Building a socially stronger community.

Public policy, innovative startups, and creative social infrastructure projects
 to create cities that are healthier, more connected, and less lonely.

Plan of action

Our plan for transforming loneliness has three stages or areas, working to change on an individual, social, and community level. On this page, you’ll find research and solutions dealing with the third stage, building social connection in the community where you live.

What is social infrastructure? How does it help?

 Although change for transforming loneliness and building social connection starts from the inside out, the places we live can help or hurt our sense of connectedness. It isn’t living alone that’s dangerous; it is being unable to find opportunities for meaningful social connection when you need them.

The idea that certain places create or destroy connectedness and community is an old one, but a lot of the recent research on this idea starts with research done by Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at New York University, detailed in his book, Palaces for the People. In a 2018 interview, Klinenberg gives his definition of social infrastructure:

“Social infrastructure is a set of physical places and organizations that shape our interactions. When social infrastructure is robust, it fosters all kinds of social interactions, helps build relationships, and turns community from a vague, fuzzy concept into a lived experience. When social infrastructure is degraded and neglected, it makes it far more likely that we will grow isolated and be left to fend for ourselves. […] The idea is that the social life we experience doesn’t exist in a vacuum; there’s a context for it. It can be supported or undermined by the places where we spend time.”

The information on this page is designed to help people build more socially connected communities anywhere. As part of my plan to build authentic social connection in my own life, I have been seeking resources that can help in my own community of Gainesville, FL. Check out these resources if you live nearby or would like to see an example of a plan in progress for a specific community.

How can you build social infrastructure?

Improving the social infrastructure of the community can come from many different directions. None of these types of improvements will be enough on its own, but even a few of these will help. Great projects for lessening loneliness can be as simple as a “happy to chat bench” in a local park. One person really can make a difference. Where might support for public projects to address loneliness come from? Click on each link to learn more about steps being taken in each area.

To help citizens understand the challenge of loneliness and social connection for what it is, governments at all levels can address the problem as a health issue. As discussed on the Learn page of this site, each year brings new evidence that isolation and lack of authentic social connection is an important public health problem. In a Scientific American essay, "To Combat Loneliness, Promote Social Health," public health researcher and advocate Kasey Killam makes the case for this as health priority for governments and public policy groups.

If this sounds like a strange idea, you should know that the United Kingdom appointed a Minister of Loneliness in 2017, and over the last three years they have created a number of programs to address the problem, as well as funding the Campaign to End Loneliness, a program to help resolve loneliness among seniors, one of the most at-risk segments of the population.

Many of these programs could be copied effectively here in the United States.

Startup culture is often the first way innovative solutions to public problems come to the public. The need here is great, as well as the opportunity, and some startup companies and technology projects have started to take advantage of the opportunity.

Governments and philanthropic organizations can spark creative solutions and development by funding challenges like the Tech to Connect Challenge held in 2019 across the UK.

In the United States, health insurance companies should be actively involved in research and funding promising ideas to address the challenge of loneliness - not just for the public good, but because reducing isolation and loneliness will lead to dramatically lower costs from a wide range of medical conditions that research shows are related to or worsened by loneliness.

There are some steps in this direction. For instance, health insurer CIGNA conducted one of the largest surveys on loneliness in 2018 and updated the research in 2020.

Organizations that promote mental health as a whole have started to create specialized resources designed to treat the problems of loneliness and isolation.

Many more steps need to be taken on this path by health organizations at all levels.

 

Coming soon.

Introducing the Social Innovation List.

On this page, I will collect, track and promote and innovative tech projects, university research projects, or government initiatives focused on lessening loneliness or building social connections, and/or increasing the social infrastructure of our communities.

Know something that should be added to the list? Add it!

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