Community Connections

Recently, I attended the Metro Vancouver Sustainability Dialogues, with the discussion centering around the fact that even though we are living in closer and closer proximity to each other in cities, people are less likely to know their neighbours and feel connected to their communities. One of the interesting discussion points was whether social media contributes to this problem, by encouraging people to stay home on the computer instead of going out and interacting with people.

Growing up in the suburbs of Vancouver, I knew all my neighbours. I babysat for them, took care of their pets, and borrowed the proverbial cup of sugar. Since I’ve left home, I’ve lived in a variety of apartments, and I’ve rarely known my neighbours more than to say hi.

I miss those connections. For a variety of reasons, I have no interest in moving to the suburbs (though rural life has great appeal). So, in this denser urban environment, how do we connect?

It does seem to me that social media can contribute to this separation. I am a confessed introvert. Put me in a room with a bunch of strangers, and I will stand in a corner and try not to look awkward. Social media suits me this way – I can converse with people who are also interested in the same topics I am, without the stress of trying to make small talk. It’s difficult for me to move offline and connect with these community members. And how many others, like me, would prefer to sit at home on their computers in their pajamas, rather than go out there and make new friends? Or, more accurately, would love to make new friends, it just seems to hard.

Even as an introvert, I crave those connections. It’s just much harder to make them. My mother’s best friend was 3 doors down from us – I can’t help but feel that the loss of community that we experience in urbanization is a major problem. Security, environmental health, and happiness are all affected by the lack of community, when neighbours don’t know, don’t care, or abdicate responsibility for what goes on in their neighbourhoods.

How do we connect, in an increasingly urbanized world? When density is what is needed in order to prevent more urban sprawl and land destruction, how to we create the kind of urban environments that encourage neighbours to care about each other?

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