4 mins

Can a city be a community?

Alison Simpson
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Growing up in a small town, I took being part of a community and knowing my neighbours for granted. There were even times when I wished for more anonymity, so that the news of my typical teenage missteps wouldn’t make it back to my parents quite so quickly.

After living in Vancouver, and spending most of my working life in Toronto, I find myself looking back with envy on neighbourliness that is often hard to recreate in cities. I’m not alone. One in three city-dwellers suffers from feelings of isolation and loneliness…and that’s before we were all forced into hibernation in March. Now, 54% of Canadians feel lonely or isolated.

It's hard to believe so many of us can be lonely while having millions of people around us. But urban loneliness is real, and it's at the centre of a health epidemic.

According to Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a Brigham Young University professor, "It's comparable to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.” Social isolation is also twice as harmful as obesity and as lethal as alcoholism.

Today, 32% of all households in Toronto are occupied by one resident, and that’s expected to grow by 8% over the next five years.

So, building condominiums, neighbourhoods and a city that encourage coming together and help facilitate conversations are becoming increasingly important to fostering community.

So, what’s the solution?

That’s a big and very important question and one each of us at Key is focused on answering.

There’s lots of social research showing healthy, well-functioning communities need face-to-face meetings, interaction, high-quality physical space, and communications that social media simply cannot replace. Sadly, as cities have grown and real estate prices accelerated, shared and public spaces where people can naturally cross paths and engage have been de-prioritized. As a result, community has taken a backseat.

Design can have an important role in creating community and making us feel less lonely by conforming to the basic principles of connectivity. Re-imagining typical lobbies, long unwelcoming hallways, and even underground parking garages - by putting the community at the core of the designs - can go a long way to nurturing collaboration and conversations.

Creating community hubs - with bustling markets, pop-ups to support local small businesses, entertainment and celebrations - as part of the condominiums we’re building will provide gathering places for residents and neighbours alike. Designing traditional underground parking garages with higher ceilings, and incorporating engaging common areas like workshops, recording studios, and underground gardens will make it easy and fun for people to come together over shared interests.

Designing in ways that nurture a sense of community also means creating spaces that are flexible and allow people to engage on their terms. Some people may be keen to join in the entertainment and celebrations, while others may prefer to sit at the café and simply observe initially.

It is not just a well-designed space that makes the gathering place come alive. Equal focus is required in designing activities within the space to attract people towards it.

Ultimately, bringing a stronger sense of community to the city we call home involves creating “We” as well as “Me” spaces that residents and local neighbours can enjoy. Creating vertical neighbourhoods that unite instead of isolate is central to our vision at Key, and one we’re excited to embark on later this year.

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