How local leaders can create socially connected communities

Like the East African refugees in San Diego, who feel they are not part of the majority social groups because of their race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, gender identity or sexual orientation, such as most vulnerable to social isolation. However, people of all ages, demographics and identities are isolated. In a 2018 study, more than half of adults had one or more confidants. And this was before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down many gathering places that were seen as an antidote to isolation.

Social connection improves health

Leaders who strive to create resilient, equitable, and healthy communities often fail to realize the importance of social welfare, which refers to the strength of one’s relationships and social networks. people. People who live in socially connected communities are more likely to thrive because they feel safe, welcome, and trust each other. Trusted, meaningful relationships enhance our mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being.

In fact, strong social connections and networks can increase a person’s lifespan by 50%.

To address the social isolation among San Diego’s East African refugee community, the East Africa United Women’s Support Group and Prevention Institute launched the Connect initiative. The participants jointly developed a culture and community-based space to gather, connect and support each other. Having this safe space has helped them experience a sense of belonging and develop their collective capacity to identify and advocate for solutions to other challenges — like the lack of affordable housing as well as such as educational and employment opportunities. They advocate for more diverse training for law enforcement and increased funding for community services, demonstrating how social connection can improve health and well-being.

Take action in your community

Communities can support meaningful social connection between residents, enhancing trust between neighbors and reinforcing an overall sense of belonging.

This does not require an entirely new, city-wide program. Instead, you can weave social networking opportunities into the fabric of society. After all, social isolation is not an individual choice or an individual problem, but a problem rooted in community design, social norms, and systemic injustices — and must be addressed. solved like that.

From architects to educators, faith leaders to health providers, local governments to donors — everyone can help prevent social isolation.

Here are five ways to get started:

1. Design, Maintain, and Enable Inclusive Public Spaces

The opportunities to promote wellness and strengthen social connections are endless in parks, community gardens, greenways, streets, sidewalks, libraries, community centers, waterfronts, shared school grounds. and interspersed spaces around public buildings. Urban, suburban, and rural environments offer equally powerful opportunities to provide places where people can interact, experience culture, access nature, and gain a sense of belonging.

2. Prioritizing Connections in the Transportation System

Safe, accessible, affordable transportation connects people to work, education, health care, childcare, social services, and other resources that foster social connection and improve health. However, the US transportation system favors private vehicles, which creates barriers for those who cannot drive, do not have a driver’s license or afford a car, or fear discrimination. when stopping. A reimagined transportation sector can spark conversation, increase engagement, and improve health and well-being.

3. Building Community Building Housing Environment

Millions of people do not have safe, affordable, stable and healthy housing. Historically oppressive policies and practices have made homeownership disproportionately difficult for Blacks, Indigenous peoples, and other people of color. Landlords’ absence and discrimination exacerbated the negative situation. Unstable housing conditions undermine social networking. We must design communities with housing options that provide access to jobs and healthy food, opportunities to build relationships with neighbors, and strengthen a sense of community.

4. Invest in inclusive practices and community-led solutions

We need community-led solutions driven by a belief in the power of people to reshape their communities. That means local leaders, who learn from and with the people, and welcome ideas from those most impacted by social systems. The engagement process itself can bring together community members who would otherwise not interact with each other and create stronger social connections and civic engagement.

5. Make Social Connection the Community Standard

Every aspect of public life can enhance or inhibit social welfare. All sectors have a role to play and social connection should be the priority and norm for the entire community. When community leaders combine the Social Policy in All Policy framework with informed approaches to trauma and resilience, they enhance trust between citizens and leaders. , while opening the door to a future where everyone experiences absolute belonging and social security.

Build a socially connected community

Imagine a socially connected community where people know and trust their neighbors and people from different neighborhoods. Where they are motivated and supported to participate in civic activism. Where structures, policies, and relationships connect residents to inclusive services, resources, and spaces. And where, through cues (such as public art and signage), people find themselves represented and feel welcome.

Connected participants share this vision. They recently organized hiking groups to change the perception of who belongs in parks and other recreational spaces. In addition to expanding health promotion opportunities, they are now raising their voices together to create a culture of dignity and respect for all, so that everyone feels a sense of belonging. absolute.

At this critical time, it is especially important to create socially connected communities. Together, we can address the vulnerabilities of structural and systemic oppression, and build more cohesive, resilient, and equitable communities where everyone can thrive.

Read Socially Connected Communities: Solutions to Social Isolation, which describes these five proposals in more detail.

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