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Page updated: 05 April 2012

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Updated: 05 April 2012

Social Cities - A Grattan Report

Social Cities

Humans are social animals: relationships are critical to our wellbeing. Indeed, a lack of face-to-face contact can put our health at risk. This understanding has inspired the Grattan Institute's new report, Social Cities. It looks at ways to make cities better places to live by increasing our opportunities to connect with other people.

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Social Cities

Unfortunately there are worrying signs that isolation and loneliness are growing in Australia. People report fewer friendships and neighbourhood connections over the past two decades.

A quarter of households now consist of people living on their own and this is the fastest growing household type. Yet people living by themselves are at greater risk of experiencing loneliness more often, as are older people, sole parents and people with limited English.

These are complex social trends and there are no simple ways to change them. However as this report makes clear, the way we build and organise our cities is important because it can help or hinder social connection. At worst, failed approaches can build in isolation, with long-term damage to quality of life, and to physical and mental health.

This report examines how the design and functioning of a city – from transport networks to the availability of parks and sporting grounds to the architecture of public spaces and buildings – can help bring people together or keep them apart.

It shows that even modest and inexpensive changes, such as installing benches at the edge of a public area or converting an unused lot into a ‘pocket park’, can make urban spaces more welcoming.

Australian cities are expected to keep growing for the foreseeable future. If they are to absorb more residents and improve quality of life for all, then it is essential that cities provide for our social as well as our material needs. After all, cities are for people!