• Robert Marten

Loneliness in the City - a property industry problem

Over 8 million people call London home. A city so diverse, so energetic, so inclusive. How is it then that London is also reported to be one of the loneliest places in the world? And what is the property industry doing about it?

The Loneliness Paradox

Dig below the surface of the beating city and you’ll find the hidden truth of a loneliness epidemic.

In fact loneliness, says Professor Julie Barnett of the University of Bath, is 'one of the most significant challenges faced by Western societies in the 21st century'.

Barnett’s study, Loneliness in the Digital Age (LiDA), suggests that one in ten people are ‘lonely’, with loneliness being linked to ill health and premature mortality.

Once associated with the elderly and the isolated, I wonder if now some kind of paradox exists where the greater the draw of the city, the greater the likelihood of loneliness. I’m thinking here about transient workers, young people distant from family and removed from established social networks.

'A reduction in the quality of social connections can significantly impact on the health of men, leading to social isolation and loneliness, which have been identified as risk factors for suicide, depression and anxiety,' says Brendan Maher, Global Director, Mental Health Programmes at Movember.

If this loneliness paradox reads like a dystopian nightmare, we better wake up - because it’s real, its now, and it's affecting people around us.

'Forming strong, lasting and meaningful relationships is so important when things get tough,' Maher adds.

Perhaps it is here where the property industry can play a leading role in the prevention of loneliness.

Loneliness and Real Estate

Of course, the challenge around human [dis]connectivity in the digital age hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Real Estate industry.

WeLive, the younger Co-Living sister of WeWork, has the ‘mission to build a world where no one feels alone’.

The Collective, the UK co-living brand, claims its buildings are ‘designed to connect and inspire’.

In short, the language around Real Estate has become more human.

And in an era of digital relationships and workplace flexibility, the design of buildings, places and cities is already changing to embrace the heightened desire for human interaction.

This, I suppose, is the intersection of placemaking and mental health.

Loneliness Lab

My attention was first drawn to the issue of Loneliness by Lendlease Managing Director Jonathan Emery. The Elephant Park developer has co-created an initiative called The Loneliness Lab, a project designed ‘to bring together business, government and civil society to explore how we can reshape and reimagine our cities to design out loneliness and isolation’.

Vanessa Pilla
Vanessa Pilla, GM Socio Economic Development, Lendlease and leader of the Loneliness Lab.

The Lab is focused on five challenges: workplace loneliness, homes that connect neighbours, building belonging, public and shared spaces and youth loneliness.

‘As a developer, Lendlease’s vision is to create the best places, however we know that loneliness is an issue that is bigger than us all,' says the project’s leader Vanessa Pilla.

'No one sector or organisation can solve this complex issue alone - that’s why we co-founded the Loneliness Lab to act as an incubator for collective action to help design out loneliness from our cities'.

What can you do?

Our industry has the power to make a difference to the way people interact with their city. But it starts with individuals taking up the challenge within their own organizations.

Lendlease’s project, for example, needs the support of the industry and they are actively seeking partners. 'Business has an important role to play and we encourage others from the built environment to get involved, ’ Pilla concludes.

At SPACE, Vanessa Pilla will be hosting a discussion on the Loneliness Lab. We hope that by including Loneliness in an industry event, we can help take it from the background to the fore.

But don’t wait until then - start a conversation within your business about loneliness, inclusion and connectivity.

To get involved with The Loneliness Lab visit https://lonelinesslab.org/

To donate to Movember visit https://uk.movember.com/

Vanessa Pilla is a speaker at SPACE.

Movember is our Charity Partner.

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