Alone in a Crowd – City Dweller’s Guide
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Alone in a Crowd – City Dweller’s Guide

Over two years of ongoing lockdowns, many Australian city dwellers quickly learned how easy it was to feel lonely in a crowd.

About one in ten Australians live in apartments, and nearly half of Sydney’s housing units are in buildings of four or more stories.

Alone in a Crowd - City Dweller's Guide

But living in a busy crowd can make people who lack social connection feel even more alone and excluded than in a more isolated environment.

As more people move from the one-acre block to the tower, steps must be taken to address the problem right away, say researchers at Macquarie University’s School of Social Sciences.

They have written a report called Vertical Villages, which contains a toolkit for residents and community organizations to improve connections between people in densely populated homes.

The project team surveyed 114 people in densely populated housing in five culturally diverse Sydney suburbs and interviewed urban designers, architects, and community development experts.

“We often treat apartments as temporary housing, but our report shows that many more Australians now live permanently in high-rise apartments, so it is important to support community life in both new and existing developments,” said project spokeswoman Dr. Miriam Williams.

“High-rise projects can become ‘vertical villages’ if they have accessible green spaces and a vibrant social infrastructure that connects people, creating community well-being.”

In one toolkit case study, a City of Sydney housing officer used creative placemaking to improve communal spaces.

Dominic Grenot has refurbished uninviting, empty, unused, or dangerous spaces, making them more attractive, safer, and more welcoming.

He had tables and chairs converted to chessboards, barbecues installed, lighting improved, and benches and chairs set up near mailboxes to encourage community interaction.

The revamp project also placed notice boards around the site inviting residents to events and small gatherings in these updated spaces.

“The most important thing to me was that tenants had to occupy and own that space…instead of it being a no-go zone or owned by the department,” said Mr. Grenot.

In another example, a young man living in Macquarie Park recruited a group of elderly Chinese residents — already avid balcony gardeners — to turn an underused area into a community garden.

In return, they’ve involved him in their WeChat digital community that translates things from English to Mandarin, increasing their conversation and connection.

“I was able to talk to them and felt embraced by them,” he said.

As communities emerge in a post-pandemic world eager for social interaction, the toolkit should be vital for those keen to rise to the challenge.

“The Vertical Villages project encourages governments and developers to promote design principles such as green space and social infrastructure to support residents to live well in high-rise buildings,” said Dr. Williams.