Alone in a crowd - guide for city-dwellers

·2-min read

Over two years of rolling lockdowns, many city-dwelling Australians learned fast how easy it was to feel lonely in a crowd.

About one in 10 Aussies live in apartments and nearly half of Sydney's home units belong to buildings of four or more storeys.

But living amongst high-density hustle and bustle can make people who lack social connection feel even more alone and excluded than they might in a more isolated setting.

As more people swap the quarter-acre block for the tower block, steps must be taken to tackle the issue head-on, say researchers at Macquarie University's School of Social Sciences.

They have written a report called Vertical Villages, which includes a toolkit for residents and community organisations to improve connections between people in high density housing.

The project team surveyed 114 people in high-density housing across five culturally diverse Sydney suburbs and also interviewed urban designers, architects and community development experts.

"We often treat apartments as transitional housing but our report shows many more Australians now live in high-rise apartments permanently, so it's important to support community life in both new and existing developments," says project spokeswoman Dr Miriam Williams.

"High rise developments can become 'vertical villages' when they have accessible green spaces and vibrant social infrastructure that helps connect people to each other, creating community wellbeing."

In one toolkit case study a City of Sydney housing liaison officer used creative 'placemaking' to improve communal spaces.

Dominic Grenot refurbished uninviting, empty, unused or dangerous spaces, making them more attractive, safe and welcoming.

He had tables and chairs refitted with chessboards, barbecues installed, lighting improved and benches and seating set up near letterboxes to encourage community interaction.

The renewal project also installed noticeboards around the site to invite residents to events and small gatherings in these renewed spaces.

"The biggest thing for me was tenants needed to occupy and own that space ... rather than it being a no-go zone or owned by the department," Mr Grenot said.

In another example, one young man living in Macquarie Park recruited a group of elderly Chinese residents - already avid balcony gardeners - to help transform an under-used area into a community garden.

In exchange they got him involved in their digital WeChat community which translates things from English to Mandarin, increasing their conversation and connection.

"I was able to talk to them and I felt really embraced by them," he said.

As communities emerge into a post-pandemic world eager for social interaction, the toolkit should be vital for those keen to get ahead of the challenge.

"The Vertical Villages project encourages governments and developers to promote design principles like green space and social infrastructure to support residents to live well in high rise," Dr Williams said.

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