Conscious Cities hosted one of its regular meetups, this time we covered “Loneliness in The City”. We were looking to explore if there is a relationship between a person feeling lonely and the physical structure of a city. In order to begin this exploration we first would have needed to define the spectrum of the word lonely, are we talking momentary feelings of loneliness, depression, or feelings of isolation associated to more severe mental health problems? Arguably we should look at the whole spectrum in order to increase the quality of life in cities.
We were joined by entrepreneur James Eder & Built Environment Researcher Claire McAndrew who were both anchors for the evening. James was asked to join on the basis that in discussing loneliness one aspect is around the ability to create community or join a community, thus our access to and awareness of opportunities is important. James has helped established an array of community groups using technology, as well as a local paper, currently developing www.causr.co that is focused on concentrating the willingness to interact with others locally beyond the existing message boards of other social media platforms. James took us through small and large interventions he has created and experienced that lead to aspects of how thinking small can help break down increasing barriers in direct communications. Claire directed her contributions to the more macro conversations that she has been involved with including her work with institutions such as UK Science and Innovation Network, British Council, BBC. In 2012 to co-author a set of design guidelines for UK government on interactive communications in public spaces.
All Conscious Cities meet ups are philosophical debates involving the audience. In this we aim to provide a democratic way to discovery. There were an array of attendees including Architecture Students, Artists, Regeneration Officers, Science Fiction writers, neuroscientists, programmers, Property Advisors amongst others.
The dominating theme of the evening was correlating loneliness to socialisation. Whilst socialisation is an element to loneliness its an effect, not a root cause. Furthermore, there might be people who are well integrated socially, who might still feel lonely due to the quality of their socialisation or other mental difficulties like depression or social anxiety.
If we only look at socialisation as a metric, we can miss more other elements. For example, if there is a neighbourhood initiative such as communal gardening, which are known to have highly positive social effects, their success may not be the social aspect. It might be more to do with actualisation and impact. In other words, when people see that they have an effect on their environment they will feel part of it. This realisation led the conversation towards choice and affordance.
Throughout the evening there were a lot of great observations and here are some key comments noted down:
“are we more lonely or just better at expressing it?”
“if loneliness is a result of a culture, how can the built environment have chance?”
“often we don’t feel like we have permission to take to each other”
Gary Turk produced a poem made into ‘a spoken word film for an online generation’ called ‘Look Up’, which has been viewed over 59m times – https://www.youtube.com/watch?
“there’s a difference in expectation of interaction and communication from country to country to culture”
“how does the physical make up of a city influence the affordance of interactions”
“in Israel most frequent and random conversations happen at bus stations”
with smaller streets there is greater emphasis on being investigative and more on the alter, creating a culture of engaging with the space, and engaging with the people as a reflection of that. Although large squares and public realm areas offer choice for larger community events do we not miss out on this notion curiosity when focusing new public realm around large space place.
“we don’t want a happy city, per se, as damage, tragedy and interventions bring people together, bring in purpose, interaction and new connections.
Thumbnail image: Samuel Zeller