Social Connectedness

Credit: Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, Building Resilient Neighbourhoods Project

A socially connected community is a place where everyone feels like they belong. It’s a place where people know their neighbours and feel motivated to get involved, build relationships, and contribute to the creation of strong social networks. It’s a place where spaces exist for people to gather with friends and neighbours. And, it’s a place where all planning and strategic initiatives take social connectedness into account.

What is social connectedness about?

Everybody wants to belong, to feel a part of a group, family, or community – it is an essential human need. In 2012, although 67.6% of British Columbians felt a strong or very strong connection to their local community, a significant percentage (32.4%) did not.i Social connectedness is described below.

Social Connectedness

  • Social connectedness is defined by frequency of contact with others, personal relationships, and engagement in the community.
  • The Vancouver Foundation’s Connections and Engagement Survey,ii conducted in 2012, measured social connectedness by items such as feeling alone, the number of close friends in one's neighbourhood, getting together with neighbours, and degree of neighbourhood ties.

Why is social connectedness important for health and well-being?

Building and cultivating social connections benefit both individuals and communities as a whole. People with extensive and strong support networks tend to have:

  • better physical health through lower rates of unhealthy behaviours (such as smoking, drinking, and an inactive lifestyle)[i]
  • a lower prevalence of mental illnesses[ii],; and
  • more job opportunities[iii].

Social support is also important for buffering the effects of an adverse event or stressful life circumstance[iv]. In fact, research shows that belonging to social groups and networks is just as important predictor of health as diet and exercise.

Beyond our basic human need for social networks and relationships, participation in civic life is also an essential need and is a critical component of healthy communities. Feeling socially connected can help people to reach out to others in their communities and support each other. It can also encourage people to volunteer and take pride in the condition of their communities. COSCO BC (Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC), has considered the issue of social connectedness to be of such importance to seniors that they have created workshops around it.

The Building Resilient Neighbourhoods project in B.C.’s Capital Region has identified the connection between neighbours, residents’ socializing, and connection to civic life as essential characteristics of a resilient community. Resilient communities proactively adapt to change and are better able to withstand and respond to threats, stresses, or other disturbances.

Did You Know?

  • In 2007, 33% of Australians with no family members to confide in had a mental illness within the preceding 12 months, compared with 15% who had three or more family members to confide in.viii
  • In 2013 the McCreary Centre Society’s province-wide Adolescent Health Survey found that students who felt connected to their community were more likely than those who felt unconnected to:
    •  See only positive future outcomes for themselves (92% vs. 80%);
    • Think they were really good at something (83% vs. 66%); and 
    • Report feeling happy all or most of the time in the past month (80% vs. 50%).

Why does social connectedness matter for local governments?

Local governments, as directed by the Community Charter, have an ability to foster the “social well-being of their communities.” When people feel connected with their communities, they may feel more inclined to participate in actions that help the community, such as volunteering, taking pride in the condition of their community and being engaged in the civic process. Local governments are in a great position to foster the “social well-being of their communities.

 

Take Action

Policy and Planning

Include objectives, goals, and strategies in social plans to encourage social connectedness.

The City of Burnaby’s Social Sustainability Strategy includes a strategic priority of “getting involved.” Actions include grants to volunteer organizations and creating guides for community involvement. It also contains a section on neighbourhoods that considers the role of connections, recommending the “creation of smaller neighbourhood-based centres as service and meeting hubs with games area” and “attracting people to neighbourhood and large-scale gathering places with art, music, and spoken word.”

Include objectives, goals, and strategies in official community plans to encourage social connectedness.

The City of Victoria’s Official Community Plan has a goal stating that “Victorians know their neighbours, are connected to communities of interest, and have diverse opportunities for social interaction,” and is supported by specific objectives for social connectedness. 

Integrate social connectedness into land use planning initiatives.

In 2007 and 2008 64 communities in BC created Spirit Squares as gathering places for residents. Spirit squares have been used to host many different community events.

Processes

Create and administer surveys to determine the level of social connectedness in communities.

The Town of Canmore, Alberta, conducted a Sense of Community Survey in 2008. The survey was distributed to a sample of 6,400 housing units within Canmore. The survey asked simple questions such as “I feel very much like I belong in Canmore,” with a rating scale ranging from “disagree completely” to “agree completely.”

Bring residents together for community consultation on social connection.

In 2012, the City of Vancouver partnered with SFU (Simon Fraser University) and the Vancouver Foundation to host a six-day series of workshops to bring people together to discuss isolation and disconnection in Metro Vancouver, resulting in the development of the Healthy City Strategy.

Partnerships and Programs

Provide volunteer opportunities in the community through either committee work or volunteer events.

The City of New Westminster, with 38 committees and task forces, has some good examples of types of committees that residents can join.

Host or support the convening of events that bring the community and neighbours together. Events that involve pride around a sense of common identity and are affordable and easily accessible to all community residents can bring communities together. Local governments can also provide the tools for grassroots community celebrations such as block parties.

The City of Port Coquitlam provides information on its website on reasons to hold a block party, planning considerations for a block party, and a block party request form.

Partner with health authorities, post-secondary institutions, and non-profit organizations to increase community connections.

In August 2012, the City of Vancouver partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to develop a Healthy City Strategy. One of the seven priority areas is social connectedness.

Publications

Links