As Housing Density Increases, So Does Loneliness

Isolation 'endemic' in 21st-century cities
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2021 2:52 PM CDT
People in Dense Cities Feel Lonelier
"Housing is the basic building block of a city, and the way they are packed may be one of the keys to creating healthy and resilient cities of the future," says researcher Chinmoy Sarkar.   (Getty Images/VictorHuang)

People in Britain's cities—especially men and the elderly—feel lonelier when they are surrounded by more people, according to researchers who analyzed health data on more than 400,000 people in 22 cities. They found that for every 1,000 housing units within a kilometer—0.62 miles—of a person's home, their self-reported loneliness increased by 2.8% and their feelings of social isolation went up by 11.4%, New Scientist reports. The researchers, whose work was published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, say that when the results were divided into four groups in order of urban density, men in the quarter with the highest density were 23.5% more likely to report loneliness than those in the quarter with the lowest density. Retired people in the highest-density quarter were 17.4% more likely to be lonely

The researchers described the effect as the "density elasticity of loneliness." "Our study suggests that loneliness is not only still prevalent in 21st-century cities, but is so endemic that we can detect a regular pattern and measure it," says researcher Chris Webster at the University of Hong Kong. Researchers said that a high proportion of detached housing appeared to reduce loneliness, but it rose in areas with a higher density of apartment buildings. There were still higher rates of loneliness in isolation in areas with mitigating factors including increased green space, "which means that urban design and density planning strategies matter; especially in an age of accelerating suburban densification," the researchers wrote. (More urban planning stories.)

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