“Living Together” workshop recap: Key elements for social connection in multi-unit housing

As Vancouver becomes denser, housing professionals and advocates can work together to identify creative solutions to the crises of loneliness and social isolation.

Colourful graphic illustration showing people living together in multi-unit buildings. People are doing activities such as sharing tea, dancing, playing ping pong, gardening, and more.

Logos: Hey neighbour collective, Happy Cities, SFU Urban Studies, SFU Public Square

Sponsors: Vancouver coastal health, Real estate foundation BC, BCNPHA, LandlordBC, United Way BC, Catherine Donnelly Foundation, Vancity Community Foundation

Jul. 20, 2022

Well before COVID-19, loneliness and social isolation were on the rise, deeply impacting personal and collective health and wellbeing. 

Many socioeconomic factors create higher vulnerability to loneliness and social isolation, including where and how we live. Some studies have suggested that residents of high-rise buildings are less likely to know their neighbours or do small favours for them, and that they report higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of trust in neighbours.

This may be true of some buildings, but it doesn’t have to be the norm. These challenges can be mitigated through intentional design and programming and need to be balanced with conversations around housing affordability and density. 

We believe there are solutions. In the Metro Vancouver region, most communities are growing up, making multi-unit housing more common, particularly for lower- and middle-income residents. A number of new housing developments in the region are starting to prioritize wellbeing and social connection, but there is more work to be done.

The good news? By working together, housing providers and advocates can identify creative solutions to address the crises of loneliness and social isolation at the building and neighbourhood scale.

When designed intentionally to support social connection and wellbeing, multi-unit housing can alos support community resilience, improving our ability to recover from extreme weather events and pandemics.

Identifying solutions 

There are few opportunities within the housing sector to come together and discuss loneliness and social isolation in a holistic way. We want to change that. 

Living Together, a two-day symposium held in June 2022, brought 300 people together, in-person and online, to discuss how multi-unit building design can foster community connection and resilience. Participants included housing professionals, municipal planners, public health professionals, architects, non-profits, funders, emergency management professionals, academics, students, and more. The symposium was organized by Hey Neighbour Collective, Happy Cities, SFU Public Square, and SFU Urban Studies. 

The document below summarizes learnings and reflections from the second day of the symposium, which culminated in a workshop focused on social connectedness and the built environment. 

For further information, Hey Neighbour Collective has compiled relevant resources from the symposium on its website.

You can also watch the recordings below:

More background on our Happy Homes work

Happy Cities has spent over a decade researching the connections between wellbeing and the built environment, and especially, how to design homes that support our health and happiness. 

There are many scales of multi-unit housing, from the “missing middle” to towers. Particularly when intentionally designed to encourage social connections and support, multi-unit housing can be more affordable, more social, and more climate-friendly than the single-family homes currently prescribed by zoning codes across most of Metro Vancouver.

Over the past year in particular, we’ve been working hard to bring stakeholders together to discuss how to enable more socially connected multi-unit housing, through interactive online and in-person workshops in collaboration with Hey Neighbour Collective and other partners. Here are some of the key events:

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