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Socially Connected Communities: Solutions to Social Isolation

By Risa Wilkerson on February 10th, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has, for too many people, worsened the already-rising rates of social isolation. Have you ever felt a greater need for strong relationships, social networks, and opportunities to connect with people who care about you? This need is as basic as clean air and water, nutritious and affordable food, work that pays a living wage, safe and affordable housing, and more. If we’ve learned anything from the healthy communities movement, we know that meeting basic needs like these is not an individual issue, but one that requires collaborative efforts.

A healthy community is one that enables all its residents to experience complete physical, mental, and social well-being. People who live in socially connected communities are more likely to thrive because they feel safe and welcomed and trust each other and their government. Trusting, meaningful relationships enhance our mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being. In fact, strong social connections and networks can boost a person’s lifespan by 50 percent.1 However, despite its vital contribution to health and well-being, social connection is often a neglected priority in the broader healthy communities movement.

Fortunately, a group of diverse participants working to address social isolation spent time together in 2020 on a learning journey to think about solutions from a systems lens. Healthy Places by Design has been honored to facilitate this Social Isolation Learning Network. We coordinated a series of conversations and activities with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which wanted to support six projects described in Solutions for Social Isolation: What We Can Learn from the World.

The Social Isolation Learning Network explored key challenges, trends, lessons, and themes from the members’ work. Together, we discussed the importance of cross-sector, cross-community, and cross-country learning for advancing solutions—from a community-level lens—to social isolation. We also co-created and tested the guiding concepts of Abundance Thinking, Equity and Inclusion, and Cultural and Historic Context throughout these conversations. Finally, as the national conversation leans toward framing the issue from an individual lens, we recognized the need for a different narrative about the root causes of social isolation.

The rise of social isolation is not a personal choice or individual problem, but one that is rooted in community design, social norms, and systemic injustices.

Using lessons learned from the healthy communities movement, the Learning Network co-created a new report, Socially Connected Communities: Solutions to Social Isolation, to help reframe the national conversation toward one that recognizes the root causes of, and systemic solutions to, social isolation. This report seeks to inspire and equip all readers—especially grantmaking organizations and local government leaders—to intentionally redesign community-level systems to support meaningful social connections.

Included in the report are recommendations related to housing, transportation, and public spaces (as starting points) along with two overarching, multi-sector recommendations. All recommendations are centered in the guiding concepts. Although grantmaking organizations and local leaders already seek to create healthy communities, they must also prioritize social well-being, which includes rebuilding broken trust in government and institutions. To support this need, we developed complementary Action Guides that local government leaders and grantmaking organizations can use as a tailored supplement to the first version of this report. Future versions of this report may expand beyond these two groups.

Socially Connected Communities: Solutions to Social Isolation will be released in early March. If you would like to be the first to receive this report, please email me at risaw@healthyplacesbydesign.org.

Everyone has a role to play in creating socially connected communities. We encourage all readers to use the recommendations in this report to prompt ideas for action within your own spheres of influence. Let us know how you are integrating social well-being into your work, and any questions you have about potential strategies for creating more socially connected communities. Together, we can ensure that all people have a sense of social well-being and belonging that enables them to thrive.

References

1. Social Ties Boost Survival by 50 Percent | Scientific American

Author
Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, simplicity seeker, and weekend wanderer.