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Your November Useful Community Plus
November 16, 2023
This Month: Is Social Isolation a Community Problem?
Get out there and do a neighborhood project with kids--whether they are yours or not.
This month we were struck by none other than the Surgeon General of the United States talking about an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, and lack of social connections among people as a major public health problem.
This follows government discussions of the same issue around the globe.
The Surgeon General's press release cites increased risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia, depression, and anxiety as reasons that the medical community needs to get involved in figuring out the remedies.
For its part, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be establishing a unit to address the mental health crisis through what it calls strengthening the social infrastructure. Dr. Murthy says this will require physical environments that promote connection with parks, libraries, playgrounds, and community-oriented institutions.
He further calls for measures such as accessible public transportation and paid family leave that contribute to stronger bonds to one's community or family.
We think some of the other ideas will be heavy lifts, including mobilizing the medical community mobilized in the quest for better connection, and funding more research into the causes and cures of loneliness.
Some measures are well beyond the scope of neighborhood work. We won't be reforming our digital platforms locally, although maybe we could enlist parents and kids to strategize about how to limit the damage of social media and other elements of the digital environment.
However, you who are neighborhood and community leaders can certainly pitch in to implement his last bullet point, which he calls cultivating a culture of connection.
We can influence the informal ways we go about our daily lives through building strong and compelling neighborhood associations, creating pathways for people of all personality types to find a comfortable sub-group within our community, and encouraging healthy lifestyles based on good nutrition and multiple safe ways and places to exercise.
But mostly, we see this as a challenge you who already are keenly aware of the importance of community to persevere in the good work of helping people recover psychologically from the pandemic. Help your community establish and maintain an environment that encourages informal social interaction in a variety of settings that will be comfortable for almost everyone and that will exclude no one.
As a follow-on reading, try this short article from the Congress for the New Urbanism, which in part promotes a book about fragile neighborhoods.
Returning to an old habit for this newsletter, here are some sound articles we've read, sorted by the type of community where you are located.
For suburbs, see yet another article about the increase of poverty in the suburbs, this one focused on the post-pandemic period.
For small cities or even medium-sized cities, see Community Heart & Soul's short introductory video on community foundations.
A big city may be interested in this article on a federal initiative to provide incentives for converting offices to housing in cities where housing is in short supply.
For communities threatened by climate change, see this article on the build or no build dilemma in climate-vulnerable locations and cities.
Since we can't resist an article for planning commissions everywhere, check out piece about how a diversity of land uses around a transit station best supports the rebound of transit ridership in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.
We will return with the next issue of Community Development Plus on a Thursday in December. Feel free to reply to this email if you have a comment. For questions, please use the public-facing page to ask your question. We answer them on a page that becomes viewable on our website.
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