bad Urban Design Making Us Lonely? at The Atlantic Cities, which included a link to a lengthy and well-researched study of urban design and social connections in Australia: “Social Cities” by Jane-Frances Kelly for the Grattan Institute.

I’m not going to try to recap the entire excellent piece, which makes a compelling case that urban design matters — a lot:

Proximity, mobility and shared spaces are important because, despite other ways of connecting, face-to-face contact remains a
crucial way to develop and sustain our personal relationships. As Schluter and Lee note, trust, sympathy, respect, understanding, loyalty and co-operation – qualities at the core of social connection – come more easily through direct contact. Online relationships complement, rather than replace, direct contact.

Studies show that people communicate more through the Internet, and collaborate more effectively, when they are in closer proximity.

Cities can help social connection, or hinder it. They can be so poorly organised that they are hard to get around – a problem not just for getting to work, but also for seeing friends and family and participating in social activities.

A city that ‘builds in’ isolation through its housing options, transport accessibility, and other features, can have significant consequences for the strength of people’s relationships and for physical and mental health.

And this about traffic:

Anyone who both drives and lives in a city is conscious of the inherent trade-off between vehicle amenity. When we are behind the wheel speed is often important to us; at home, the speed of other drivers can be a neighbourhood curse. However, the benefits of lighter traffic for social connection gives weight to the argument that staying activities are more important than moving activities in residential streets: they are more like lounge rooms than corridors and we should furnish them accordingly.

That text is side-by-side with these graphics from studies in Basel and Bristol, which clearly show the social benefits of living on streets with slower traffic: