Social Connectedness

What is social connectedness about?

Social connectedness is a sense of belonging to a group, family, or community. It’s about the relationships people have with each other and their engagement with the broader community. Social connection is an integral component of health and well-being. 

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

Social Connectedness

  • Social connectedness can be defined as the experience of belonging to a social relationship or network.ii It can be assessed by the number of people you confide in or your perception of community belonging.
  • Feelings of acceptance and belonging are affected by systemic inequities and social determinants of health, such as racism and discrimination. In order to address these barriers, communities must identify the fundamental systems, structures and institutions that exacerbate inequality.iii
  • The Vancouver Foundation’s Connect and Engage Survey,iv conducted in 2017, measured social connectedness using indicators such as community members' sense of feeling alone, the number of close friends in one's neighbourhood, involvement in community activities, and degree of neighbourhood ties.
  • Intergenerational connections are highly valuable—research shows that these relationships increase self-esteem and feelings of well-being, and decrease tolerance for elder abuse and neglect.v

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

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

  • Better physical health due to lower rates of participation in behaviours that negatively impact health (such as smoking, drinking and inactivity).vi
  • ​A lower prevalence of mental illness.vii

Social support is also important for buffering the effects of an adverse event or stressful life circumstance. Research shows that those with strong social connections and support networks reduce their risk of premature death.viii Additionally, participation in civic life is an essential component of healthy communities, as social connectedness encourages people to support one another, give back, and take pride in the condition of their communities.

The Building Resilient Neighbourhoods project in Greater Victoria, B.C. 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 and disturbances.

However, systemic inequities make it difficult for certain members of a community to be socially connected. Equity is defined as the redistribution of opportunities, power and resources to those who face greater systemic barriers to overall health and well-being. Social connection, like all opportunities for better health, is not necessarily equitable. Applying an equity lens means acknowledging that systemic and historical discrimination and colonialization have resulted in an uneven distribution of resources.

Some groups face greater barriers to health than others, such as older adults, youth, LGBTQ+ folks, and Indigenous people. These groups must be focused on, not because they are vulnerable, but because our systems and structures are not set up with their well-being in mind. These groups may lack or be denied certain resources, rights and opportunities, making them more susceptible to social isolation and exclusion. By considering health through an equity lens, systemic inequities are identified and focus is turned to those who have traditionally been underserved or excluded. Only then can we begin to create plans, policies and strategies that are responsive to community needs, are community-driven and supported, and are sustainable in the long-term.

Did You Know?

  • A 2013 report based on the findings of that year’s General Social Survey examined Canadians’ social connections and found that those with more family and friend support had an increased likelihood of good physical and mental health. Three-quarters of surveyed participants under 35 reported high levels of self-rated physical health, compared to 56% of those with no close friends. Similarly, 56% of adults 65 and over with close friends reported their physical health as very good or excellent, compared to 33% of those with no close friends.ix
  • In 2013, the McCreary Centre Society’s provincewide 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%).
  • ​A study published in 2015 by the University of Queensland found that retirees who had and maintained two group memberships prior to retirement had a 2% risk of death in the first 6 years of retirement, a 5% risk if they lost one group, and a 12% risk if they lost both groups.x

Why does social connectedness matter for local governments?

Local governments, as directed by the Community Charter, have a duty to foster the “social well-being of their communities.” Local and Indigenous governments are in a great position to do this through the use of planning and community design, policies, programs and partnerships. They must also develop, own and support community infrastructure, such as community and recreation centres, parks, libraries and arts facilities, which are often hubs of community connection for residents.

Indigenous and local governments also have much to gain from supporting social connectedness in their community, including increased neighbourhood safety, people connecting with the services and support they need, strengthened resilience during emergency events, increased volunteering, and a stronger sense of community pride. However, in order to reap these benefits, Indigenous and local governments have to first ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be socially connected—this means applying an equity lens across environmental, social, economic and cultural domains in order to remove barriers to entry, such as discrimination, lack of access to or sense of safety in a community, and othering tactics.xi

B.C. has been home to Indigenous peoples since time immemorial.xii, xiii Traditional healing recognized a sense of place and belonging as important to overall well-being, and a First Nations conception of wellness highlights the social, cultural, economic and environmental determinants of well-being, which include key components of social connectedness.xiv Indigenous governments work both within and beyond colonial systems of oppression to reconnect their communities to the land and to cultural values using community-driven planning, policy, programming and partnerships. Indigenous governments also support community infrastructure, including recreation, cultural and community gathering facilities, and are well positioned to support social connectedness for community members.

Colonial systems of oppression and the process of settler colonialism in Canada and B.C. have created barriers for Indigenous governments to support social connectedness. In particular, Canadian and provincial government policies which facilitated the forced removal of Indigenous people from their unceded traditional territories, and created disconnect between families and communities through residential school systems, continue to have negative impacts on the well-being of many Indigenous communities. For Indigenous communities, the governance of land and resources can be extra challenging because colonial systems imposed in these communities do not always align with traditional interpretations of land use and governance.xv

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 areas” and “attracting people to neighbourhood and large-scale gathering places with art, music, and spoken word.”

In 2018, the Township of Esquimalt embarked on creating design guidelines that action the policy directive in their Official Community Plan which seeks to “encourage the incorporation of spaces designed to foster social interaction.” Esquimalt understood that homes being built to meet the need of their growing community play a substantial role in shaping mental and social well-being, and that housing design can promote—or impede—social connectedness, inclusion and trust between neighbours.

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.

Following an extensive engagement process, in 2018, the City of Kamloops piloted closing a segment of downtown to vehicle traffic, and instead opted to pedestrianise the space and create a public plaza. The pilot not only sought to increase walkability, but to also provide “a central community gathering space where residents and visitors could recreate, socialize, and relax.” Following the pilot, data gathered revealed that the public was favourable about the project, in large part because the road closure and creation of a plaza provided a valued gathering space and an increased sense of community. 

The City of Richmond has been working towards an increased sense of connectedness and a feeling of belonging since 2007, when the City partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health and the Richmond School district to develop the Richmond Community Wellness Strategy. One policy outcome that came from this was the Official Community Plan, which includes policies related to social inclusion and accessibility, promoting healthy and connected neighbourhoods and opportunities for recreation and community wellness. These high-level strategic plans and policies support the consideration of social connection as a priority across all land use areas.


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 and 2013. The initial 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 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.

City of Nelson’s Street Culture Collaborative works with relevant service providers to identify members of Nelson’s “street culture” population. They facilitate engagement to assess the immediate and long-term needs for health and safety among this group, and then offer a range of supports and services designed to meet those needs. The focus is on improving the health and well-being of all community members, and building bridges between the street community and other Nelson residents. The collaborative was born out of the recognition that the street culture population was not going anywhere—they were part of the community but were often isolated and excluded, and no one community organization had the capacity to provide all the support and services alone.

Partnerships and Programs

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

In 2021, the City of Victoria doubled down on its aim of social connectedness through its participatory budgeting process. Not only is the community-decided portion of the budget focused on neighbourhood spaces that encourage social connection and well-being, but the entirety of the participatory budgeting process—from the volunteer-led steering committee to community driven project proposals —is garnered to grow a community's sense of connection to each other and its local governance processes. 

The City of New Westminster, with 38 committees and task forces, has 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 and Indigenous 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.

Hosted by the Mid-Island Métis Nation, the Vancouver Island Métis Community Health & Wellness Collaboration aimed to improve health and well-being by building a stronger sense of connectedness across all 7 Vancouver Island Métis chartered communities. Convening these communities through a series of events allowed for difficulties to be expressed in a non-stigmatized space and for wisdom, skills and cultural knowledge to be shared in order to support one another and overcome the challenges many communities were facing. 

The Resilient Streets project from Building Resilient Neighbourhoods offers a toolkit that includes information about resilience, different types of practical actions that small groups can take, examples of successful projects that people have done in their buildings or on their streets, information about supports they can offer groups, and links to useful resources.

The Connect & Prepare program currently hosted by the Building Resilient Neighbourhoods Society aims to strengthen social connections between neighbours. Groups of neighbours receive free workshops and presentations to learn about emergencies and to support them in developing their own emergency preparedness projects. They also have access to shared emergency supplies, and micro-grants to help them continue to collaborate afterwards.

Partner with health authorities, post-secondary institutions, non-profit organizations and other governments 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.

With the support from Cowichan Tribes, North Cowichan, Island Health, School District 79, and a host of local businesses, non-profit and community services, Cultural Shift Cowichan brings First Nations and non-First Nations communities together in order for Cowichan residents to understand and connect with the people and land around them. With guidance from Cowichan Elders and community members, these community gatherings, experiential education, cultural workshops and planning sessions have brought forward the “untold stories of residential schools, the impacts of colonization, and the racism that has resulted from this lack of understanding,” which “have created a community with many barriers to social connections.”

Collaborative Data: To ensure senses of belonging and community connections are trending in the right direction, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, in partnership with a host of Indigenous and local governments in the Alberni-Clayoquot region, collect and report data every 2 years regarding belonging and leadership. The high-quality community engagement represented in these vital signs reports is critical for understanding how the community views its current social environments and so that policy developed is effective in addressing these concerns.