©EDSA | Insights | Cultivating Connections | West Lake Park

From personal growth and resource sharing to health and well-being, there are many benefits to staying connected. In fact, Psychologist Abraham Maslow first highlighted the importance of togetherness in 1943 through his Hierarchy of Needs, indicating that feelings of ‘love and belonging’ are necessary to achieving a rich and fulfilling life.

Various studies have since backed Maslow’s claim, with one even uncovering that experiencing social detachment effects the body in the same way as physical pain (Forbes). And, while there is surely no lack of evidence surrounding human connection as being essential to life, the question remains: How do we continue cultivating bonds between people when solitary activities like remote work and social media usage are becoming more prevalent? Many times, the answer lies in conscious planning.

©EDSA | Insights | Cultivating Connections | Bahia Mar

Undoubtably, plugged-in, connected communities share similar core attributes – a culmination of smart design practices, public amenities and local conveniences that just make sense. Such characteristics, paired with the needs and desires of local people, have the ability to not only define unique and successful neighborhood frameworks, but create more spontaneous encounters with both nature and fellow residents alike.

Consider Boulder, Colorado, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Two US cities, nearly 1,700 miles apart but both highly ranked on U.S. News and World Report’s Best Places to Live. While Boulder takes advantage of its surrounding nature with forest bathing and various outdoor wellness activities, Raleigh leverages its research and technology roots through museums and investment in the downtown core as a hub for innovation. While they have their differences, from climate to economic development, both cities provide amenities that speak directly to the local people and successfully encourage community engagement with a welcoming integration of the public realm.

©EDSA | Insights | Cultivating Connections | Pompano Beach

So, while selected amenities typically align with the needs of residents, there are a handful of elements that should be considered regardless of location. Public-facing features like parks, greenways and promenades make a difference. For example, in Pompano Beach in Florida, the city has experienced a 13 percent uptick in property values and a 10 decrease in crime rates since revitalizing their mile-long beachfront corridor. Additionally, there has been a 63 percent rise in residents’ physical activity as credited to the introduction of spaces for farmers markets, outdoor fitness zones and walking trails. Such community-driven assets are a surefire way to get people out and about and connecting with others in new and unexpected ways.

But it shouldn’t stop there. For new developments or revitalization projects, planners, designers and developers alike should encourage a juxtaposition within the existing community fabric that promotes social interaction. Using a ‘15-minute-city’ lens, designating areas for grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and other essential services that are located just a short walk away are a must. Why opt for tele-health when there is an urgent care right down the road? Or why rely on Amazon for household items when there’s a convenience store steps outside your front door? In this day age of a ‘click away’ mentality, it’s essential that community and convenience work in harmony for connections to truly thrive.

©EDSA | Insights | Cultivating Connections | Wildflower & Silverpalm Park

Whether for protection and survival or security and companionship, cultivating links between people and their surroundings is a must for the physical and mental wellness of today’s society. And as we aim to create neighborhoods that get people outdoors, design and development disciplines must work together to ensure our communities remain rooted in the encouragement of spontaneous interactions.