As our political discourse generates derision and dissension, our time in the virtual world crowds out our time in the actual one, and trust in our institutions and one another has plummeted, local places such as markets, libraries, and coffee shops can help. A new study shows that living near community-oriented public and commercial spaces brings a host of social benefits, such as increased trust, decreased loneliness, and a stronger sense of attachment to where we live.
Americans who live in communities with a rich array of neighborhood amenities are twice as likely to talk daily with their neighbors as those whose neighborhoods have few amenities. More important, given widespread interest in the topic of loneliness in America, people living in amenity-rich communities are much less likely to feel isolated from others, regardless of whether they live in large cities, suburbs, or small towns. Fifty-five percent of Americans living in low-amenity suburbs report a high degree of social isolation, while fewer than one-third of suburbanites in amenity-dense neighborhoods report feeling so isolated.
These new findings are based on a nationally representative survey that measured how closely Americans live to six different types of public and commercial spaces: grocery stores; restaurants, bars, or coffee shops; gyms or fitness centers; movie theaters, bowling alleys, or other entertainment venues; parks or recreation centers; and community centers or libraries. By combining these spaces into a single scale, we were able to identify three distinct community types: high-, moderate-, and low-amenity neighborhoods. Americans in high-amenity communities live on average within walking distance of four of the six types of neighborhood amenities. Americans in moderate-amenity communities are on average no more than a short car trip (five to 15 minutes) away, while low-amenity residents live on average a 15-to-30-minute drive from all six types of amenities.