Social connections: building social capital
Social capital means the ability to build relationships and networks with the community around us. It is what makes our communities and societies function, and significantly affects our quality of life. Social capital not only helps those who most need it but it also alleviates pressure on governments and the economy. Successful cities and precincts are high in social capital.
For example, if a young family goes through a destabilising event such as a significant illness or loss of income, they will need strong support networks around them. While governments provide some essential safety nets to support our most vulnerable, there are ways that communities and networks can also help, such as through financial support, job opportunities, or helping out with essential childcare. We should not underestimate the capacity of social networks in providing support in times of need.
Access, amenity and choice
Everyone should be able to feel at home where they live while being connected to their community and having access to the services and facilities that will enrich their lives. But to bring this level of liveability to everyone, our ‘Great Aussie Dream’ needs to be reimagined.
Although Australians are largely urban-dwellers, we are still in the grip of a suburban mindset. In Sydney, this ‘affordable urban fringe’ is now 70km from the CBD, and public transport is less likely to work for some jobs, such as shift-workers, nurses on night-duty, police officers and other key workers.
The further out people live, the longer their commute and the less time they have to spend with their family and friends and enjoy a balanced life. It often means being further away from services and amenities, placing a heavy reliance on cars because proximity to public transport is compromised. Infrastructure cannot keep up with the sprawl, and building new infrastructure to the far reaches of suburbia is going to come with significant and unsustainable cost.
Housing and diverse communities
A precinct approach considers housing both in and around a designated area with the aim of meeting the needs of a diverse community - a mix of cultures, incomes and ages provide a rich tapestry from which we can all benefit. By providing housing within and close to precincts, particularly where there is a large employment base, we can reduce commute times, enabling people to spend more time with their families and friends.
Of course, housing within a precinct needs to be of a scale and density reflective of the precinct’s desired future character and the agreed objectives for current and future residents.
In an age of technological advancement, we are at risk of further disconnection from those around us; we risk becoming more isolated and losing the essential social capital to catch us when we fall. We need to leverage technology to open up connections that strengthen our communities, driving positive connections and interactions.
Digital services can assist in facilitating organised opportunities for interactions and allow for this to occur frequently. Take Meetup, for example, an app with over 32 million users in 182 countries that brings people together by allowing them to find others with shared interests and organise gatherings and activities. Such face to face connections within communities would likely not have occurred without this kind of digital support.